November 4, 2015 Special Dispatch No. 6207

Egyptian Journalists: Low Voter Turnout Is Verdict On Sisi, Sign Of Return To Mubarak Era

November 4, 2015
Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 6207

The first round of parliamentary elections in Egypt, which was held in 14 of Egypt's 27 provinces on October 18-19, with runoff elections on October 28-29, failed to attract many voters to the polling stations. The low turnout, announced as 26.56% of eligible voters,[1] set off a flurry of commentary in the Egyptian media.

The parliamentary elections are the third and final leg, following the presidential elections and a referendum on the constitution, of President 'Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi's "roadmap" for the restoration of political order in the wake of the deposal of President Muhammad Mursi in June 2013. In the run-up to the elections, the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood, some other Islamist parties, as well as some in the liberal youth movement had called for a voter boycott. Conversely, official media had called for mass participation in the elections, which it presented as the completion of the "two revolutions of January 25 [2011] and June 3 [2013]."[2] Its exhortations perhaps already betrayed anxiety over a potentially low voter turnout, which in retrospect turned out to be justified.

After the low voter turnout became known, most official spokespeople and media argued that the turnout, while not ideal, was still in line with international norms;[3] President Al-Sisi himself made this argument in a speech delivered on November 1, 2015.[4] Many in the media however viewed the low voter turnout as a major crisis, arguing that people had lost faith in the direction the country was taking and did not view the parliamentary elections as offering any real possibility for change. A common theme was concern over the return of figures from the old regime by way of the new parliament, and many commentators argued that rather than a completion of two revolutions, the parliamentary elections signaled a return to the pre-revolutionary Mubarak regime.

The following are excerpts from articles on the parliamentary elections from the Egyptian press:     

Image: Al-Ahram Weekly (Egypt), October 22, 2015

Poet Farouk Goweda: "The Absence Of The Youth... Was A Message To The State, Which Opened Its Doors To The Remnants Of The Old Regime... While Opening The Prison Doors To Those Who Were Yesterday's Revolutionaries"

The editorials in the official Al-Ahram daily and most of its columnists were generally loath to acknowledge any problem with the voter turnout. Only on October 31, 2015, after the end of the run-offs and well after the low voter turnout became known, did an Al-Ahram editorial address the issue, and even then its conclusion was simply that the voters need to be better informed of the importance of their role in a democracy.[5] One exception, however, was an October 23 column by the well-known poet Farouk Goweda, who is also cultural editor of Al-Ahram (and who declined an offer to serve as Minister of Culture in 2011[6] ). He wrote: "The absence of the youth from the electoral scene is the worst development. The collected circumstantial evidence shows that it was the elderly and women who participated in the elections, and that the youth retreated from them entirely... This generation of young people is the one that carried out the January [2011] revolution. They shouldered their responsibility and brought down a regime that corrupted the lives of Egyptians and plundered their resources and potential. Were it not for these youth there would have been no revolution, and the autocratic regime would not have departed...

"These youth did not find a hand outstretched to them from the authorities or from forces of civil society represented in the political parties. They felt that they were in a position of self-defense vis-à-vis Potemkin political parties and iniquitous forces managed by wicked hands and monies, and vis-à-vis the authorities, who turned away from [the youth] - despite being the result of these young people's revolution. The absence of the youth from the parliamentary elections was not something strange; it was rather a natural reaction...

"In addition, these young people found throngs of the remnants and leaders of the old regime once again occupying leading positions of responsibility or in government. Worst of all was their return to political activity by way of the new parliament...

"The youth suffered as it saw its comrades on the path [being thrown] behind bars following show trials that found an entire generation 'guilty' of a revolution that the entire world saw was [in fact] a great historical event. The absence of the youth, and their disgust with the elections, was a message to all. [In particular] it was a message to the state, which opened its doors to the remnants of the old regime and let the media destroy these youth with propaganda and lies, while it opened the prison doors to those who were yesterday's revolutionaries..."

After surveying a number of other causes of voter disaffection, including the economic woes of ordinary Egyptians, the bad reputation of previous parliaments, and tactical errors by the government, Goweda concluded: "We must acknowledge that we are facing a crisis... The Egyptian citizen feels that nothing has changed. The remnants [of the old regime] have returned to parliament, while the youth have entered the prisons and detention centers. There is a parliament coming that will protect the interests of a class that has plundered the wealth of this youth, and there are [successive] governments that have been unable to restore it to them. The grand projects [announced by the government] are guarantees of [a better] future, but the poor man who does not find his daily bread is not concerned about the future. He seeks shelter today, a society that will be merciful to him, a hospital in which to receive treatment, and laws that will protect his honor and guarantee his rights.

"What occurred in the parliamentary elections is a message that we must read with awareness, understanding, and earnestness. How similar today is to yesterday, when the 2010 parliament was a cause of the downfall of a regime and the collapse of a party. We also have before us [the example of] the Muslim Brotherhood[-dominated] parliament and how it spelled the end of an organization that permitted itself everything, and lost everything. The lessons of the past are helpful in times when vision is absent and standards of judgment are deficient..."[7]   

Journalist Ayman Al-Sayyad: Egyptians Understand "That We Have Returned To The Mubarak Regime"

Another prominent journalist who saw the low voter turnout as a major warning sign was Ayman Al-Sayyad, who has remained an independent voice throughout Egypt's recent turbulent history. Al-Sayyad served on an advisory team to President Muhammad Mursi, but resigned in protest of what he saw as the Muslim Brotherhood's attempt to monopolize power,[8] and wrote in an open letter to Mursi: "I stand - and I am certain that you will agree with me - against what I see today as signs of religious fascism, just as I stood together with you months ago against what appeared to be the harbingers of military fascism."[9] In his article on the 2015 elections, published in the Al-Shuruq daily on October 25, 2015, he warned that the country had effectively regressed to the days of the Mubarak regime:

"When [the television anchor] Mahmud Sa'd asked me a few days ago on his program why we were seeing polling stations that were nearly empty, my first, concise answer was: 'Because in all simplicity there are no elections'... From the purely legal perspective, there is a high committee on elections and a law on the exercise of political rights, and all that is necessary to complete the form [of elections], but from a political perspective we did not have elections. For all the importance of these texts, committees and procedures, they are just details. 'Elections', as writers on politics define them, mean a competition between ideas and programs. This is what was absent, and gave way before competition of another kind...

"But graver still, perhaps, is what comes to light in the answer to the related question: Did the state, which did not want to admit to the low [voter] turnout, want 'real' elections? Perhaps it would be imprudent of me to give a definite answer...

"Some forget that Egyptians have known the 'state' for thousands of years... It is natural that they, or rather their 'collective conscience', has acquired cumulative expertise in understanding political authority. The upshot is that they understood, by indications and circumstantial evidence, that we have returned to the Mubarak regime - or in descriptive terms, to a one-man regime."

"What We Had Here Was Not A Soccer Match, But Rather A Team Practice In Which The Only Thing The Players Were Competing For Was The Approval Of The Coach"

"As for the other pillars of the regime, they are nothing more than the secretariat of the honorable president... and thus the Egyptians understood that, in such a state, the parliament is of no importance... What we had here was not a soccer match, but rather a team practice in which the only thing the players were competing for was the approval of the coach sitting in the box...

"In every election, whether real in the political sense or merely formal, there is a winner and a loser. The winner in these elections, which the people shunned... was the secret control room for operations to produce a parliament loyal to the president... As for the loser, it was, unfortunately, 'Egypt'...

"Perhaps it is something of a paradox that that I have to repeat the warning I voiced to the Muslim Brotherhood  in December 2012, namely that the realities of the political scene are not what some people hope or believe them to be. The balance of power is not always as it appears on the surface, or on the satellite channels, or in the 'official' accounts. Just as, back then, [these realities] were not as they appeared in the gatherings of those who 'heard and obeyed' [i.e. the Muslim Brotherhood], today they are not as they appear in those stately, air-conditioned halls in which white-collar, bright-faced go-getters and men of ambition gather.

"Somewhere far beneath the surface, yet in the heart of the scene and capable of overturning all of its balances, are those broad masses, 'the people', whose voice is perhaps not heard, and who do not publish position statements, and who are not interested in donning the hats of 'coalitions' or 'political forces' - but they are there on the ground, and in the result of the equation it is they who are the 'real forces'. In the end, it is the street that rules..."[10]

Activist Mustafa Al-Naggar: "Egypt Looks As Though There Are Four Years That Have Been Totally Obliterated From Its Memory... We Are Returning To A Wretched Electoral Spectacle In Which A 'Tailor-Made' Parliament Appears To Be On The Way"

Political activist Mustafa Al-Naggar, who took part in the Tahrir Square sit-in that brought down Hosni Mubarak, likewise wrote in a column in the Al-Masri Al-Yawm daily that the country had in effect returned to the days of the old regime:

"I am writing these words as Egypt enters the stage of parliamentary elections in search of the stability that it has been lacking for long years. The elections are taking place in an inauspicious climate in which the past, in all its wretchedness and ignominy, is returning to take control once again of the present. It is accompanied by new parasites that have grown out of the swamp of opportunism and glorification of the government, in search of private interests in which there is no place for the people.

"Egypt looks as though there are four years that have been totally obliterated from its memory. Those who experienced the atmosphere of the 2010 parliamentary elections are in no way able to differentiate between them and the 2015 parliamentary elections, which are perhaps even worse. After the inspiring January [2011] revolution and the gates of liberty that it opened, we are returning to a wretched electoral spectacle in which a 'tailor-made' parliament appears to be on the way. The majority of candidates for this parliament, or all of them, announce their total support for the government, say that they will amend the constitution in order to curtail the powers of their parliament for the benefit of the president,[11] and will approve all the laws propagated by the presidency without any discussion! [This will be] a parliament that considers itself, [even] before it convenes, an arm of the executive branch, rather than [a body whose] function is to oversee and question [the executive branch], as is the accepted custom in any democratic regime...

"How can we place our trust in this parliament when we see these faces that embody the failure of the past, and because of whose actions the revolution took place? How can we believe that the coming parliament will side with the people when we see the clear intervention of state apparatuses in shaping it?...[12]




[1] Al-Ahram (Egypt), October 22, 2015.

[2] Al-Ahram (Egypt), October 14, 15, 2015.

[3] Thus for example Rif'at Qumsan, advisor to the Prime Minister for electoral affairs: Al-Shuruq (Egypt), October 29, 2015.

[4] Al-Ahram (Egypt), November 2, 2015.

[5] Al-Ahram (Egypt), October 31, 2015.

[6], February 21, 2011.

[7] Al-Ahram (Egypt), October 23, 2015.

[8] For an interview with Ayman Al-Sayyad in which he explains the reasons for his resignation, see, December 5, 2012.

[9], December 30, 2012.

[10], October 25, 2015.

[11] The reference is presumably to statements by Sameh Seif-Elyazal, coordinator of the For the Love of Egypt list, who has spoken of amending the constitution's provisions on the powers of the presidency and parliament's powers to remove ministers. See e.g., October 10, 2015. For the Love of Egypt, which is widely considered to be a pro-Sisi list, has already won all 60 of the seats allotted by party that were up for grabs in the first round of the elections, and is expected to be the dominant voice in the coming parliament.

[12] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), October 19, 2015.

Share this Report: