Democracy? Just business: Egyptian elections get US blessing
On June 3 Egypt got official results of the presidential elections which took place on May 26-28. According to official data, as was expected, the ex-Minister of Defense Field Marshal al-Sisi who was the favorite of the presidential race received 96.9 percent of votes, while his only competitor, leader of the Egyptian Popular Current Party, Hamdeen Sabbahy, got only 3.09 percent. Nobody in Egypt, or anywhere else, was surprised since Sisi’s victory was foretold a long time before the elections took place.
How to make people vote
In fact, the only side which was at all surprised was the Egyptian leadership, which planned for things to go a slightly different way. First of all, Egypt witnessed a huge problem with voter turnout. On the first day of the elections, the government took the decision to make the second voting day a day off and prolong voting till 10 pm.
However on the second day, the Presidential Election Commission declared that the vote will be prolonged for one more day in “interests of voters and due to abnormal heat.” This decision was in accordance with Egyptian legislation. However, both presidential candidates criticized it. In any case, the presidential polls ran for days, but prolonging them did not help the commission to increase voter turnout.
There were a number of reasons which influenced the turnout. For instance, political fatigue, perceptions that the outcome was pre-determined, widespread boycotts after mass repressions and hot weather. All this posed a threat to Sisi’s standing and that is why the election was prolonged, as well as many other things being done to secure his victory.
One of the initiatives of Egyptian rulers to stimulate civilians and make them vote was providing people with transport to polling stations in rural areas. Those Egyptians who are working in the tourist sector, in particular, at resorts were also provided with buses so that they also could reach the polling stations. Besides, the Transport Ministry canceled train and bus fares for the period of the elections, while voting stations themselves were provided with drinking water, which is essential in such hot weather conditions.
Some of the measures were even outrageous. For example, Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb declared that a fine of 500 Egyptian pounds (US$70) would be imposed on those who didn’t vote without a valid excuse. The Secretary-General of the Highest Election Commission also declared that all refrained from participation in elections will be made responsible according to the presidential electoral law. This measure of intimidation was very widespread around both pro-state and formally independent mass media sources.
The height of absurdity was also reached. In Cairo for the period of elections one of the largest shopping centers was closed so citizens wouldn't go shopping instead of voting.
Furthermore, political agitation didn’t stop even for a moment. On the eve of elections mass media launched an active campaign urging the population to come and vote, calling those who were going to ignore elections “traitors” who wish for Egypt to roll into chaos like in Syria or Libya. The spiritual leader of the Egyptian Copts, Tavadros ІІ, and the leaders of Muslim spiritual academy ‘Al-Azhar’ were invited to give encouraging speeches that would also stimulate Egyptians to vote.
Besides, on the eve of elections the voting procedure for the Egyptians who are outside the country was simplified. They could ballot their vote just having shown only the passport.
50 shades of democracy
Despite all the initiatives and attempts to make Egyptians vote, the total turnout reached only 47.5 percent out of 54 million Egyptians having the right to vote. If one considers that in the previous elections in 2012, the turnout was 52 percent in the second round, it could be seen as an average participation rate. However, in 2012 this figure was reached without any of the aforementioned ‘stimulus’ of the electorate, which speaks for ousted President Morsi, while in recent elections it plays against Sisi.
Sisi was officially proclaimed the new Egyptian president and this was supported by the West. The low turnout, the fact that younger voters and several significant political actors like the ‘April 6’ movement and Muslim Brotherhood boycotted the elections, while the others had to go to the polling stations in an atmosphere of intimidation, are simply ignored.
According to the White House press secretary, US President Barack Obama plans to speak with Sisi in the coming days. The United States looks forward to working with the new Egyptian president in order "to advance strategic partnership and the many interests shared by the United States and Egypt."
Just one remark was made by the White House about the constrained atmosphere of elections. Indeed, though Washington is pleased that international observers were allowed to participate in the election, it “also shares concerns raised by observation groups about the restrictive political environment in which this election took place.” Nevertheless, this small remark was quickly pushed aside by high-sounding words about “historic elections” which symbolize the beginning of the “new era for Egypt.”
Pretty much the same words were said in regards to elections in Ukraine, which showed the same level of ‘democracy’. Ongoing war, massive extermination of civilians, attempts to isolate the half of the country and make their aspirations fade did not embarrass any of the Western leaders.
At the same time presidential elections in Syria were called illegitimate and “farcical” in advance, although the victory of Bashar Assad is predicted in the same way as Sisi’s was. Additionally, great efforts were made to stop people from going to voting stations, whereas people really do want to cast a ballot. In other words, in places where we can see true democratic ambitions, everything is done to suppress them. Why? Simply because there is no candidate for Syrian presidency who satisfies the US leadership and who can really compete with Assad for gaining people’s hearts and minds.
Thus, what we see is that there is a very vague definition of democracy in light of how the West understands it. Actually, this is just a word used by officials to explain all their devastating policies, fomenting of the conflicts and selling all the military campaigns to people. The elections in Egypt are just another example of how the wishes of people were betrayed and their voices were made silent by force, while the scale of Western hypocrisy breaks all records.
Irina Sukhoparova, RT
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.