Editorial: Yes they can, but can we?

Rania Al Malky
6 Min Read

CAIRO: Barack Obama’s historic election as the first African-American President of the United States this week, though inspiring, was a bitter reminder of the stark difference between “us and “them.

Ever since George W. Bush was elected for a second term in 2004, despite his ill-conceived invasion of Iraq under the guise of the war on terror, and the instruments of US-style democracy have come into question.

While Bush won 60,040,610 votes, comprising 50.74 percent of the popular vote and 286 electoral votes, Democratic frontrunner John Kerry won 59,028,444 popular votes amounting to 48.27 percent and 251 electoral votes.

By the numbers, the results cast a shadow on the basic notion belying a political system where almost half the population did not vote for the elected candidate. It was difficult to believe that this election was a true reflection of the will of the American people, especially with rising anti-war sentiments.

But over the course of the past eight years culminating with the election of Obama, there was change, precisely because of the US’s adherence to the principals of liberal democracy that allows this change to be reflected in the ballot box.

When Obama said “yes we can in his moving acceptance speech following his landslide victory with a sweeping 364 electoral votes versus 162 for rival Senator John McCain, he was not just trying to win over the support of those who didn’t vote for him, he was reflecting the raw truth that Americans had decided to change and they did.

As an article in the New York Times put it, “Mr. Obama’s commanding victory does break the habit of decidedly close contests of the last two election cycles. This time around, there was none of the hand-wringing, nail-biting or teeth-gnashing that followed the 2004 election.

At home in Egypt, change continues to be a distant dream. If it took African American Ann Nixon Cooper – the oldest voter in the 2008 elections, who remembers not so long ago how she was barred from voting because of her race – until she reached 106 to see a black man become president of the United States, then perhaps we too will see some change – maybe in a hundred years.

Egyptians born after 1981 have seen only one president and will likely see only one other – a close family member if things go as planned – sit at the throne of the “republic of Egypt, when during the same period Americans had seven elections to vote in four different presidents.

A couple of days before Obama and the American people made history, Egypt’s ruling National Democratic Party proved once again that round here history only repeats itself at the NDP’s annual convention.

In addition to the power point presentation charting the government’s grand achievements and earth-shattering plans “for the future of the country and to the benefit of the “low income brackets who are becoming poorer and more disenfranchised by the day, son of President Mubarak, Gamal, who heads the NDP’s Policies Secretariat, and his clique launched a vicious attack on the opposition, blaming it for Egypt’s stagnant political climate.

While Mubarak senior continued to pay lip service to the government’s development plans and going reform policies he had promised when he was “elected in 2005, his police state barricaded all the roads leading to small and peaceful anti-NDP protest, in a symbolic exposure of the faux democracy he has been running for over 27 years.

The young Mubarak in the meantime, brushed off aside discussions about succession in an ungraceful repeat of what he has been saying since 2004 when his father decreed the amendment to article 76 of the constitution, regulating presidential elections to set the scene for his son to take over under the guise of a “democratically elected president.

It will take more than a hundred years to fix what was destroyed in the past five decades. A failed education policy which deliberately ignores civic education, awareness of human rights and civil liberties and does nothing to promote knowledge of political rights and the importance of political participation at a young age, will take decades to repair.

The NDP had the audacity to attack the opposition for its internal conflicts, lack of popular support and a clear platform despite being the root cause of the chronic osteoporosis that has infested the flesh and spirit of Egypt’s body politic for almost 30 years.

Our “yes we can moment will require sacrifice, vision and leadership to bring this country back together, chanting in one breath in support of someone who will inspire hope and deep change in the younger generations the way Obama did for people all over the world.

I just hope to live till 106 to see it.

Rania Al Malky is the Chief Editor of Daily News Egypt.

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