Elections in Egypt: Free, fair and peaceful?

@Al-Jazeera

By Marina Ferhatovic and Assaad Thebian

EGYPT. A parliament with no opposition to speak of, media crackdown, fraud allegations and violence. 2010 parliamentary elections gave a landslide victory with 83 percent of the vote to president Mubarak’s National Democratic party (NDP). And set Egypt 15 years back.

In the run-up to the November elections, the government promised free, fair and peaceful vote. However, according to Humans Rights Watch and other independent observers, the elections were none of the above. In stead, there were reports of arrests and harassment of journalists, closed polling stations and widespread fraud.

@Ushahid is an online platform for reports from the public about the vote on a real-time map, through SMS, email and Twitter.

Even before the voting day, different sectors of the society and especially media, felt the grip of the regime tightening.

”Nobody dares to touch a hot topic before the elections. All the TV-shows talk about fashion and music”, Mohamad Fawgi a representative from Al-Dostour, an Egyptian daily, said to EMAJMagazine just weeks before the big day.

Media crackdown

He had just seen his paper go from being one of the strongest independent voices in the Egyptian media landscape to a passive publication with no agenda following a dismissal of the paper’s rebellious editor-in-chief Ibrahim Eissa.

For the staff of paper, this was the end of Al-Dostour as they knew it.

“We have no direction. We don’t know if we are with the regime or not. Before, I felt I was part of something important, now it feels pointless”, Mohamad Fawgi says.

Eissa’s dismissal, which came after a change in management of the paper, was explained as a result of a labor dispute.

Other voices claim that the new owner Al Sayyed Al-Badawy, a famous businessman as well as a chairman of the Al-Wafd opposition party, known for his good relationship with the regime, was out to win favors in the wake of the November elections.

“It is pure calculation”

Caricature at the press syndicat of Cairo in protest against Al-Dostour takeover @Marina Ferhatovic

The popular belief in Egypt is that the case of Al-Dostour is the first step in a harshest crackdown of media in a long time.

”It is no coincidence that all this is happening just before the elections. The regime has tried to silence the free voices before, but we have never seen all of these different things happening at the same time”, Mohamad Fawgi said.

In the weeks that followed, a large number of private TV-channels had their licenses revoked due to new regulations. It was said to be a way to protect the viewers from pornography or content that promotes sectarian violence. Skeptics believe that the real reason was to prevent the opposition, of which the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is the largest, from benefiting from the broadcasting.

The criticism is rejected by the government which sees the measures as a way to improve the regulations of the private media, making the sector more organized.

Avoiding the fiasco of 2005

Leading up to the election the control intensified. The supervision of the vote by judges was abolished, foreign election monitors were prohibited and the media was banned from live broadcasts. Hundreds of members and supporters of the biggest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, were arrested.

In despite of the restriction, the evidence of fraud and manipulation of the votes is not lacking. On Youtube there are numerous video clips showing forging of the ballots and violence.


Some claim that the results speak for themselves. In 2005 the Muslim Brotherhood won 88 seats forming Egypt’s largest-ever opposition in the parliament at the expense of Mubarak’s NDP. Many believe that the tough state control measures were a way to avoid the history from repeating.

Still, if the number of seats was embarrassingly small in 2005, this years it was embarrassingly large. The landslide victory of the NDP with 424 seats out of 508 caused discomfort even within the ranks of the party. The Muslim Brotherhood on the other hand, was wiped out completely leaving it with no seats in the first round of elections. In the final round, the party withdrew in protest.

“The message is clear – opposition is out of this parliament. Even if allowed a few seats it would be nothing compared to the expected parliamentary dominance of the ruling party,” Essam El-Erian, a spokesman of the MP, said to Al-Ahram Weekly.

The government’s explanation to this remarkable defeat of MB is that the party has lost its popularity, a statement contradicted by the numerous street protests among the MB supporters.

The elections were widely criticized all over the world. The Independent Coalition for Elections called the final outcome a “moral and political catastrophe”.

“The elections were full of widespread violations that brought Egypt at least 15 years back,” the coalition said in a statement, according to LA Times.

Keeping it in the family?

The strategic importance of the outcome of this year’s parliamentary elections lies in its connection to the presidential elections next year.

@Washington Post

Hosni Mubarak, who is approaching the end of his fifth presidential term, has yet to announce whether he will run for the elections or not. Similarly to the parliamentary elections, the president promised a fair and peaceful vote, open to “anyone who can bring benefit to Egypt and its people”.

However, current regulations demand that the opposition party that nominates a candidate has at least 5 percent of the seats in the parliament. Seeing how none of the parties reached this threshold, the presidential elections may be a repetition of the single-candidate polls it has been in the past.

Walking around Egypt today it is difficult to avoid posters with the photo of his son Gamal Mubarak further confirming what many Egyptians already suspect – that the presidential “throne” is reserved for him.


 

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