No surprises in Egypt’s election


Egypt’s highly curated poll shows how far it has moved from the Arab Spring ideals

Egypt’s election last week was democratic only in name. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a former general who had ousted the Muslim Brotherhood from power in 2013, was never expected to struggle to secure a second term. Though the official result is yet to be announced, a landslide victory has been a certainty all along. Given the military backlash against the 2011 upsurge in Cairo’s Tahrir Square that ended Hosni Mubarak’s three-decade dictatorship, a genuinely popular exercise of the ballot was never on the cards. The vote was effectively rendered a one-horse race involving Mr. Sisi, as a number of opposition candidates were forced to withdraw from the contest. His lone challenger, a late entrant thrust forward to save the government from embarrassment, was someone who had declared himself a staunch supporter of the President’s bid for re-election. Public perception of the charade managed to find some expression in both the mainstream and social media. But overall, the government’s close monitoring of content that it deemed contrary to the “national interest” ensured that the election was anything but a democratic and informed exercise of the popular will. This is not to deny Mr. Sisi’s support base — he has one and it is made up of sections of Egyptian society that prize the country’s stability above all else after the tumultuous years of transition following the Arab Spring. Nonetheless, reports of the administration’s exhortations to voters to exercise their franchise is an indication of the widespread cynicism about the entire electoral process.


With the election over, the Egyptian establishment will be conscious that the conditions that yielded the mass protests of 2011 still obtain, particularly economic hardship and political repression. The 2016 devaluation of the currency and roll-back of energy subsidies, in return for a hefty loan from the International Monetary Fund, deepened the squeeze. Inflation and the accompanying rise in the cost of borrowing are taking a toll on ordinary people as well as businesses. Meanwhile, two recent developments illustrate the continuing stranglehold of the old order on Egyptian institutions. The first is the 2017 acquittal of Mr. Mubarak in a highly controversial trial relating to the killing of hundreds of protesters during the 18-day uprising. The other is the lengthy sentences slapped last year on protesters who opposed the ouster of Mohamed Morsi as President in 2013. If Egypt is to move on from the fire-fighting phase it is gripped by, in his new term Mr. Sisi must move towards greater transparency and accountability. Restoration of basic democratic freedoms and respect for the opposition are critical for this. As the largest country in the Arab world, Egypt must set an example for the region.


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Printable version | Dec 13, 2019 8:54:02 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/no-surprises-in-egypts-election/article23408628.ece

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