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Arab spring deja-vu for Egyptians exiled in Sudan

Post-Bashir Khartoum in 2019 has much in common with Cairo after January 2011, when president Hosni Mubarak was toppled.

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Arab spring deja-vu for Egyptians exiled in Sudan
An Egyptian student who fled political repression in Egypt and moved to Sudan is pictured in Khartoum on June 27, 2019. - Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood who have fled repression in Egypt to seek refuge in Sudan are now feeling a deja-vu as their host country is now engulfed in a popular uprising similar to the revolt in their home country. (Photo by ASHRAF SHAZLY / AFP)

Egyptians exiled in Sudan, who fled after their elected Islamist president was deposed by the military, say the current standoff in Khartoum reminds them of their own broken dreams.

“It’s the same young people that are trying to carry out the same revolutionary action,” said Abdelaziz, an Egyptian student who has been in Sudan since 2016.

“They have read the same books, lived the same experiences”, he added.

For him and other Egyptians once close to the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood movement, the popular uprising in Sudan reminds them of events in their own country, even if there are some clear differences.

Sudan’s uprising has been led by liberal movements and unions of professionals, which spurred the military to overthrow Omar-al Bashir’s Islamist regime.

In Egypt itself, the Brotherhood polarised the youth movements that spearheaded the 2011 revolt.

But Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, was likewise ousted by the army after mass protests against the Islamist’s divisive year in power.

Like Abdelaziz, many supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood ended up in Sudan after fleeing a deadly crackdown launched in 2013 in Egypt.

He fled to escape a 15-year prison sentence for “protesting” and “acts of vandalism”.

In Khartoum, sitting in the courtyard of his house and dressed in a traditional white Sudanese robe, he spoke to AFP using a pseudonym to protect the fragile stability of his new life.

His host country has been swept up by the same revolutionary fervour that Egypt once experienced.

Post-Bashir Khartoum in 2019 has much in common with Cairo after January 2011, when president Hosni Mubarak was toppled by a popular uprising.

On the walls of the city, the slogans are the same: “Down with the military government”.

The graffiti depicting Bashir is accompanied by the clarion call of the Arab Spring that once reverberated across Egypt, Tunisia and Syria: “get out”.

“A very enthusiastic person asked my opinion of the situation in Sudan… I laughed and said ‘we did the same thing as you and here we are sitting by your side'”, said Abdelaziz, who is in his twenties.

“Let’s not be too optimistic, let’s stay realistic”, he added.

‘Refuge’

If he is cautious, it is because in his country, the democratic moment ended with the removal of Morsi, and paved the way for the repression of not only Islamists but also secularists.

Detained for almost six years and kept in isolation, the ex-president died after collapsing during a court appearance on June 17. 

His Muslim Brotherhood was branded a “terrorist organisation”, and thousands of his supporters were sentenced to years in prison or handed down the death penalty.

In August 2013, security forces dispersed a pro-Morsi sit-in at Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya square, killing more than 700 people in one day.

“Sudan appeared to be something of a safe haven at a particular time for Islamist opponents of the Egyptian regime”, said H.A. Hellyer, senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

Bashir consistently denied that his country granted asylum to members of the Brotherhood.

In 2017, Sudan and Egypt signed an agreement not to host any opposition groups hostile to their respective governments.

The Egyptian authorities even gave Khartoum a list of names of Brotherhood members allegedly residing in Sudan, requesting their extradition, according to several sources.

In fact, Bashir’s regime – which came to power with the support of Islamists – had turned a blind eye to the arrival of the dissidents.

Today, Sudan’s ruling transitional military council has initiated a rapprochement with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, all fiercely hostile to Islamists.

“The new Sudanese regime is currently reformulating its geopolitical position”, Hellyer said. 

‘The same naivety’

Almost every day for more than a month, Abdelaziz has said goodbye to a departing Egyptian friend.

Fellow exile Ahmed, an Egyptian student who came to Sudan since 2015, saw his circle shrink —  all his friends went to Turkey, a stalwart Islamist supporter. 

“They saw a power change” in Sudan, said the young man who also used a pseudonym.

“The fear of the unknown means they want to find a safer place”.

Detained for a few months in Egypt, he also avoided 15 years in prison for participating in a pro-Morsi demonstration after 2013. 

With time and reflection, he said he has distanced himself from the ideology of the Brotherhood, admitting that it had committed “catastrophic errors” in its management of Egypt’s crisis.

To escape the memories and emotions of a painful past, he avoids Sudanese political life. 

But it is not easy when Khartoum is engulfed in protest.

“I feel like these people in the streets are a lot like us,” he said.

“It’s the same dreams, the same ambitions, the same fears, the same desire for change, the same naivety too”.

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International election observers flag concerns over Mozambique’s polls

The country voted in general polls on Tuesday after a campaign marked by violence and claims of electoral fraud

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International election observers flag concerns over Mozambique polls

International observers on Thursday said Mozambique’s election was conducted in an “orderly manner”, but expressed concerns about voter registration irregularities and “an unlevel playing field”.

The country voted in presidential, parliamentary and provincial polls on Tuesday after a campaign marked by violence and claims of electoral fraud.

President Filipe Nyusi’s Frelimo party — which has ruled Mozambique since independence in 1975 — is widely expected to again beat its civil war foe, Renamo, a former rebel group turned main opposition party.

Election day was seen as largely peaceful, but tensions have risen with uncertainty over when the results will be released.

The final results must be published within 15 days of the vote, but the electoral commission has indicated a provisional tally — which had been expected on Thursday — would not be issued.

Ignacio Sanchez Amor, leader of the European Union’s OSCE observer mission, said “voting procedures were well-implemented” on election day.

However, he said the fact that there were no observers in almost half of the country’s polling stations “did not contribute to the transparency of the process”.

Amor added that “an unlevel playing field was evident throughout the campaign”.

READ: Mozambique votes in tense election after violent campaign

“The ruling party dominated the campaign in all provinces and benefited from the advantages of incumbency, including use of state resources.”

The Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) said it was regrettable that irregularities in voter registration had not been addressed before the vote.

Local non-profit observer groups had reported the presence of 300,000 “ghost voters” — names not aligned with real voters — on the electoral roll in the southern Gaza province.

“Key aspects of the process such as the security challenges, voter registration, the campaign and selective accreditation of citizen observers posed challenges to the integrity of the elections,” said EISA Mozambique head and former Ghana President John Dramani Mahama. 

Former Kenyan Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka said the Commonwealth’s observer mission “remained concerned about the impact” of the suspected ghost voters on the election.

However, observers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) had no such concerns.

READ: Mozambique’s Renamo party says members attacked after peace deal

“The pre-election and the voting phases of the 2019 electoral processes were generally peaceful and conducted in an orderly manner,” said Zimbabwean Defence Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, the SADC observer head.

The election has been seen as a key test of the peace deal sealed in August between Frelimo and Renamo, which fought a brutal 1975-1992 civil war.

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Landslide kills 22 in southern Ethiopia

Officials say the landslide in the district of Konta occurred Sunday following 10 hours of heavy rains

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Landslide kills 22 in southern Ethiopia
(File photo)

Rescue workers on Tuesday used excavators to dig out bodies after a landslide in southern Ethiopia washed away homes and killed more than 20 people, a local official said. 

The landslide in the district of Konta occurred Sunday following 10 hours of heavy rains, said the official, Takele Tesfu.

“There are 22 people dead and we have only been able to dig up 17 using manpower and machine power,” Takele told reporters.

“So far, we cannot get the others, so tomorrow we will continue to dig.”  

He said the victims included nine women and six children.

While the district — located in Ethiopia’s Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region — sees landslides with some regularity, Takele said this was the deadliest he could remember. 

“The area where this occurred is very mountainous, and this means the landslide was very dangerous,” he said. 

Ethiopia is nearing the end of its rainy season, but security forces are nonetheless relocating some families for fear that more rain in the coming days could lead to similar disasters, Takele said.

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Mozambique votes in tense election after violent campaign

Mozambique began voting in a general election on Tuesday that some fear could test the country’s fragile peace, after a heated campaign marred by violence and allegations of electoral fraud.

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Mozambique began voting in a general election on Tuesday that some fear could test the country’s fragile peace, after a heated campaign marred by violence and allegations of electoral fraud.

The Frelimo party, which has ruled the impoverished southern African nation since independence from Portugal in 1975, is widely expected to again beat its arch-rival Renamo, a former rebel group turned main opposition party.

President Filipe Nyusi, who cast his ballot as polls opened at 7:00 am (0500 GMT), called on voters to show “the world we stand for democracy and tolerance”.

“Mozambique has chosen to move forward peacefully,” he said, adding that more than more than 4,000 observers had been deployed in the most-watched election in the country’s history.

“Let’s continue this process in a serene way. Peace means that everything must be done according to the rules.”

Nyusi, 60, is forecast to win a second five-year term despite his popularity taking a hit from chronic unrest and a financial crisis linked to alleged state corruption.

While the election is expected to see regional wins for Renamo, few think Frelimo will be unseated from government after 44 years at the helm.

“Frelimo is a machine,” said Castro Davis, a 42-year-old public servant in the capital Maputo, predicting a “straight-forward victory.” 

Elena Jorge, 50, told AFP she wants Renamo to win “but people know that these elections will not be free, fair or transparent — but we have hope.”

Around 13 million of Mozambique’s 30 million citizens are registered to vote at more than 20,000 polling booths, which closes at 6:00 pm (1600 GMT).

Renamo is predicted to take control of three to five of Mozambique’s 10 provinces for the first time following a change of law allowing voters to elect provincial governors.

“This election will be a test for democracy,” said Ericino de Salema of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa.

“For the first time, the political geography of the country may change substantially, it may even lead to confrontation.”

Renamo’s candidate Ossufo Momade, 58, heads a party of former anti-communist rebels who fought a brutal civil war with Frelimo from 1975-1992, devastating the economy and leaving almost one million people dead. 

Renamo picked up arms again in 2013 to 2016, but tension continued until Nyusi and Momade signed a peace deal in August. 

But an armed breakaway faction of Renamo has rejected Momade’s candidacy and threatened to attack campaign events, raising fears the presidential, parliamentary and provincial polls could be marred by bloodshed.

The six-week campaign was one of the most violent in the country’s turbulent history, with candidates threatened, election material destroyed, and deadly clashes breaking out between supporters.

The opposition has already accused Frelimo of tampering with the vote.

Enrolment has more than doubled in the southeastern Gaza province, a Frelimo bastion, and civil society groups have expressed concern about the size of the increase.

They also estimate that there are around 300,000 “ghost voters” on electoral rolls — names on the electoral roll not aligned with real, potential voters.

“We definitely have some irregularities that put stains on the whole process,” said Hermenegildo Mulhovo of election monitoring group Sala da Paz.

The situation escalated last week, when the head of a local election observation mission was shot dead by members of a special police unit in Gaza’s capital Xai-Xai.

Lutero Simango, an MP of the country’s third biggest party MDM, accused Frelimo of “using all state means, including police and secret services, to intimidate people”.

Frelimo suffered its worst result at the ballot box — 51.8 percent — in local elections last year and has been severely weakened in recent years.

In 2016 it was revealed the government secretly borrowed $2 billion, sparking the worst financial crisis in the country’s history and uncovering a vast corruption network with links to the regime.

The government is also battling to recover from two devastating cyclones in March which displaced nearly two million people. 

And a shadowy jihadist insurgency that has killed hundreds in the far north has delayed development of one of the government’s biggest selling points — the discovery of vast gas reserves that is hoped to put billions in state coffers and lift millions out of poverty.

The instability has already forced the National Election Commission to close 10 polling booths, however first Preliminary results are expected to be announced on Thursday. 

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