Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1372, (7 - 13 December 2017)
Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Issue 1372, (7 - 13 December 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Elections in Egypt

A flurry of interest already surrounds the upcoming 2018 presidential elections, though the popularity of Al-Sisi remains firm, writes Abdel-Moneim Said

اقرأ باللغة العربية

Elections in Egypt are not as sensational as elections in the US which come with a lot of fanfare and drum-rolls. Nor are they as dull as Swiss elections which, for some unknown reason, come with no drum-rolls or soundtracks. But Egyptian elections have their own special flavour. They offer noise, excitement and disappointment all rolled into one. Egyptians and Arabs follow them closely, either eagerly or angrily. As Egypt looks forward to the forthcoming presidential elections and waits to see who will run, it appears that the electoral season has already kicked off with an unexpected start: the elections of the boards of the country’s major sporting clubs.

As usual, regardless of the relative performance and success rates of their football teams, the elections at Ahly and Zamalek clubs garnered most of the public’s attention during the past few weeks. The press covered the elections closely and it was widely reported that voter participation not only exceeded expectations but was double the turnout of the previous elections. 

The media’s enthusiasm was not borne out by facts. At Zamalek Club, for example, out of 117,000 general assembly members who had the right to vote only 43,000, or 37 per cent, took part. At Ahly Club, only 37,000 out of the general assembly’s 138,000 members — or 28 per cent — cast ballots in that club’s polls. Such figures hardly sustain the notion of “unprecedented” voter participation despite, moreover, the incentives advertised and the presence of many celebrities in football and the arts. 

This said, there were some phenomena that may have important implications for Egyptian politics in general. Firstly, “popularity” beat “money”. The victory of Mahmoud Al-Khatib (aka “Bibu”) and his list testifies to this. Secondly, “dynastic inheritance” is out of the question and has been so since the Mubarak era. Accordingly, the son of the current chairman of the board of the Zamalek Club did not prevail. Thirdly, when faced with the choice between the “masses” and “businessmen”, the trend in both the Zamalek and Ahly clubs was to go for the former. 

Perhaps it was just coincidence, but just two days before the Ahly Club elections (on 30 November), former prime minister and former presidential candidate Ahmed Shafik announced that he planned to run in the next presidential elections. The reverberations of his announcement were felt just as the sporting clubs’ elections were reaching their height. Although it had been expected that Shafik would nominate himself, he does not have an encouraging record. This latest step was no exception to a series of poorly calculated actions that began with his departure from Egypt for a period of five years. The justification for the first year was that Egypt was under Muslim Brotherhood rule. But there was no justification for remaining in Abu Dhabi for the following four years while trying to play a role in Egyptian politics through Twitter and TV interviews. 

Politics was never just about running in elections and only in presidential elections in particular. It is about creating a platform around which to rally public opinion. This factor is missing from the record of the former prime minister. Nor did he display wisdom in announcing his nomination from abroad. It would have been more sensible for him to wait until after he returned to Egypt, the natural place for him to make such an announcement. 

The fact that he arrived home only hours later made it seem as though common sense was lacking, which is not a good quality for a potential presidential candidate. But worse was to come when AlJazeera TV broadcast a video of accusations after which all sorts of political and terrorist groups rushed to support him. True, he said the video had been leaked. But even that was testimony to a lack of judgement and care. The series of misguided actions continued through his determination to begin his electoral campaign in Paris, even though the overwhelming majority of Egyptians happen to live in Egypt.

In all events, Shafik’s emergence from his cocoon is beneficial in two ways. Firstly, it has stirred the waters of presidential campaign preparations and may stimulate broader public participation. Secondly, it will open the door to some juicy debates. Until Shafik’s recent announcement, it appeared that the forthcoming presidential elections would be a repeat of the previous one that ended up with only two candidates: the highly popular Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and the Nasserist leftist Hamdeen Sabahi. That campaign, as we know, ended with the overwhelming victory of the former while the latter came away with fewer votes than the number of invalidated ballots. This time, the only person who had nominated himself before Shafik’s announcement was Khaled Ali, a lawyer of the same leftist stripe as Sabahi (who also both belong to the “January Revolution” which conjures up memories that Egyptians would prefer to forget). 

True, the leftist nominee tried to muster support on the basis of his position on the question of Tiran and Sanafir islands, but that has not been enough to attract a larger following than his predecessor. Shafik’s nomination has not only added an individual who has run for the highest office before, it has also attracted others. Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat has said he intends to run and plans to declare this formally later this month. Al-Sadat was a prominent member of the Egyptian parliament in which he served as head of the Human Rights Committee. He also has the advantage of his name. According to a Baseera Centre opinion poll, Egyptians rank former president Anwar Al-Sadat highest among all previous presidents. Other figures have also begun to consult, test the pulse, and this heralds exciting days ahead when Egyptians will have an array of candidates to choose from.

Despite all the shortcomings that remind us that the path to proper democratic practices is hard, there is no other way to mature than to keep trying and practising. True, President Al-Sisi is still way out in front because of his huge popularity. According to the latest Baseera opinion poll, announced 1 December, 75 per cent of Egyptians are satisfied with his performance. Not only have the people rallied around the president in times of terrorism, they also see positive economic developments that point to a light at the end of the tunnel of economic straits. President Al-Sisi has the additional advantage that Egyptians do not like to change captains in the midst of a storm. If that is necessary then it should be after reaching harbour. This will be in 2022, when Al-Sisi will have completed his second term in office.

The writer is chairman of the board, CEO and director of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies.

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