Nov. 27 (Bloomberg) -- Middle East voters awaited changes of government as Morocco’s main Islamist opposition party won parliamentary elections, Egyptians prepared for their own polls tomorrow and Yemen set a date for a presidential vote.
The Justice and Development Party yesterday won the biggest bloc of 80 seats in Moroccan elections that will test King Mohammed VI’s commitment to shift some royal powers to an elected premier.
The balloting was the first since pro-democracy protests began as part of the so-called Arab Spring uprisings that ousted the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. An election in Tunisia has already brought the once-banned Islamist Ennahdha party to power while members of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood stand to win a large share of tomorrow’s ballot.
“Those who are against us must respect the principles of democracy,” Abdelilah Benkirane, head of the Justice and Development Party said late yesterday by telephone. “I frankly don’t understand why people are scared of us. With regards to women’s right, I don’t think anyone in 2011 can take the rights gained by women away.”
Egypt’s ruling generals yesterday returned former Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri to the post of premier and tasked him with forming a new Cabinet. El-Ganzouri, 78, met with representatives of protest groups who have occupied Cairo’s central Tahrir Square for more than a week to demand an end to military rule. Polls are due to open tomorrow for the first round of parliamentary elections that end in January. The army has said it will stay in power until a presidential poll before the end of June.
Yemen will hold a presidential election on Feb. 21, the state-run Saba news agency reported yesterday. Opposition parties earlier chose Mohamed Salem Basindwah as their candidate to lead a national unity government after President Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to relinquish power, said Mohammed Qahtan, an opposition spokesman. Under an agreement brokered by the six- nation Gulf Co-operation Council aimed at ending months of bloodshed, Saleh will cede power to his deputy.
Saleh, in power for more than three decades, was the fourth leader to succumb to the popular unrest that has spread across the region. The 22-member Arab League’s Social and Economic Council will make recommendations to Arab foreign ministers today in Cairo on possible sanctions against the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, where an eight-month crackdown against protesters has killed at least 3,500 people, according to United Nations estimates.
In Cairo, demonstrators occupying the city’s central Tahrir Square called on the head of the ruling military council, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, to quit. One person died in clashes with police yesterday, state media reported, bringing the official death toll from clashes in the past week to 39.
The army council, which took over after Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in February, is seeking to form an interim government in an attempt to defuse the unrest. The violence, which began in Cairo and cities including Alexandria, threatens to derail the elections and undermine attempts to secure financing for an economy still struggling to recover from this year’s revolt.
El-Ganzouri yesterday proposed forming an advisory committee that would include presidential hopefuls Mohamed ElBaradei and Abdel Moneim Abu el-Fotouh to work with his government, Osama Farag, general coordinator of the Union of Revolutionary Youth, told reporters after the meeting. Egypt’s prime minister-designate also accepted from protest groups a list of recommendations for ministerial posts in the government. He said he would retain five or six ministers from the outgoing government of Essam Sharaf, state media reported.
Question of Power
“The question is, what power do these advisers have and what vision do they have for Egypt?” said Ahmed Farouk, a physicist attending the protests in Tahrir Square. “It is impossible for these advisers to have full power as long as the field marshal and the military council are running the country. They should form a coalition government that includes all political groups.”
ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said he is willing to abandon his presidential bid to lead a national salvation government, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported, citing a statement by ElBaradei’s office.
--With assistance from Mahmoud Kassem and Mariam Fam in Cairo, Nadeem Hamid in Washington. Editors: Digby Lidstone, Bob Drummond.
To contact the reporters on this story: Ahmed A Namatalla in Cairo at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at email@example.com