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Egypt's Islamist surge

And other news briefs

Issue: "2011 Daniel of the Year," Dec. 17, 2011

Early returns from Egypt's first elections since its February revolution yielded unsurprising results: Islamists will likely dominate the nation's next parliament and could shape the country's future for decades.

Countrywide voting won't end until January, but the first contests that began in Cairo and Alexandria on Nov. 28 are bellwethers: Unofficial results showed the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm-the Freedom and Justice Party-in first place. Trending in second place: The Nour Party-the political wing of Salafi Muslims who advocate strict adherence to Sharia law.

Though the new parliament will have limited powers, members will be responsible for nominating a 100-person assembly to draft the country's next constitution. That makes Islamist politicians a potentially powerful force in shaping the country's direction. That's a disappointment to many secular activists who launched the revolution in Cairo in February that ended with the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. The activists, hoping for a more secular government, renewed protests in Tahrir Square days before the elections, demanding that the interim ruling military transfer power to a civilian government. Clashes with the military killed at least 42 people and injured some 3,000 others.

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If secularists are disappointed with election results, so are many Christians-a minority group that makes up 10 percent of Egypt's population. An increase in violence against Christians since February confirms some of those fears, but so did political fliers distributed in Assiut, a rural province 200 miles south of Cairo: The pamphlets warned that Christians were trying to block an Islamist victory by voting for secular parties, and warned voters that the "enemies of Islam" must be stopped at the polls.

Medicare chief

Controversial Medicare chief Donald Berwick resigned effective Dec. 2, ending an 18-month confirmation battle between the White House and Senate Republicans. President Obama tapped the Harvard professor to head the Medicare and Medicaid programs in April 2010. Tasked with supervising new regulations tied to Obamacare, Berwick drew the ire of conservatives for his past comments advocating healthcare rationing and England's national health system. The Senate never held confirmation hearings for Berwick, and Obama bypassed the formal Senate process by confirming Berwick to his position during a congressional recess last year. Berwick has attacked the free market system and said, "Any healthcare funding plan that is just, equitable, civilized, and humane must, must redistribute wealth from the richer among us to the poorer and the less fortunate. Excellent healthcare is, by definition, redistributional."

Insider trading

When Democratic Rep. Tim Walz (Minn.) introduced a bill to address lawmakers' trading on their inside knowledge back in March, it drew only 10 co-sponsors. But after a 60 Minutes special and a new book brought the practice to light, 90 other members from both parties signed on, and Republican Sen. Scott Brown (Mass.) introduced a parallel measure in the Senate. The television report, based in part on the bestseller by Peter Schweizer, Throw Them All Out (see "Notable Books," Dec. 17, 2011), alleged that House leadership, both Republican and Democrat, had used nonpublic knowledge from their legislative work to their advantage in personal investments. According to Schweizer, if the allegations are true, the lawmakers would not have broken any laws. Both the House and Senate plan hearings on the legislation.

Confiscation by court order

When Timberridge Presbyterian of McDonough, Ga., showed signs of dissatisfaction with the direction of its denomination, the PCUSA, the Greater Atlanta presbytery formed an administrative commission to consider discipline and possible removal of its pastor. Timberridge sought assurance of its rights to the property, the presbytery counter-sued, and Timberridge disaffiliated from the PCUSA. At the time (2007), Timberridge's pastor, Matt Allison, wrote that it "takes a lot of nerve" to tell the members of a nearly 200-year-old church, whose families have supported the church and paid for the building for generations, "that they don't own this property." Yet that's precisely what the Georgia Supreme Court ruled Nov. 21, after back-and-forth in the lower courts: that the presbytery had rights to the property.

In a separate case, Christ Church Savannah, founded by James Oglethorpe in 1733 and pastored by John Wesley and George Whitefield, also lost its battle to retain historic property (see "Bricks and mortar," Mar. 27, 2010). After the Episcopal Church named Gene Robinson its first openly gay bishop in 2003, the Savannah congregation disaffiliated and placed itself under the leadership of the Anglican diocese in Uganda. The national church and the Georgia Diocese sued for the $3 million property, and the Georgia Supreme Court ruled (along with the lower courts) against the congregation. While congregants are free to leave, the 6-1 majority argued, they have no right "to take with them property that has for generations been accumulated and held by a constituent church of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America."

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