Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1140, 21 - 27 March 2013
Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Issue 1140, 21 - 27 March 2013

Ahram Weekly

Commentary: Flunking the college elections

What do the recent student union elections tell us about the attitudes of Egypt’s younger voters, asks Ammar Ali Hassan

Al-Ahram Weekly

Student communities differ from those in the rest of society in that they tend to be generally well informed and better organised. As a result, what happens in student elections can be considered to be a sign of what may happen later on in society at large.
The recent victories by liberal, leftist and non-Muslim Brotherhood Islamist groups in the university student union elections provide pointers that the country’s opposition would do well to notice, among them those listed below.
First, there was the level of awareness shown in the elections. The more people learn about public affairs, the less vulnerable they are to the influence of religious groups in general and to that of the Muslim Brotherhood in particular.
Well-informed voters are smart enough to ignore religion-soaked propaganda. Now that people have become aware of the massive gap between the Brotherhood’s rhetoric and its deeds, the ability of the group to use religion for electoral purposes, rather than as an agent of meaningful change, has dwindled.
Among the educated, the Brotherhood is losing supporters at a rapid rate. For the opposition, this means that it must work harder to raise political awareness across the different social classes. Face-to-face contact throughout the country can help the opposition to secure victory in future local, parliamentary, and presidential elections.
Second, there was the level of unity shown in the elections, with civil and independent student candidates running on clear and consolidated lists and thereby depriving the Brotherhood of using its ironclad unity to win. In the past, the Brotherhood succeeded in winning elections through such unity, even when its supporters were in a minority.
This is also a lesson that the opposition would do well to learn, particularly since its divisions in the past have handed the Muslim Brotherhood easy victories on more than one occasion.
Third, there was the fact that the university elections brought out young voters. The Muslim Brotherhood’s power base has been larger among the old than among the young. Although the Brotherhood has been actively trying to recruit young people since its accession to power, its subsequent failure to run the country has damaged its image and thus its ability to recruit.
This situation should give hope to civil groups, because the demographic composition of the country favours the young. The number of eligible voters today is 52 million, up from 46.5 million during the referendum of March 2011. The ratio of young voters will rise with time, adding potential gains to the opposition.
Fourth, there was the level of fairness shown in the elections. Student union elections, not unlike elections in associations and clubs, tend to be fairer than parliamentary or even presidential elections. The candidates also have less ability to influence voters with phony propaganda or to buy their votes. Voter lists are accurate, and supervision is rigorous.
What this should tell the opposition is that it must struggle to achieve a similar level of fairness and egalitarianism in the country’s political elections, by cleaning up the voter lists and ensuring the proper supervision of vote-counting.
Finally, there was the fact that the student union elections took place on level ground. Before the 25 January Revolution, student elections in Egypt were tampered with through the blocking of candidates, the appointment of union members, or the cancellation of elections, which motivated the opposition to sympathise with the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidates since it considered the left to be too weak to offer substantial resistance.
This has now changed. The candidates of the civil currents have managed in a relatively short period of time to gain the trust of their colleagues, which can be taken as another sign of the declining popularity of the Brotherhood.

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