Elections are usually an exciting time for a country. They’re an opportunity for the people to express their concerns about the issues that matter to them most and a chance for citizens to hold politicians to account.
They’re meant to be the purest single exercise of democracy, freedom of speech and expression.
Not in Egypt.
In this country that has technically been ruled by the military for over 50 years, and presided over by the same man for more than three decades, democracy has a different meaning.
A nation that has been ruled by emergency law for 30 years is bound to have a different understanding of freedom of speech.
It is fair to say that there is no way the scheduled polls on Sunday will be free or fair, that is because they have already been rigged before a single vote has been cast.
This blog is an attempt to try and shed some light on the obstacles being faced by Egyptians in these elections. I’d like to know what you think would happen if similar elections took place in your country.
Violence and voter intimidation
According to the independent Egyptian Human Rights Centre, four people have already been killed in election-related violence.
I have witnessed security personnel beating opposition supporters and threatening candidates. More than 1,200 people have already been detained – among them children as young as 13!
For the average person who sees such things or hears about them, it would be totally understandable if he or she decides not to go and vote. After all what good is freedom of speech when you could end up with a broken leg and without the freedom to move?
Freedom of choice, but you can’t choose the opposition
In some areas the government has chalked off opposition candidates from ballot papers.
In Alexandria alone, more than 60 candidates who submitted their papers on time and met all the required criteria are being prevented from contesting the poll.
In fact, a court has ruled that elections can not take place unless they are included, yet the government-run Elections Committee refuses to implement the court ruling.
Essentially, Egyptians living in these areas are being told, you have the freedom to choose who represents you, just as long as you don’t chose the opposition.
Independent monitoring and international observers
Egypt’s government has rejected numerous calls for international observers to monitor these parliamentary elections.
It’s understandable, after all it was the presence of international observers in 2005 which allowed the opposition to gain an unprecedented amount of parliamentary seats and ensured that those polls were relatively free and fair compared to Egyptian standards.
The reason given by the government in rejecting the call for observers this time round is somewhat laughable however. “Egypt is a sovereign state and we do not allow foreign meddling in our affairs!”
It begs the question, where was this response when the Suez Canal was being used to transport US warships on their way to Iraq against the will of the Egyptian people?
Where was Egypt’s sovereignty when its own soldiers were killed by Israeli fire as they guarded its borders? Such questions can go on and on.
And it’s not only the absence of international observers that makes one doubt the credibility of these elections.
If credible mechanisms were put in place to prevent vote rigging or the government was allowing independent domestic organisations to oversee the electoral process then maybe one would have more faith.
However, the government is even banning the media from filming freely at polling stations.
Inaccessibility and voter apathy
The other day I did a random survey of 20 people walking in a high street in Cairo, I asked them where their nearest polling station was and if they could name me at least two candidates running in their area. Only three of them were able to answer.
Several told me they had no interest in knowing as parliaments have come and gone and so long as power remains in the hand of the president and his military minions there would be no change in Egypt.
Others told me that they had no time for politics, with one person telling me he was actually unaware that elections were even taking place.
In some parts of the country, particularly the rural areas, there are no proper roads or means of transport to reach polling stations (for those who actually know where they are), they are so inaccessible it can take hours to reach them.
These are just some of the obstacles facing the average Egyptian in these elections, in fact they’re probably just some of the easier obstacles faced by the average Egyptian on a daily basis.
But one wonders, if similar elections were held in let’s say … Iran or even Turkey, would the US and the rest of “the free world” be just as silent as it is now?