The International Reporting (and Life) Adventures of Vivian Salama

Archive for June 26th, 2012

Egypt’s Ultraconservative First Lady Naglaa Ali

Posted by vmsalama on June 26, 2012

My latest article on Egypt’s elusive new First Lady.

Egypt’s Ultraconservative First Lady Naglaa Ali

The Daily Beast

By Vivian Salama

June 26, 2012

Naglaa Ali wears little makeup and dons a khimar, an Islamic veil that completely covers the hair and falls loosely to the waist. Ali wasn’t well known in Egypt. That is, until she joined her husband Mohamed Morsi for a tour of Cairo’s presidential palace.

Less than a week before Egypt’s first Islamist president officially assumes office, the nation’s attention has turned to his wife. Until recently, Egypt’s soon-to-be first lady was a mystery to those her husband would soon rule. She rarely accompanied Morsi on his nationwide campaign, and she had done virtually no interviews.

As informal exit polls hinted at Morsi’s win over Ahmed Shafiq, a stalwart of the former regime, Egyptians got a first look at Ali after a few photos went viral on social media and Egyptian news websites. The image sparked heated discussions over whether her ultraconservative appearance is suitable to represent Egypt in a diplomatic arena—a stark contrast from her predecessors, including the now-notorious Suzanne Mubarak, a Westernized elitist who reportedly used her husband’s power to amass a personal fortune of as much as $3.3 million.

Born in Cairo in 1962, Ali was 17 when she married Morsi—her first cousin, a common practice in the Arab world. The couple relocated to the United States shortly after they wed, where Morsi completed his doctorate in engineering at the University of Southern California and later worked as a professor at California State University, Northridge. Ali, who trained as a translator, gave birth to two of their five children while living in the U.S. It was there that she was first enthralled with the grassroots work of the Muslim Brotherhood and became an active member of the organization, engaging in charity work, primarily with a focus on education.

In one of the only interviews she has given to date, she reportedly said she prefers to be called “Oum Ahmed” (the Mother of Ahmed) by the Egyptian people—a traditional designation referring to her eldest son. She also said that she is opposed to living in the presidential palace formerly inhabited by the Mubaraks, and would instead prefer to buy a house in Cairo, suitable for entertaining large groups. (click here for more…)


Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, California, Culture, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Female Circumcision, Foreign Policy, Hosni Mubarak, Islam, Middle East, military, Mohamed Morsi, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood | Leave a Comment »

Mohamed Morsi’s Great Burden

Posted by vmsalama on June 26, 2012

My latest from Cairo:

Mohamed Morsi’s Great Burden

The Daily Beast

By Vivian Salama

June 26, 2012

With millions of people still flooding the streets of Egypt in a frenzied celebration over the results of the historic presidential election, Mohamed Morsi delivered his first televised address to the nation. Standing behind a tall podium marked with the presidential seal only hours after he was named the winner, he called for national reconciliation between fractured political powers. Morsi vowed to be president to all Egyptians in an effort to win the confidence of the 12 million people who voted for his opponent, Ahmed Shafiq, and the disenfranchised millions who abstained from casting a ballot. “I am aware of the challenges which face us now, but I’m sure if we work together, with your support, we will be able to pass through this transitional moment,” Morsi said in his victory speech.

The roller-coaster presidential race now behind him, Morsi, 60, must confront his fiercest opponent yet: the military. Days before the electoral runoff, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) took several measures to consolidate power and limit civil rights, sparking outrage that drew tens of thousands of protesters back to Tahrir Square and around the nation. The Islamist-dominated parliament was dissolved a mere two days before voters went to the polls. The military also passed a decree stating that it—and not the president—will preside over the national budget, particularly with regard to defense. (Egypt receives $1.3 billion annually in military aid from the U.S.) Finally, it ruled that military officers can arrest civilians—a decision that was overturned Tuesday in an early victory for Morsi. The move kicked off the latest phase of Egypt’s revolution under conditions of great uncertainty, with no parliament, no constitution, and a preemptively weakened president.

Agreeing on the fundamental principles that will guide Egypt’s future may be easier than finding the people to implement them. Boycotts and bitter allegations tarnished initial efforts to form a constitutional committee. The makeup of the panel has been a sore spot for secular activists and politicians after the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and the more hardline Al Nour Party claimed most of the seats. After months of wrangling, a new assembly was named just days before the presidential election, including representatives from most political parties, the country’s Islamic and Christian institutions, formerly jailed opposition members—even actors and artists.

The 100-member multiparty committee has already begun its work ahead of Morsi’s July 1 inauguration in an effort to rewrite the constitution with greater emphasis on a balance of powers between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches and the military. Defining the role of the president is particularly urgent as Morsi prepares to take office, with questions still lingering over term limits, whether or not he should have legislative powers, and his dynamic with the military. The military last week issued an “addendum” to a constitutional declaration written last year, stating that it can dissolve the constituent assembly if the governing body confronts any hurdles. (click here to read more…)

Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, dictatorship, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Hosni Mubarak, Islam, Israel, Media, Middle East, military, Mohamed Morsi, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Politics | Leave a Comment »