By Wael Eskandar
It is no longer necessary to wait for the actual voting process to determine whether the upcoming elections will be free and fair. The idea of fair elections has been dispelled by the manner in which the current regime has operated on a variety of issues. While the counting itself may eventually be free and transparent, it is clear that the idea of fairness has been completely undermined. There is no need to falsify election results through fraudulent elections if Egyptian public opinion has been manipulated and its dissenting voices suppressed.
The Carter Center’s opening lines on its report regarding the upcoming elections states: “The Carter Center is concerned about the restrictive political and legal context surrounding Egypt’s electoral process, the lack of a genuinely competitive campaign environment, and the deep political polarisation that threatens the country’s transition as 26-27 May presidential elections quickly approach.”
In a country where its own army has endorsed a military candidate, and its privately owned media has manipulated every interview in favour of the state’s candidate, it seems beyond comprehension that the word “fair” can be used in such elections. There is a police force making random arrests of many who may or may not be opposition to the state. There is a judiciary that uses its authority to unjustly imprison those who it suspects are opposed to it, randomly like the police, or deliberately like targeting revolutionary figures like Mahienour El–Massry; she was among the first to protest the killing of Khaled Said by the police, and her two-year prison sentence has been ratified.
The only serious question left for those who have not been blinded by propaganda is whether to vote in these sham elections or simply not participate. While a great majority support Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, the state-endorsed candidate, there are others who question the point of participating in these theatrical elections.
While there is no doubt that the state’s bias effectively nullifies these elections, deeming them illegitimate but not illegal, it is important to also see that many of the legal tools provided by the regime are possible means of protest which need to be exploited. There is virtually no way Hamdeen Sabahy can win the upcoming elections, even if the media was biased towards him, showing him as the better candidate, at least in rhetoric and ideas.
The prevalent view is that Sabahy cannot control state institutions, even if he wins. That, in itself, is a worrying sign; that state institutions are held hostage to certain figures and the network of interests approved by the army. Yet, even with such a view, it is all the more important to challenge it.
Among those who are not participating there is a view that not participating in elections exempts them from the moral responsibility of the outcome. Yet the outcome is one that we must all live with, and in all likelihood, suffer from.
While the act of not participating individually in elections with a predetermined outcome is one that cannot be argued against morally, it cannot be called boycotting. Boycotting is an act that requires the masses, not just the individual, and it needs to be accompanied by an alternative or a working plan. A boycott should be performed by those with the power to move masses, not by individuals.
Even when choosing not to participate so as not to legitimise the state’s actions, we must remember that many of those struggling to improve the country’s future use legal means, even if not legitimate ones. The most recent example is that of Mahienour El–Massry, who chose to attend the hearing conducted by a judiciary she was certain would not bring about justice at the risk of being imprisoned. “I feel that I must go through this confrontation – a confrontation in which the measure of power is largely against us,” she said in a note she wrote before the trial.
She was imprisoned while participating in the mock trial and the result was that her freedom was unjustly claimed, yet it is doubtful that participating in the trial granted legitimacy to the unjust verdict.
Such is the case with elections; whether or not people participate will not change the status of the elections, as the state security controls media, threatens activists, influences the judiciary and manipulates the will of the masses. For those who are aware, the choice is between letting go and participating in what they know are fraudulent elections, even without the ballot stuffing parts. Both choices cannot be blamed, one is an individual choice to not sully themselves in a theatrical enactment of elections, the other is choosing to fight on one of the few battlegrounds left by an oppressive regime which punishes all forms of opposition.
In the end, the state’s candidate will win, but how the other does is a reflection of those who are liberated from the state’s brainwashing tactics. In the end, the state has not given people a real choice. People are never allowed to pick what the choices themselves are. The current face off is not between Sisi and Sabahy, but rather between the state and its secular opposition. At the end of the day, those who see things for how they are can either choose to fight another day, or fight the losing fight of choosing Sabahy, the civilian candidate in this comparison, and form a block that may or may not be the basis of further resistance to the state’s oppression in the future. In all cases, the fight continues.
Wael Eskandar is an independent journalist and blogger based in Cairo. He is a frequent commentator on Egyptian politics and has written for Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, Counterpunch, and Jadaliyya, among others. He blogs at notesfromtheunderground.net.