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In Egypt, hope amid electoral chaos

April 17, 2012 02:39 PM

egypt.jpgA superficial first glance would make it seem that the disqualification of three leading presidential candidates by an election commission in Egypt is akin to a racing commission in Kentucky suspiciously scratching three top contenders from the the Derby just weeks before the big race. And in Egypt, where a paranoid assumption of conspiracy is often the first explanation for all political events, the abrupt discarding of the former regime's intelligence chief, a prime leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, and a more radical Salafist candidate certainly makes it seem that some hidden hand is trying to narrow the field of presidential contenders.

In each case, however, there is a standing law or rule that requires the barred candidate to be disqualified. One can blame the rules; some were instituted by one faction to keep a rival group out of power. Indeed, Islamists wanting to prevent a Western-leaning liberal from becoming president were responsible for the requirement that no candidate can run for president whose spouse or parents had citizenship in another country. This is the rule that disqualifies the ardent Islamist, Abu Ismail, whose mother apparently held American citizenship.

The reality is that post-revolutionary Egypt is endowed with contradictory and conflicting rules, powers, and institutions, creating political chaos in the mode of a Cairo traffic jam. The secular liberals who pulled off the Tahrir Square uprising neglected to build effective political parties to compete in legislative elections, allowing the Muslim Brothers and the more extreme Salafists to take 70 percent of seats in Parliament. The Constitutional Commission that Parliament appointed was so one-sided that the secular and Christian members resigned in protest.

Consequently, it looks like a new Constitution will be written only after a new president is elected -- someone who will, initially at least, preside over a barely reformed system that funnels nearly all power to the president. And it is far from certain that the military will yield civilian control of its budgets, its vast economic interests, or its direction of Egyptian foreign policy.

Yet, despite the messiness of a revolution making up new rules as it goes along, there is something that should be encouraging in the spat over disqualified presidential candidates. As contradictory and chaotic as the new rules of the road may seem, Egyptians are trying to play by those rules. Egypt is not Syria. The Egyptian struggle for
power is being waged by legal means, peacefully and politically.

Bill Maher's slam on Ann Romney poses dangers for Obama

April 16, 2012 02:05 PM

Bill Maher is an entertainer who believes comedy has no boundaries. He may be right about that, but political campaigns do.

Because Maher is also $1 million donor to a super PAC aligned with President Obama, his rude comments about Ann Romney are a real problem for the White House.

Reacting to Hilary Rosen’s comment last week that Romney had “never worked a day in her life,” Maher said on his HBO show, “What she (Rosen) meant to say, I think was that Ann Romney has never gotten her ass out of the house to work.”

The comment is bad for Obama on several levels. It keeps alive the “Mommy Wars” theme, to the benefit of the Romney campaign. And, it makes it harder for Obama to complain about incivility and misogyny on the right, as long as a variation of it emanates from the left, too.


A "sophomoric" mistake — made by a sophomore

April 4, 2012 05:04 PM

Everyone makes mistakes, though usually not mistakes that are splashed across national news for strangers and the media to analyze.

In the last few days I have been rightly criticized for publishing a satirical “April Fools” newspaper that mocked sexual assault at a time when Boston University is working hard to expunge the rape culture that pervades our campus. I apologized, I made amends with BU student groups, and I resigned as editor-in-chief of The Daily Free Press, the independent student newspaper that I have come to love and respect over the past two years.

Yet still The FreeP, as we lovingly call it, and I were continuously criticized and harassed for our mistake. I acknowledge the decision to print the issue was callous and, as my journalism professor told me, “pretty sophomoric.”

But, guess what? I’m a sophomore.

College is the time to learn and make mistakes before we enter the workforce, and from this horrible situation I’m gaining experience that most student journalists cannot put on a resume. As for my future, it’s in journalism and I will not succumb to those calling for me to give up for a mistake I made as a 19-year-old.


For educators, Kony 2012 video can be a priceless teachable moment

April 4, 2012 11:00 AM
It was a teacher’s dream come true — the ever-elusive teachable moment.

Seven years ago, three friends asked me to help start a company called Invisible Children. My role was to direct a movement that would rally young people who were responding to a movie they had made about a violent Ugandan warlord named Joseph Kony. While they returned to Uganda to gather video footage, I was to show our first documentary, The Rough Cut, to as many high school and college students as possible, and then create programs that would further educate these students on the war in the region.
Africa Viral Video.jpg

But students did not want to stop there. They wanted to help stop Kony. Young people were sharing the film, and getting inspired — calling their representatives, lobbying Washington, and hosting fundraisers to contribute to our Ugandan scholarship program. Schools encouraged us to put on assembly programs, and teachers swooned over captivating content that aligned with high school state standards they were required to teach, such as social studies or world cultures. It was a teacher’s dream come true.

Recently, Invisible Children released its 10th film, Kony 2012, which soon became the most viral video in history. If by now you have heard of the phenomenon the video has created, you have also most likely heard a fair amount of its criticisms. Such critiques have come from every angle — from calling the film a harmful oversimplification of the conflict, to suggesting that Invisible Children misuses funds by spending too much on “awareness” while promoting neocolonialism.

Most of the critiques have been based on assumptions or misinformation about the organization, and has damaged the campaign, hampering the rich dialogue it was intended to create. Fearing they’d be accused of political incorrectness, students who finally felt excited and empowered to participate in humanitarian issues once again feel relegated back behind their desks.

Invisible Children’s long-term educational goals are much more ambitious than merely promoting “awareness” of the conflict in central Africa, and I fear the harsh, uninformed critique of Kony 2012 could undermine the tool it is intended to become. The overlooked part of our mission is the thoughtfully developed, and pedagogically sound, interactive experience designed to reintroduce a civically cynical generation back into democratic engagement.


What t-shirts can teach us about democracy in Myanmar

April 1, 2012 08:00 AM

monk2.jpgNearly every story out of Myanmar lately has mentioned the image of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on newspaper front pages and on T-shirts. Certainly the news photos of Suu Kyi do signal greater media freedom in a country where just months ago people feared even speaking the name Suu Kyi. But the T-shirts suggest a more complicated story — of both new confidence in Myanmar’s future and enduring anxiety about the military that still controls the government.

The T-shirts have certainly changed the face of the T-shirt printing shops along Gabar Aye Pagoda Road in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city. In the busiest of them, owner Daw Baby has replaced the Chinese-made Manchester United and Arsenal T-shirts with her own. Her employees have printed shirts with the face of Suu Kyi or the fighting peacock-and-star logo of the opposition party she founded, the National League for Democracy (the NLD). Daw Baby says sales have quadrupled.

In one sense, this is a sign of great change: after years of house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi is a candidate in today's national by-elections to fill 48 vacant seats in the Parliament. She draws crowds of tens of thousands at campaign stops. When she went to Mandalay in early March, it took her motorcade six hours to drive into town from the airport through a sea of motorbike-riding supporters. Normally the trip takes an hour.

But something is amiss. In a week of traveling the streets of Yangon on the eve of the elections, I have not seen a single person wearing an NLD T-shirt.

“People support the NLD, but they don’t dare display their support openly,” says Daw Baby. “They’re still afraid.”

ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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