In what seems to have become a regular task of the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a new press statement criticised foreign media reports, this time regarding the parliamentary elections that took place from Saturday to Monday.
“Attempts by some Western media outlets to predict election results and to interpret low turnout as an indication of declining support for Egypt’s leadership is misguided and inaccurate,” said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid on Tuesday.
Even though the official spokesperson of the Supreme Electoral Commission (SEC) asserted there are no official percentages on election data so far, most polling stations have reported a turnout between 10 – 20% in various governorates.
According to a Monday report by Reuters, the youth was disinterested in participation. The article concluded that: “President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi had personally urged Egyptians to use their vote, and the low turnout suggested the former general, who once enjoyed cult-like adulation, was losing some of his appeal.”
“But with most of his opponents in jail, he is not expected to face any serious challenges from parliament, and the low turnout will reinforce the view that the assembly will lack credibility,” Reuters added.
Similarly, The Guardian stated: “In absence of opposition parties, experts say the result is a foregone conclusion but a low turnout suggests that the strongman president is losing popularity.” As for Al Jazeera English, its report was titled “Egypt election: Democracy or return to past?
Abu Zeid refuted reports linking Egypt’s low turnout rates in the elections to a general decrease in popular support of Egypt’s leadership and a lack of trust in a democratic transition. He referred to that as “jumping to conclusions” by reporters rushing to meet publication deadlines.
The spokesperson stated that Western media outlets lacked credibility, and “consistently disregarded all positive developments in Egypt, such as the new Suez Canal Project and recent Egyptian achievements including its election to a non-permanent seat at the UN Security Council, the positive flow of foreign investments into the country, and the daily successes against terrorism”.
Egypt’s leading English state news outlet Al-Ahram Online also published an article Sunday titled “Egypt’s parliamentary elections: ‘Who cares’?” in which it explored several reasons behind the low turnout in polling stations.
Most reasons stated by interviewees in the article reflected “lack of enthusiasm, indifference, lack of political platforms that appeal to voters”, and local media’s “desperate attempt to coax voters into flocking to polling stations”.
Another ‘mistake’ Abu Zeid pointed to was “implying that Egypt’s political opposition is absent because the terrorist Brotherhood is not participating”.
However, Al-Dostour Party, an opposition party with a social justice agenda, also boycotted the elections despite not being affiliated with nor supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Dostour Party included a large number of young activists that fought against the Brotherhood when it was in power.
“This year’s parliamentary elections are subject to many complex factors,” Abu Zeid said, such as political parties and their programmes, voters’ awareness, electoral fatigue due to numerous elections in four years and finally what he referred to as “the absence of the polarisation that marred the atmosphere of previous elections”.
Abu Zeid published his statement on the official Facebook account of the ministry, therefore it received numerous comments that were divided between approval and criticism. But in parliamentary elections reality struck harder, when people voiced their opinions to local media outlets.
On Tuesday evening, citizens spoke to satellite TV channels such as Al-Mehwer and Dream TV. They listed complaints in different public services and criticised government performance, stating it as the main reason behind not voting.
“You want me to care about elections when my community and I have not been paid well for years or receive social security despite demanding those rights via all means possible in the government?” a citizen with special needs told Dream TV, and he was not the only one in this category complaining during the show.
Parents also called the channel regarding issues they have experienced with their children in the educational field. TV hosts and their interviewees also often used the term “depression” to refer to the state of the public in Egypt.
Another citizen told Dream TV that it was not only in the parliamentary elections that “they could not find satisfactory choices, but in every government institution”.
On the other hand, those who voiced such opinions said that despite not witnessing any significant changes or improvement to their lives following previous elections, they still trusted President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi but not the “elite” around him or speaking in his name.
Many citizens also directly put the blame on the media (Dream TV, CBC channel) for being biased towards “Fi Hob Misr” (For the Love of Egypt) electoral group and failing to provide voters with necessary information on the elections.
To conclude, fact is, polling stations were deserted most of the time and only slightly increased towards the second half of the second day of elections. Voters’ age group was mostly the elderly, and an obvious absence of youth was noted, although they represent nearly 35% of the voters aged 18 to 31.
The explanation of low turnouts provided by Abu Zeid is valid, but incomplete. Voices from Egyptian streets suggested turnout was low because people did not sense that a parliament was being elected in a democratic way, and that their trust was only in Al-Sisi in person, and not in the leadership of the country’s government and officials.