I last wrote about the elections in a fairly positive light.  Despite their many flaws, I believe that, in a limited sense, they represent a step in the right direction.  However, from talking with my friends and people in Tahrir, a number of very salient critiques have emerged which I want to share with you.  I will highlight the arguments which I find most convincing.

The biggest problem with the elections is legitimacy.  Their questionable legitimacy stems from a number of problems.  First and foremost, based on surveys conducted at polling stations, roughly 60% of Egyptian voters went to the polls not knowing who they were going to vote for.  They were motivated to vote more by the threat of being fined 500LE (roughly $85) for not voting than a strong political conviction.  While my sense is that these people were excited to have the ability to vote, they lacked any meaningful knowledge of the candidates’ platforms because of high illiteracy rates (the most generous estimates put adult illiteracy at around one third of the population).  I think the election meant a lot to most everyone who participated, but most did not understand the damage being done by not having any information about parties or policies.   At almost every polling station the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party as well as the Salafist Nour Party had campaigners (illegally) telling people, essentially, “this is my symbol on the ballot and this is my number, vote for me so you can get on with your day.”  I think we are likely to see this have an enormous impact on the number of MPs controlled by either El-Nour or the Muslim Brotherhood.

Indeed, many in Tahrir will say that this is the very reason they boycotted the elections.  By threatening to fine people more money than most Egyptians make in a year, SCAF was able to guarentee that the election had significant participation despite calls for a boycott.  Additionally, knowing that the Muslim Brotherhood has an enormous organizational advantage over the other parties, SCAF was able to ensure that the elections created the Islamist boogyman that the West is so afraid of.  This, in turn, guarantees that SCAF will retain the West’s support in the name of preventing an Islamist take-over of the most populous Arab state, regardless of how much it undermines civilian governance.  Furthermore, the elections restored a lot of legitimacy to SCAF domestically and helped to repair its ailing reputation in Egypt.  It desperately needed the popularity/legitimacy boost after the atrocities committed by soldiers and Central Security Forces in the area around Tahrir over the last two weeks.

This leads into another very common argument for boycotting the elections: they are meaningless in the absence of any guarantee that SCAF will actually meaningfully surrender power to a civilian government.  Despite flaws in elections, the establishment of a somewhat democratically elected civilian government will proceed as planned.  However, he military will not surrender any of its control over this civilian government.  When un-elected officials hold all of the power over elected officials, the system can hardly be called a democracy; it will be back to business as usual in Egypt for the last 60 years.

From what I understand, the fear in Tahrir is hardly related to who wins the elections because they will ultimately have very little say over what actually goes on in Egypt. Instead, they fear that the military is hijacking the revolution to preserve its complete control over not just the government, but the economy of Egypt as well.  Under the current Egyptian constitution, the military owns every piece of land/property that is not deeded to a person or commercial entity.  That means that every bit of undeveloped land, as well as any estate that has not been legally willed to someone, becomes the property of the Egyptian military, not the civilian government.  In addition, it is estimated that the Egyptian military controls anywhere between 30-40% of the country’s economy.  This incredible control over the country’s economy allows the military to essentially hold the civilian government hostage without having to visibly use force.  Simply put: the elections mean nothing because they are electing a puppet, not a government.

And, whats more, SCAF makes no secret of the fact that they will not relinquish any of their supra-constitutional powers.  Last Sunday Field Marshal Tantawi made the following statement: “The position of the armed forces will remain as it is.  It will not change in any new constitution.”  When the head of the armed forces says the same thing Mubarak has for the last 30 years, how can anyone reasonably expect these elections to mean anything?  While the military has no reservations over beating, shooting and using chemical weapons against their own citizens, how can that be considered a civil state?  When at least 12,000 Egyptians are being held without charges by the military and (if tried) sentenced in sham trials by military courts, how can that be considered a state which respects the rights and freedoms of their people?  These are the things which need to change before any election will have any meaning.  Any incremental gains made by a slightly less flawed election pale in comparison to what is lost if SCAF is allowed to continue its dictatorship in Egypt.  This is why Tahrir still means so much, this is why Egypt’s revolution is far from over.  Egypt is perilously close to being hijacked by yet another dictator.  Will we help this happen or will we actually support the democratic aspirations of the Egyptian people?

Thanks for reading, I would love to hear any of your comments/questions.

-Mike

 

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