Today's BP Ledger includes items from:
The Alabama Baptist
Northwest Baptist Convention (two items)
World News Service
Forum 18 News Service
Alexander City churches reach community through fall festival
By Julie Payne
ALEXANDER CITY, Ala. (The Alabama Baptist)--Three Baptist churches in Alexander City recently united to bring a fall festival to their community, and the results were beyond what many imagined.
The idea to go outside the church's walls and present a community-wide fall festival was initially sparked last fall by Matt Haines, pastor of Sixth Street Baptist Church, Alexander City.
When the idea again resurfaced in August, Haines reached out to several local churches, as well as the city's Parks and Recreation Department to inquire about using the Alexander City Sportsplex facility for the event.
The two other Alexander City churches involved with the festival, Orr Street Baptist Church and Hillabee Baptist Church, began working with Sixth Street Baptist to implement plans.
"We just all worked together, bringing all of our different games together," said Vince Lee, pastor of Hillabee Baptist.
They each promoted the event within their churches and also set up a Facebook page.
The festival, dubbed Alexander City Community Fall Fest, was held on the Sportsplex softball fields Oct. 31.
Each church was responsible for various games and activities. For example, Sixth Street Baptist was responsible for eight games with one or two church volunteers assisting each one.
The event was slated to begin at 6 p.m., but Lee said crowds began pouring in just after 5 p.m. "We went ahead and started letting them in," he said.
Community Fall Fest was a free event, aside from concessions, and offered a variety of activities for families: hayrides, train rides, pony rides, a petting zoo, photo booths, inflatables, a cake walk and many other games. One field was designated for children up to age 7, and another field for children above age 7.
The churches set up a prayer tent where visitors had the opportunity to stop in and be prayed for.
In all, Lee said approximately 2,500 people came through the festival, a number he certainly wasn't anticipating. "We're blown away by the success of it," he reported. "It was amazing."
Haines echoed the same sentiment and added that each church involved typically has between 300-500 participants at individual fall festival events.
Now that the dust has settled, the churches will conduct a period of follow up with those who registered. Lee explained the goal is ultimately connecting them to Jesus and encouraging them to be in a local church. "It's all about the Kingdom," he said.
Reflecting on the evening, Lee shared that Community Fall Fest is a snapshot of what three small churches can do when they cooperatively work together.
Haines said the festival enabled the churches to conduct an event that had a much bigger impact than if they had planned events individually. He added they want to try to expand and have more churches involved for next year.
"It was affordable, it was safe, it was positive," Lee explained. He added that on a night (Halloween) that places a lot of emphasis on the dark, this event turned it into an evening with light.
NWBC business manager to retire
VANCOUVER, Wash. (Northwest Baptist Convention)--After 37 years of helping guide the Northwest Baptist Convention's financial operation, business manager Stephen Langston will retire Dec. 31.
Langston, 65, started working at the NWBC in 1974 as a part-time accountant and later was named business manager after Ray McCollum retired.
He and his wife, Nancy, are longtime members of First Baptist Church in Beaverton, Ore., where his brother is pastor. Prior to membership there, Langston was involved in numerous NWBC congregations in Oregon: Lincoln Street Baptist Church, Portland; University Park Baptist Church, Eugene; Trinity Baptist Church Springfield; and Central Baptist Church, Baker City.
"One of the tasks I most enjoyed through the years was opening and counting the mission gifts from the churches," said Langston. For him, those financial gifts represented part of a personal story:
"I was just entering high school when my family first moved to the Northwest. We joined a small Baptist church in eastern Oregon. Our church was geographically isolated and a considerable distance from other Northwest Baptist churches, but one ways that we felt a part of God's kingdom work was in giving a percentage of our undesignated church receipts through the Cooperative Program and in giving to special mission offerings such as the Lottie Moon Mission Offering for International Missions. We would set mission offering goals and take pride in striving to meet those goals."
Among many Northwest Baptist leaders, Langston is knows as a business manager who keeps a focus on ministry at the forefront.
"I have never forgotten that when the church gifts come into the Northwest Baptist Convention office they represent sacrificial giving on the part of persons who care about the Great Commission," he said. "There may not be many dollars from an individual church, but the dollars given are the best efforts of that congregation and the church members want those dollars invested in ministry in the Northwest and throughout the world.
"In turn, I have always treated those dollars with respect and tried to exercise good stewardship in the expenditure of those funds," Langston added. "And the dollars from churches large and small are able to accomplish much more combined together than if each church were simply working independently on its own."
In looking back over several decades of ministry in the Northwest, Langston identified four key developments in the life of Northwest Baptists: formation of the Canadian Convention of Southern Baptists as a separate entity from the NWBC; establishment of the Pacific Northwest Campus of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary; relocating NWBC offices from Portland into a newly-constructed building in Vancouver, Wash.; and the increased number of ethnic churches affiliated with the convention.
Harper named to NWBC post as women's specialist
SEATTLE, Wash. (Northwest Baptist Convention)--Laura Harper has been enlisted by the Northwest Baptist Convention to serve as the NWBC's women's specialist. She is set to begin her duties immediately.
In her new role, Harper will be the primary contact person for women's ministry and Woman's Missionary Union organizations for NWBC churches. She will seek to build relationships and a network of regional Northwest women leaders. Harper will also head the Northwest Women's Leadership team in providing training and mission education at the annual Women's Summit held in April and the Northwest Women's breakout session held at the NWBC annual meeting.
"I am very much looking forward to connecting more with women of Oregon, Washington and Idaho," Harper said. "I would love to be able to just come and visit the different ministries women are involved in. I hope to encourage, support resource, train and just help in any way I can. I hope to meet as many as possible at the annual meeting in Eugene, Ore., on November 14-16. We will also be planning for the Women's Summit April 13-14 in Vancouver, Wash."
Making her home now in Seattle, Wash., Harper has served with her husband, Brian, in college ministry, church planting, women's ministry missions and humanitarian work and those ventures have taken her to places in North and South America, Europe and Africa.
"I have thoroughly enjoyed serving with Pamela Brock of the Northwest Baptist Convention and Gwen Moore in conferences and planning for women's events," said Harper. "I have a deep appreciation for both WMU and women's ministry, as God has used them in my life to help shape and direct my growth and service. I started in Girls in Action and Acteen (WMU programs), served with the International Mission Board and now with the North American Mission Board and the Northwest Baptist Convention.
Harper will also represent the Northwest Baptist Convention at a national meeting sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources held each December in Nashville, Tenn.
"I love serving alongside my husband," Harper noted. "We have invested most of our time and energy focusing on Seattle and ethnic work in church planting, as Brian is the church planting catalyst for Seattle. We recently moved into the Purple Door Baptist student dorm at the University of Washington to serve as dorm parents, mentors and as program coordinators."
Those interested in connecting with Harper may reach her via email at email@example.com or leave a message at 360.882.2114.
Climbing for Freedom
Forty-seven women, including a college student from Florida, will hike the world's tallest mountain to raise money for sex trafficking victims
By Kara Bettis
ASHEVILLE, N.C. (World News Service) -- Madison Baczewski wanted to serve God, just not overseas. But when she learned that a team of women planned to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise money and awareness for sex trafficking victims - a cause she's felt passionate about since she was 13 - she couldn't say no.
On Jan. 11 -- National Human Trafficking Awareness Day in the United States -- Baczewski and 46 other women from around the world will backpack the world's highest freestanding mountain. Baczewski, an 18-year-old high school senior from Boca Raton, Fl., who also is enrolled as a nursing student at Palm Beach Atlantic University, is the youngest climber; the oldest woman is 73.
The climbers come from more than 25 different states and about eight countries. Baczewski and six others from South Florida meet occasionally to encourage and motivate one another. All 47 women converged on Colorado in September to climb Pike's Peak.
"Those of us from Florida weren't used to the altitude," Baczewski said. "But we really clicked, and it just showed how beautiful this group of women is."
Operation Mobilization, a Christian organization that works to meet spiritual needs and break the bonds of oppression around the world, organized the trip to raise money for micro-loans, education and skills training project designed to help break the cycle of poverty and slavery. Baczewski heard about the climb in February from family friend and fellow climber, Lori Degler.
"From the moment I heard about it, I was on board," Baczewski said. "God put Africa on my heart a couple of weeks before, and it was to the point where it kept me awake at night. I felt like God had opened the door for me."
The climb will not be easy. The summit, known as Uhuru Peak, reaches 19,340 feet. The trek will require a daily physical, spiritual and mental commitment. Each woman must be in tip-top shape, and Baczewski will have had less than a year to train. Her busy schedule has kept her from intense training, but she does consistent anaerobic exercise and builds up her endurance by walking up an incline carrying a backpack filled with hand weights. Her greatest fear is the altitude sickness that strikes many climbers.
Baczewski and the other climbers also expect to face spiritual and mental challenges. A pastor who spoke to the women told them they needed to train their minds, as well as their bodies. They must train themselves to rely on God and realize that Satan will be on the attack, he told them.
As she prepares for the climb and keeps up with her studies, Baczewski must also raise the funds to pay for her trip - making daily phone calls, planning fundraisers and scheduling events. When she returns, she will continue raising awareness and money to help reach the group's financial goal.
"Right now we're working in anticipation of Kilimanjaro, but when we, return we'll have more credibility," she said.
As the youngest member of the group, Baczewski faces some unique challenges, especially with fundraising. The older women have friends and acquaintances who have the means to contribute to the project. Baczewski doesn't.
"My sphere of influence consists of broke college students and kids dependent on their parents," she said.
On the other hand, Baczewski's youthful exuberance and passion for the cause gives her testimony power.
The money the women raise will be spent during the next year to help at least 10,000 sex trafficking victims, or women who are at-risk of being trafficked.This year, 800,000 people will become victims of sex-trafficking, a statistic each of the climbers takes to heart, Baczewski said.
"These women's value is taken from them, their voice is snatched from them," she said. "It makes us sick; we lose sleep over it; we want to be broken and messed up over the situation. We want to feel their pain and come alongside them and bring them into freedom and salvation."
Before deciding to go to Africa, Baczewski asked God to send her anywhere but overseas. Being part of a bigger cause changed where she saw her life going, she said. It's also opened her eyes to new responsibilities.
"We're in the top 10 percent of the world, and what are we going to do with that gift? We're in a beautiful, beautiful bubble, what are we going to do with it?" For more information about the climb, visit www.freedomclimb.net.
KAZAKHSTAN: New draft regulations outline official religious censorship
By Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service
Kazakhstan's state Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA) has prepared - but not yet adopted - new regulations to implement the system of compulsory state censorship of almost all religious literature and objects. The Regulations for "expert analyses" will also apply to religious organisations' statutes. Without such ARA approval, religious books cannot be imported (apart from in small quantities) or distributed, and religious organisations will not be able to gain state registration. The draft Regulations - seen by Forum 18 News Service - make no provisions for any challenges to ARA's censorship decisions. They were presented to a closed 27 October meeting of about twenty senior government officials to devise plans for implementing that month's harsh new Religion Law. No one at the ARA was prepared to discuss the Censorship Regulations with Forum 18, or when they might be adopted.
Under draft Censorship Regulations prepared by Kazakhstan's state Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA), officials will have up to 90 days to conduct the compulsory state censorship of almost all religious literature and objects, as well as the statutes of religious organisations. The exception to this may be if a registered religious organisation prints literature, but both the Religion Law and the draft Censorship Regulations are unclear on this.
If the ARA rejects literature or objects before or after censorship, it will be an offence to import, produce or distribute it. If it rejects a religious organisation's statute, that community is unlikely to be registered by the Justice Ministry and its activity will be illegal and subject to penalties. Forum 18 News Service notes that the draft Regulations contain no mechanism for individuals, religious communities or publishers to challenge any ARA ban on such items. Forum 18 has been unable to find out when these draft Regulations are likely to be formally adopted, and if they will be adopted in their current form.
Under Article 38 of the March 1998 Law on Normative-Legal Acts, such regulations issued by central government bodies need to be registered with the Justice Ministry to enter into legal force. Article 38, Part 2 states that the Justice Ministry can refuse to register them if they "harm the rights and freedoms of citizens established by law".
Other regulations being prepared
In addition to the Censorship Regulations, the ARA is (together with various other state bodies) also preparing other regulations to implement October's harsh new Religion Law (see F18News 23 September 2011 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1617). These include: regulations on how religious communities must register or re-register; how local and foreign citizens wanting to engage in whatever state officials define as "missionary activities" must register; how religious literature can be brought into prisons; how different religious communities relate; how and where places of worship are allowed to be built; where worship can take place outside registered places of worship; where religious books and materials are allowed to be sold; and what names religious communities are allowed to give to their places of worship (see forthcoming F18News article).
Censorship violates human rights commitments
While some individuals and religious communities say that government prior censorship of religious literature is required to prevent the distribution of texts inciting violence, others complain to Forum 18 that such censorship violates freedom of speech. They also fear that ARA officials will act arbitrarily and slowly to ban religious literature they do not like or which is associated with religious communities they do not like.
Kazakhstan's censorship regime directly violates its international human rights commitments, such as Paragraphs 16.9 and 16.10 of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe's (OSCE) Vienna Concluding Document of 1989. In 2010, Kazakhstan was OSCE Chair-in-Office. Paragraphs 16.9 and 16.10 read:
"(16) In order to ensure the freedom of the individual to profess and practise religion or belief, the participating States will, inter alia,
(16.9) - respect the right of individual believers and communities of believers to acquire, possess, and use sacred books, religious publications in the language of their choice and other articles and materials related to the practice of religion or belief,
(16.10) - allow religious faiths, institutions and organizations to produce, import and disseminate religious publications and materials;
(17) The participating States recognize that the exercise of the above-mentioned rights relating to the freedom of religion or belief may be subject only to such limitations as are provided by law and consistent with their obligations under international law and with their international commitments. They will ensure in their laws and regulations and in their application the full and effective exercise of the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief" (see compilation of OSCE freedom of religion or belief commitments at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1351).
First time censorship formally codified
The draft Censorship Regulations - drawn up following the new Religion Law - represent the first time the way the official state censorship of religious literature and other materials is conducted will have been codified. However, partial state censorship of religious literature imported into the country has existed for some years. In one case known to Forum 18, religious books imported into the country were held up in customs for months until the ARA gave permission earlier this year.
Religious communities have told Forum 18 that the ARA has stopped processing applications for censorship approval of religious literature. Officials have told religious communities in recent months that until the new Regulations have been adopted, permission for religious materials to be published or imported cannot be given.
Draft Regulations presented at closed meeting
The new draft Censorship Regulations - seen by Forum 18 - were prepared by the ARA in October. They were presented at a closed meeting of about twenty senior officials in the capital Astana on the afternoon of 27 October, very shortly after the two controversial Laws restricting freedom of religion or belief came into force (see F18News 19 October 2011 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1627).
The 27 October meeting - chaired by Kazakhstan's State Secretary Kanat Saudabaev, who as Foreign Minister was OSCE Chairperson-in-Office - was also attended by ARA head Kairat Lama Sharif, as well as senior ministers and the heads of the National Security Committee (KNB) secret police and the Foreign Intelligence Service. The meeting outlined how the harsh new Law will be implemented (see forthcoming F18News article).
The meeting paid particular attention to moves to subjugate the Muslim community to the state (see forthcoming F18News article).
At Saudabaev's urging, the meeting ordered the ARA - together with the Justice Ministry, the Interior Ministry "and other plenipotentiary state agencies" - to adopt Regulations to implement the new Law on a variety of issues by 15 November, according to the minutes of the meeting seen by Forum 18.
However, as of 24 November, the ARA has not formally adopted the new Censorship Regulations or made public the draft text. No one at the ARA in Astana was prepared to discuss with Forum 18 on 24 November the content of the draft text or when it will be formally adopted.
Nor has the ARA yet formally adopted any regulations governing how religious communities will register or re-register. Under the new Religion Law, all religious communities must revise and resubmit their statutes to the registering body by October 2012 to be able to continue to function (see F18News 13 October 2011 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1624).
Censorship mandated by new Religion Law
The prior compulsory censorship - or "expert analysis" - of almost all religious literature, other religious materials and statutes of religious organisations was mandated in the new Religion Law. This came into force in October (see F18News 23 September 2011 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1617).
Article 9, Part 3 of the Religion Law requires that all imports of "informational materials of religious content" - apart from small quantities for personal use - be done only by registered religious organisations with prior approval from the ARA, which has to conduct an "expert analysis" of each title.
It does not appear that the production of "religious literature" or "other informational materials of religious content" by registered religious organisations within Kazakhstan is restricted, though Article 9, Part 4 requires each work to have the "full name" of the religious organisation which produced it.
This appears to exclude the possibility of private individuals or commercial companies producing such literature. Also, religious literature and objects may only be distributed through state-approved venues for distributing religious literature. This is stated in Article 9, Part 2 of the Religion Law.
The Religion Law states that "expert analyses" - conducted by the ARA - are required not only for all "religious literature" or "other informational materials of religious content" imported for distribution in Kazakhstan, but also for any religious literature acquired by libraries in any institution or organisation. The exact terms of this requirement remain unclear. "Objects of religious significance" - presumably including crosses, crucifixes, Koran stands and vestments - and "spiritual (religious) educational programmes" are also, under Article 6, Part 3, subject to an "expert analysis".
Article 15 of the Religion Law implies that the statutes of all religious organisations applying for registration or re-registration will undergo "expert analysis".
"Religious studies experts", as well as "when necessary" state officials, conduct such "expert analyses" on behalf of the ARA.
What is in the draft Censorship Regulations?
Echoing provisions in the Religion Law, Article 5 of the draft Censorship Regulations specifies that religious associations' "founding documents", "documents determining the structure, the bases of the religious associations' religious teaching, religious practice, and forms and methods of religious activity", religious education programmes, "informational materials of religious content", as well as "objects of religious significance".
In what appears to be a grammatically confused sentence, Article 2 of the draft Regulations specifies that "expert analyses" will be conducted by the ARA "with the aims of establishing the conformity of the activity of religious associations with the legislation of Kazakhstan, of an analysis of literature and other materials of religious content and objects of religious significance".
- When is censorship applied?
"Expert analyses" are initiated, according to Article 10, when an individual or organisation asks for one from the ARA, when religious publications "arrive in a library" or reach the ARA, when religious communities or "missionaries" seek the compulsory registration, when any religious literature is imported (apart from small quantities for personal use) or when the head of the ARA orders one.
- Bans without censorship
Under Article 11, the ARA is empowered to refuse to conduct a "religious expert analysis" - in effect banning a publication or object - if an item belongs to an organisation that has been banned in Kazakhstan, if it is subject to an international or inter-governmental ban, if no "authentic translation" into Kazakh or Russian is provided or if the item presented is incomplete.
Forum 18 notes that the requirement to provide a full translation into Kazakh or Russian of all materials used for religious materials in Kazakhstan - such as from Arabic, Old Church Slavonic, Hebrew, Latin, Polish, Armenian or Sanskrit - seems set to require much work from religious communities seeking to import such materials.
- Who conducts censorship?
The ARA uses its own employees "having special knowledge in the area of religion" as "experts" to conduct the censorship. However, under Article 7, the ARA can also bring in outside "specialists" from "state agencies, religious associations, social organisations, religious studies specialists, lawyers and other experts" if it needs to. "Experts" from abroad can also be used. The ARA provides the "expert" or "experts" with specific questions on the item to be examined.
Article 20 requires the "expert" or "experts" to "prepare a reasoned, scientifically-based, objective and full expert conclusion". They are required not to publicise their "expert analysis" or give any view publicly on the item they have examined.
The ARA is empowered, under Article 18, to seek further information about a book or object "experts" are examining from state agencies, religious or social organisations or (via the Foreign Ministry) foreign state bodies or international organisations.
- Timescale for censorship
Article 16 requires the "expert analysis" to be completed by the nominated "experts" within sixty days. However, it gives no deadline as to how quickly the ARA must assign to the "experts" any religious items presented for censorship. Article 17 allows for a further 30 days if any supplementary questions need to be answered.
When the "expert analysis" is of religious materials to be used by a local or foreign citizen conducting "missionary activity", the time taken to conduct the analysis does not count towards the specified period in which the application for the "missionary's" compulsory state registration must be considered, according to Article 24. The Religion Law does not clearly define "missionary activity", but states that this includes "spreading a faith". It also states that only individuals formally permitted by both the state and a registered religious organisation can engage in this activity (see F18News 23 September 2011 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1617).
- Organisation's ideas and activities censored
When the statutes of a religious organisation applying for state registration are being examined, the time taken to conduct the analysis does not count towards the specified period in which such applications must be considered, according to Article 24 of the Censorship Regulations.
Article 16, Part 3 of the Religion Law requires each organisation's statute to explain "the fundamental religious ideas, forms of activity of the religious association, particularities of its attitude to marriage and the family, education and health of the participants (members) of the given religious association and other people, and attitude to the realisation of the constitutional rights and obligations of its participants (members) and officials". It remains unclear how extensive this information would have to be and how state officials will determine whether any of these explanations are adequate or not (see F18News 23 September 2011 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1617).
- Second censorship by ARA after "experts"
Article 27 of the Censorship Regulations specifies that "expert analyses" are of purely "recommendatory nature". This implies that the ARA could make its own censorship decisions regardless of the recommendation of the "expert" or "experts".
Under Article 28, "the results of expert analyses" are to be published on the ARA's website "with the exception of cases specified in the law of Kazakhstan". However, it remains unclear whether the reasoning behind an approval or a ban on any specific item will also be published.
- Formal consequences of censorship
Article 29 of the draft Censorship Regulations specifies that the Justice Ministry - which is responsible for registering religious organisations under the new Religion Law - will take into account the "expert analysis" (presumably of a religious organisation's statute) when deciding whether or not to register it. It remains unclear what happens if the ARA's decision differs from that of the "expert" or "experts".
Article 26 specifies that "expert analyses" of items for criminal and administrative court cases are governed by other laws, but presumably the ARA's "conclusions" will be taken into account by courts.
This could be a reference to cases under Article 375 of the Code of Administrative Offences which, among other religious activity, punishes "violating the procedure for importing, producing, publishing and/or distributing religious literature or items of religious content". Under the amendments introduced to this Article in October, this is punishable by fines and, if done by a registered organisation, a suspension of the organisation's activity for three months (see F18News 23 September 2011 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1617).
Presumably, in such cases a court will ask the ARA as to whether an individual or religious community has produced or distributed religious literature or materials without undergoing the required prior censorship.
Building on earlier censorship
The new Religion Law, new penalties in the Code of Administrative Offences and the proposed new Censorship Regulations build on earlier state censorship of religious materials, mainly literature.
"Such controls were introduced gradually from about 2007," one individual involved in religious publication told Forum 18 from Almaty on 21 November. "However, now it is compulsory."
Initially, censorship mainly covered religious literature imported into the country. "Customs told us we had to get permission from the government's religious affairs officials," the Almaty source told Forum 18.
However, locally-produced material also began to be censored. In 2009, Anti-Terrorist Police seized Russian translations of the Koran published locally by the Ahmadi Muslim community - whose charter allowed them to publish literature - from a bookshop in the northern city of Kostanay. Police claimed this was to allow the books to be "checked", and the bookshop chain involved then refused to stock the translation.
Later that year, the Justice Ministry's then Committee for Religious Affairs (a predecessor of the ARA) produced an "expert study" alleging that the Jehovah's Witness magazines 'The Watchtower' and 'Awake' "creates preconditions for the development of conflicts on inter-confessional grounds, for the aggravation of the religious and social-political situation in the society, presents a potential threat for the security of the state" (see Forum 18's Kazakhstan religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1352). The authorities subsequently revoked the ban on the two magazines after Jehovah's Witness complaints.
In 2011, the ARA banned the visit to Kazakhstan of an Islamic author, Imam Shamil Alyautdinov of Moscow's Memorial Mosque. He had intended to present his new religious books in some Russian-speaking higher education institutions, and in bookshops. The ARA later claimed to have overturned the ban, but insisted his books would need to undergo the compulsory censorship (see F18News 21 October 2011 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1628). (END)
For a personal commentary on how attacking religious freedom damages national security in Kazakhstan, see F18News http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=564.
For more background, see Forum 18's Kazakhstan religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1352.
More reports on freedom of thought, conscience and belief in Kazakhstan can be found at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?query=&religion=all&country=29.
A compilation of Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) freedom of religion or belief commitments can be found at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1351.
A printer-friendly map of Kazakhstan is available at http://education.nationalgeographic.com/education/mapping/outline-map/?map=Kazakhstan.
Forum 18 News Service, based in Oslo, Norway, is a nonprofit news service which reports on matters of religious freedom as reflected in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
What to Watch For in the Egyptian Elections
By Samuel Tadros, Hudson Institute
WASHINGTON (Hudson Institute) -- While much of the Western media is preoccupied with the clashes in Tahrir Square and their narrative of a reignited revolution, Egypt begins voting today in what may be the longest voting process in history. These elections are important not only because they are the first after the fall of Mubarak, but because the parliament they elect will be responsible for choosing the committee that will write Egypt's new constitution. Victory today for any group means the ability to set the rules of the game in the future.
Today, Egyptians head to the polls to vote for the lower chamber of parliament. The elections for that chamber will go well into January, with the upper chamber following until March. A quick explanation of the electoral process is needed for readers to follow the events as they unfold.
The lower chamber will be composed of 508 members, 498 elected and ten appointed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). The 498 members will be elected by two methods: two thirds of them (332) through closed party lists, the remaining one third (166) through individual seats. To complicate things further, a minimum of 50 percent of all members of parliament must be workers or peasants, a rule that has been in place since the Nasserist era.
Few Egyptians, however, fully understand how the voting will proceed. Each Egyptian will be casting two ballots, one for the party lists (where he will be voting for one list only) and one ballot for the individual seats (where he will choose two candidates). Is he obliged to vote for a worker/peasant as one of his choices? No one really knows — the election committee has given mixed answers. Add in the fact that this will be many Egyptians' first time voting in parliamentary elections, and we should expect a record number of invalid votes.
The elections are divided into three stages, with Egypt's 27 governates divided equally between them. Each stages will take place over two rounds. In the first round, the list seats will all get decided, since the minimum vote requirement is so low (0.5 percent). For the individual seats, a candidate must receive half-plus-one of votes cast in order to be declared a winner without a runoff, and since each district has over 100 candidates running for its seats, such an outcome is not expected. One week following the first round, runoff elections will be held between the highest vote receivers.
The coalitions contesting the elections are:
1. Democratic Alliance: Headed by the Muslim Brotherhood and includes nine other minor parties, including a Nasserite one and El Ghad of Ayman Nour. The Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party is providing 77 percent of the alliance's candidates.
2. Islamic Alliance: Includes seven Islamist parties. The main ones are the Salafist Light Party and the Building and Development Party, which is formed by former founders of the terrorist group Gamaa Islamia, whose spiritual leader is the Blind Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman.
3. The Egyptian Bloc: Includes three parties, the right-of-center Free Egyptians, formed by Christian billionaire Naguib Sawiris; the left-of-center Social Democratic Party; and the Socialist National Progressive Unionist Party.
4. The Revolution Continues Alliance: Formed by revolutionary groups such as the Egyptian Socialist Party, the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, the Egyptian Current Party formed by former MB youth, and the Freedom Egypt Party formed by former Carnegie Endowment scholar, Amr Hamzawy.
Outside of those coalitions, there are parties contesting the elections on their own:
1. El Wafd Party: the historical nationalist party that fought for Egypt's independence from the British.
2. The Center Party: formed by former MB members in the mid '90s.
3. The Justice Party: formed by some activists and people associated with Mohamed El Baradei.
4. Reform and Development Party: formed as a coalition between Catholic businessman Ramy Lakah and Anwar Essmat El Sadat, the nephew of the former president.
5. Former NDP parties: These include seven parties that are more a loose alliance of families than real parties. Each of them is centered in a certain area in Egypt.
Before we take a look at what to watch and expect in this round, some general observations are necessary.
1. The question is not whether the Islamists will win, but what the size of their victory is going to be. Contrary to the earlier narrative propagated by the Western media, the Islamist victory will not be in the 30-40 percent range. It is quite apparent to anyone that has been paying attention that their victory will be nothing short of a tsunami.
2. The real battle is not going to be between the Islamists and the imagined liberals. The struggle in most Egyptian governates will be between the Muslim Brotherhood's Democratic Alliance and the more radical Salafist Islamic Alliance.
3. The imagined sleeping giant of Sufism that could counter the Islamists is nothing more than a pipe dream. The Sufi Egyptian Liberation Party is fielding only 15 candidates in the elections and none of them is expected to win.
4. The much-talked-about splits inside the Brotherhood, mainly among their youth, are another pipe dream. None of the people and parties formed by former MB members will perform well.
5. The Egyptian Bloc will be the largest non-Islamist party represented in the next parliament. More than 95 percent of Christians are voting for the Bloc due to Christians' support for the Free Egyptian Party, which is the main party in the Bloc's three-party coalition.
6. Western polling that gave the Wafd the second rank after the MB will turn out to be wrong. El Wafd will be the election's largest losers. The only reason they polled well was name recognition and not actual support.
7. The elections will indicate the actual size of the revolutionary groups. Their Revolution Continues Coalition will perform very poorly.
In the first stage, parties are competing for 168 seats. Those seats are hardly representative of the whole country. The cities, including Cairo and Alexandria, are being contested. But Egypt is not Cairo and Cairo is not Tahrir square. (This is a self evident fact, but it sometimes escapes observers.) The non-Islamists will perform better in this stage than they will in the overall. If the Islamists manage to get 50 percent of this round, we should expect their overall to be in the 65 percent range.
The New York Times is already running with a story about the unexpectedly large turnout. Such early assessments are premature. The long lines you will be seeing in newspapers and on TV screens are a result of a regulation that requires judicial supervision of each ballot box. Given Egypt's limited number of judges, an average of almost six voting stations are being combined into one. Given also that people are required to fill out two ballots, one of them requiring a choice between over 100 individual candidates, voting is expected to take a long time. It is for this reason that the ruling military council has decided to make voting take place over two days. Turnout will only become clear after we see actual numbers coming out of the election committee.
The Islamists are proving why they deserve to win. While ideology is the main reason for their support, their organizational skills are proving to be quite helpful. In front of every voting station, voters are greeted by MB representatives sitting with their computers and telling voters what to do exactly. Their supporters have been mobilized for months and have been transferred to the stations.
What to watch for today:
1. How many individual seats get decided from the first round. With the law requiring that a candidate receive 50 percent plus one of the votes cast and over 100 candidates competing for the each seat, hardly any seat is likely to be determined without a runoff. If the Islamists manage to win more than a few seats from the first round, this will be an indication that they will completely dominate those seats.
2. Do the former ruling NDP candidates stand their ground in Luxor? If they do, the same is likely in other southern governates in the next rounds. If they don't, nothing will stand between the Islamists and a two-thirds majority.
3. While all eyes will be on Alexandria to assess the Salafists' electoral strength, it is more important to watch what will happen in Kafr El Sheikh and Fayyoum. If the Salafists perform well there, the same will happen in other governates such as Behira and Bani Suif.
4. The battle for Port Said. No seat symbolizes the chances of non-Islamists more than the individual non-workers seat in Port Said. George Ishak, the former Communist founder of the Kefaya Movement, is competing against Akram El Shaer of the MB.
5. Will the tribes hold their ground in the Red Sea or will the MB win any seat there? This will be an indication of how other desert governates will go. Traditionally, the MB has had no presence in those governates.
— Samuel Tadros is a research fellow at the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom.
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