Will Egypt’s Presidential Elections Really Be Free and Fair?

Article Summary
May 23 marks Egypt’s presidential elections, but will they be free and fair? Alaa al-Aswani does not think so. He outlines four major reasons why not and argues that a race between a candidate from the Mubarak era and a revolutionary candidate will best determine Egypt's future as envisioned by its people.

My dear Egyptian citizen, there is no doubt that you are now going through an unprecedented experience. For the first time, you are participating in a presidential election where you do not already know who the next president will be.

We owe this landmark in Egyptian history to God and to the revolution. We are grateful for the 20 million Egyptians who took to the streets, faced the bullets with their chests, and endured the thousands of casualties in order to transform Egyptians from humble subjects to proud citizens who decide their country's fate. We are no doubt witnessing a great historic moment. But is this election truly fair?

Unfortunately, we saw signs of electoral fraud from Egyptians voting abroad. Al-Watan newspaper published pictures of Egyptian voters in Saudi Arabia tampering with the votes. Supreme Commission for Elections member Hatem Bajato declared that more than 60 Egyptian citizens living abroad realized, upon casting their ballots, that someone had already voted in their name. Many citizens inside Egypt discovered that the names of their deceased relatives were still on the electoral rolls. Perhaps the best known case was that of Ms. Zahra Saeed, who discovered that her brother, Khalid Saeed (a famous martyr from Alexandria and a symbol of the revolution), was still on the electoral rolls. And nobody investigated these situations.

But let's ignore all that and assume that there will be no fraud in the elections. The question is: Will this be a fair election? Voting is only one part of the electoral process, so the election may not be directly rigged but can still be unfair and undemocratic. There are internationally-established rules for democratic elections. But the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the Supreme Commission for Elections have seriously violated those rules. The following is a summary of their violations:

First: No transparency.

One of the most basic rules of democracy is that voters know all about a presidential candidate’s sources of wealth and how he is funding his campaign. But the two candidates who were formerly part of Mubarak's regime (Ahmed Shafiq and Amr Moussa) have refused to clearly reveal the their wealth. In any democratic system, this refusal would have disqualified them from running in the elections because the law caps spending and requires the candidates to disclose their funding sources. However, the Supreme Commission for Elections did not enforce this law. Egypt’s streets are filled with electoral ads costing tens of millions of pounds, but citizens do not know exactly where these funds come from. For Ahmed Shafiq to put large banners of himself above Egypt’s bridges and main squares costs 100,000 pounds per month. Who gave Shafiq the millions that he needed for his propaganda campaign? And even if Shafiq was spending his own money, how did he, as a government employee with a publicly accessible salary, become so wealthy?

We can ask Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Mursi the same question. He has spent millions of pounds in advertising without anyone knowing his where he gets his funding. Moreover, we know nothing of the Brotherhood's funding sources in general, as their budget is not under any kind of supervision. This censorship on the candidates' dubious funding sources and on their personal wealth violates the most basic rules of democracy and makes this election non-transparent and unfair.

Second: No law enforcement

After Mubarak was deposed, SCAF formed a committee to amend the 1971 Constitution. The committee, which was headed by Tariq Bashari (of the Muslim Brotherhood), accomplished its mission... and created a disaster for Egypt! It did not amend Article 28, which prohibits the ability to appeal the Supreme Commission of Elections' decisions, even though the administrative court described this article as odious and tyrannical. During the referendum on the constitutional amendments, the Brotherhood and the Salafists mobilized citizens to support the amendments (to please SCAF) and turned the vote into a religious battle between Muslims and infidels. In the end, Article 28 was passed.

The Supreme Commission for Elections enjoys a strange immunity that runs contrary to customs, laws, and even to the constitutional declaration itself, which rejects administrative decisions from being immune to appeal. We have seen how the Supreme Commission for Elections ignored last year’s 35 communiques against Ahmed Shafiq for squandering public money, but the Attorney General forwarded those communiques to SCAF, which then declared that it received no complaints against Shafiq. And when deputy Essam Sultan mentioned one of these communiques in parliament, it was forwarded to the illicitly-obtained Wealth Commission and is now lost in its drawers. Is it possible, in any democratic country, that documented reports of corruption and squandering of public funds by a presidential candidate will not affect his legal standing?

What the electoral commission did when parliament passed the political disqualification law was even more questionable. Rather than simply enforcing the law and disqualifying Ahmad Shafiq, this administrative commission acted like a judicial one: it refused to apply the law, and forwarded it to the Supreme Constitutional Court. While thousands of civilians and revolutionary youth are being jailed and tried in military courts on fabricated charges, dozens of communiques against Shafiq are being ignored simply because SCAF supports him. There is a law that prohibits using places of worship for political propaganda, yet several preachers hold sermons telling their congregations to vote for the Muslim Brotherhood candidate. There is a law against buying votes, but the Brotherhood is in the streets distributing oil and sugar to the poor in exchange for votes. The absence of the rule of law makes the election unfair before the voting process has even started.

Third: A lack of equal opportunities

Candidates are not adhering to the principle of equal opportunities. The government's perception of a candidate is determined by that candidate's relationship with SCAF. The system is treating Ahmed Shafiq differently than the candidates from the revolution. Moreover, the system treats Shafiq's supporters differently than his opponents. The following incident is an example: Ahmed Shafiq was campaigning in Upper Egypt and he was surrounded by the revolutionary youth because they consider him to be Mubarak's man and they believe his candidacy is a violation of the law and a betrayal of their martyrs. Each time the demonstrators surrounded Shafiq, security forces and the military police descended upon them and they secured an exit for Shafiq, simply because he was Mubarak's man and a friend of SCAF.

In another incident, when civil aviation contract workers held a press conference at the journalists' syndicate to reveal the serious financial irregularities that took place under Ahmed Shafiq, a group of Shafiq's thugs suddenly appeared, broke into the syndicate, beat up the conference attendees, and forcibly prevented the conference from taking place. This barbaric attack on the journalists' syndicate happened right in front of the civilian and military police, but they did not intervene because the attack was in Shafiq’s interest since it prevented publicly exposing his transgressions. Despite SCAF's rhetoric about justice and democracy, the legal treatment and protection of the presidential candidates varies according to their relationship with SCAF. This violates the equal opportunity principle and makes the election undemocratic.

Fourth: Egyptians abroad were prevented from voting

There are approximately 9 million Egyptians living abroad. They fought a bitter struggle to use their constitutional right to vote in their country's elections. Mubarak's regime did not grant them the right to vote because their large numbers, and the fact that they are outside of the regime's control, made them an influential factor in the elections.

After Mubarak left, SCAF continued this policy and prevented expatriates from voting until a final verdict was issued that granted them this right. So, SCAF's advisers (who used to be Mubarak's advisers) used a bureaucratic ploy to get around the judicial ruling. They only allowed Egyptians with a national ID to exercise their right to vote, even though a passport is enough to prove a voter's identity, like in any other country. This requirement prevented most Egyptians abroad from exercising their right to vote. Only 600,000 expatriates are registered to vote, so this election will not reflect the will of the people because most citizens cannot vote and this large bloc can change the outcome of the elections.

The presidential election that begins on May 23 is far from being fair. SCAF set the rules to produce the results that they want. It is not a democratic election, but a decisive battle between the Egyptian revolution and the Mubarak regime. The Mubarak regime (which SCAF protected and preserved) fabricated many crises, from security incidents, to fires, to fuel and food shortages, in order to intimidate and harass Egyptians and pave the way for Mubarak's candidate to restore security and solve all those crises.

The Mubarak regime is desperate to put Ahmed Shafiq in office in order to bring back Mubarak’s parasites and thieves. Shafiq himself said that he would reverse the revolution and persecute the revolutionaries.

In contrast, the revolution wants a revolutionary president who will implement the real change that SCAF has been blocking for over a year. This is a battle between the future and the past. The revolution must fight this battle with all its strength in order to prevent fraud and to elect a president who belongs to the revolution. I support the freedom fighter, Hamdeen Sabahi, and I consider him to be the most capable in achieving the goals of the revolution.

However, the battle must not be between two revolutionary candidates; it should be between a revolutionary candidate and a Mubarak candidate. The battle should be between a revolution that wants to build democracy and give the Egyptian citizens their rights and dignity, and Mubarak's regime, which wants Egypt to return to its corrupt, tyrannical, and oppressive past. The revolution is still ongoing and, God willing, it will triumph and give Egypt the future it deserves.

Democracy is the solution.

Found in: revolution, mohammad mursi, egyptian revolution, egyptian elections, amr moussa

Alaa al-Aswany is an Egyptian writer and a prominent member of the Egyptian Movement for Change, Kefaya. Al-Aswany currently writes a weekly column for Al-Masry Al-Youm and his political articles have been featured in The Guardian, The New York Times and Le Monde. His 2002 novel, The Yacoubian Building, has been translated into 27 languages and was nominated by US Newsday in 2006 as the most important translated novel in the United States.


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