by Ayman Ahmed (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 44, No. 9, Muharram, 1437)
The ballot papers were all printed and arranged in neat piles in each polling station. The ballot boxes duly locked were also delivered to the appropriate polling stations. There were even election officials present — a remarkable achievement in a country where the bureaucracy is notorious for its lethargy.
The authorities also made sure that there weren’t too many flies in polling stations — a perennial problem in a country where garbage lies strewn all over the streets despite the garbage collectors’ gamely efforts to clean it up as soon as possible. The only problem was there were no people, or hardly any to cast ballots. The people simply did not show up; it was a wedding without the wedding guests.
The entire exercise that went on for two days was a complete farce. Regime officials gave assurances with a broad satisfying smile that people will participate in the second round of parliamentary elections due on November 22–23. While they disputed the low turnout of less than 2% in the first round held on October 18–19, officials refused to hazard a guess as to how many people had bothered to vote.
They offered the excuse that people were still busy with celebrations following Eid al-Adha (but that was on September 24) and others welcoming the hujjaj back despite the twin disasters that struck this year’s Hajj (Egyptian toll was reported at 138 dead and 96 still missing, also presumed dead; the total death toll has been reported at between 2,000 to as high as 4,713).
Who would come to vote? Al-Ikhwan al-Muslimoon (Muslim Brotherhood) has already been branded a terrorist organisation and banned. All its leaders are languishing in jail, many sentenced to death by the same courts that are dominated by Mubarak-era judges. Others are serving long prison sentences with little hope of getting out of prison unless there are drastic changes in the country. And then there are the idealistic youth who were in the forefront of the uprising against Mubarak. Many of them have also been imprisoned or have gone underground. That left few activists to mobilize the people.
The field was thus left open for remnants of the old regime, essentially people with connections to the current regime and money. Not surprisingly, many members of Mubarak’s now-defunct National Democratic Party (NDP) were out campaigning in force once more. When people with grassroots support have been eliminated from the field through a brutal crackdown, to claim that the thugs and gangsters have won is a cruel joke, one that the long-suffering people of Egypt do not find funny.
For the record, the People’s (or non-people) Assembly will have 568 members, of whom 448 will be sitting as individual members and the other 120 will be grabbed by the party with the highest seats. Again, this is designed to facilitate the entry of Mubarak era remnants to return to the legislative assembly who are in any case now fully in the el-Sisi camp, the new strongman. These parasites always want to be on the winning side, regardless of who is in power. Their only aversion is to Islam and committed Muslims, hence their disruptive tactics during Mohamed Mursi’s short rule as president.
For those around General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the new Egyptian strongman, the low turnout is a positive development. It strengthens his hand. Muslim countries are plagued by strongmen that at critical junctures turn out to be men of straw. They are good at killing their own people but have never shown any backbone against Islam’s real enemies, such as the Zionist State of Israel.
General el-Sisi carried out a coup on July 3, 2013 against the first-ever elected government in Egyptian history. It was headed by the Ikhwan-backed Mursi. When Mursi’s supporters staged peaceful sit-ins, the brutes in uniform were unleashed butchering thousands of them on August 14. People were not spared even after they sought refuge in masjids where they were gunned down in cold blood. Two days later, funeral processions were attacked and more people were killed.
Far from showing any remorse, the gangsters that had gotten fat on people’s hard-earned wealth thumped their chests as if they had conquered an enemy army. The government’s propaganda mouthpieces were unleashed to proclaim that “Egypt had been saved.” From what, one wonders was never explained except that the brutes in uniform showed their true colors: as killers of their own people.
El-Sisi, whom many accuse of being a Zionist Jew (his mother is of Moroccan Jewish extraction and one of his maternal uncles had served in the Israeli Knesset for many years), likes to present himself as a great patriot. Before his appointment as army chief and defence minister by Mursi, he had served as the country’s intelligence chief. In that capacity, he had cultivated close links with the Zionists, the CIA as well as the Saudi regime. He had also served as military attaché at the Egyptian embassy in Riyadh.
While President Mursi who had come to power in a free and fair election in June 2012 went out of his way to appease the military, the brutes were not interested in playing second fiddle. They had ruled the roost since 1952 and had come to assume that power was their birthright. The last military ruler, General Husni Mubarak was overthrown in a mass popular uprising that we now know was carefully manipulated by a number of unsavoury players, among them the Americans as well as the Egyptian military. Mubarak had become senile and he tried to create a dynasty by grooming his own sons for the leadership role, a development the Egyptian military did not view with favour.
At Mubarak’s ouster from power on February 11, 2011, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), a body of about 25 senior generals including heads of the army, air force and navy, grabbed power. The SCAF served notice that they are the real power in Egypt regardless of the number of people gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square demanding the dictator’s ouster. Despite Mubarak’s ouster, all the levers of power were controlled by remnants of the old regime. The judiciary, police, interior ministry as well as major businesses were all controlled by them.
When parliamentary elections were held at the end of 2011, the Ikhwan became the largest bloc in the people’s assembly. With 20% of the other seats going to pro-Ikhwan candidates, they had a comfortable majority in the assembly. Their task was to draft a new constitution, which the parliament did and approved, but within months, the Mubarak-era judges in the “Supreme” Constitutional Court — every individual and body in Egypt that is unelected declares themselves “supreme” — dismissed an elected parliament. The dismissal was announced on June 12, 2012, two days before the second round of presidential elections in which the Ikhwan-backed candidate Mursi was leading. He won the election but not without several tense days in which it was uncertain whether the “Supreme” Council of the Armed Forces would relinquish power.
The baltagia — thugs and gangsters whether wielding clubs and whips in the streets or sitting on benches decked in judges’ robes, all from the Mubarak era — still exercised considerable power and influence. Together with the interior ministry and the police, they did everything to frustrate an elected government.
The military egged them on as did the discredited opportunist politicians of the ousted Mubarak regime. Creating chaos and confusion for an elected government was part of the plan to grab power. Had the military not carried out the coup, it is quite likely that Mursi may have been rejected by people in the next round of elections because his hands were tied. The old guard of the Mubarak era were constantly frustrating his attempts to implement reforms or allow him to perform his duties as president. The police refused to arrest criminals, in many instances joining in criminal activity. Mursi was thus being set up for a fall but the military got impatient. It could not tolerate a true representative of the people at the helm of affairs even for a year.
The present chaotic situation strengthens el-Sisi’s hand. In the absence of parliament, el-Sisi rules by decree. He has already passed several hundred decrees, many of them drastically curtailing people’s rights and civil liberties. Military courts have been given vast new powers. This is nothing new. Even if a parliament were to come into existence, given its narrow support base among the masses, it would be vulnerable to el-Sisi and the military’s manipulations.
It could be asked, why el-Sisi even bothers to go through the motion of “electing” a new parliament? Even dictators like to put on a veneer of popular legitimacy. When el-Sisi carried out his coup against Mursi, he had promised those politicians that were in league with his conspiracy that he would hold parliamentary elections in six months. That was in July 2013.
Instead, el-Sisi decided to hold presidential elections in which he was the leading candidate — the other being Hamdeen Sabahi. With less than 12% voter turnout, el-Sisi claimed 97% of the vote in the May 2014 presidential election. Nothing less would satisfy him or any other dictator. Armed with such a “massive mandate,” he could now claim legitimacy as well.
The low turnout in parliamentary elections helps in two ways. One, it gives him satisfaction that turnout in the presidential polls was higher (officially, it was claimed at 47%!). Second, he needs a parliament that would be totally subservient to him both in theory and practice. While even a popularly elected parliament would be no match for the brutes’ guns and bullets but dictators still like to claim popular legitimacy for all it is worth.
El-Sisi could not have hoped for a better outcome. He has locked up all those who have some popular support — the Ikhwan — throwing all their leaders in jail, and driven the youth underground. He also brought all the masjids under state control so that the imams cannot deliver khutbahs that might arouse the people against the regime. What he is left with is pygmies and clowns that he can easily control and manipulate. The general must be a very happy man indeed!