Sunday,21 October, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1380, (8 - 14 February 2018)
Sunday,21 October, 2018
Issue 1380, (8 - 14 February 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Boycott calls condemned

Calls for boycotting Egypt’s upcoming presidential elections have triggered sharp reactions from an array of political forces, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

 

Egypt’s upcoming presidential elections entered a new stage this week after the National Electoral Commission (NEC) announced it had accepted the candidacies of the two election hopefuls: incumbent President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi who is running for a second four-year term, and head of the liberal Ghad (Tomorrow) Party Moussa Mustafa Moussa.

NEC Spokesman Mahmoud Al-Sherif said on 2 February that it had not received any legal challenges against the two candidates “nor have we received any kind of objections on eligibility grounds”.

As a result, Al-Sherif said, the initial list of presidential candidates now includes only Al-Sisi and Moussa, indicating that a final list will be announced on 24 February or before campaigning begins on the same day.

Al-Sherif revealed that Al-Sisi gathered 161,707 endorsements from citizens across Egypt, as well as recommendations from 549 MPs. As for Moussa, Al-Sherif said he was able to collect 48,000 endorsements from more than 15 governorates, as well as recommendations from 20 MPs. “This meets the constitutional requirement which stipulates that candidates must present the NEC with endorsements from 20 MPs or from 25,000 citizens in 15 governorates in order to be eligible to run for president,” Al-Sherif said.

But no sooner had the door for candidate registration closed on 29 January than a number of opposition parties took all by surprise by issuing calls for a boycott of the polls. In a press conference on 30 January, the so-called Civic Democratic Movement (CDM), a coalition of leftist and liberal parties, urged the public to boycott on the grounds that “there are no positive signs that the ballot will be held in a fair and free atmosphere.”

Hamdeen Sabahi, a former presidential candidate and a Nasserist politician, called on the public to join the CDM in rejecting the poll in form and content, adding that he plans to reach out to other “civilian and patriotic forces to build a modern democratic state based on the peaceful rotation of power”.

Anwar Al-Sadat, head of the liberal Reform and Development Party, also proposed that opposition activists lead a demonstration to the presidential palace to submit a list of “political reforms” to President Al-Sisi. In a statement on Sunday, Al-Sadat, a nephew of former president Anwar Al-Sadat, said “there should be a dialogue between President Al-Sisi on the one hand and political forces on the other in order to contain public anger and put an end to political stagnation currently gripping Egypt.”

The government quickly responded by rejecting the CDM’s claims, saying it stands equally distant from all potential candidates. The NEC also said it is keen that the poll bears all the necessary hallmarks of integrity and transparency. “As many as 80 observers affiliated to 19 nationalities were allowed to monitor the polls, not to mention that all voting boxes will be fully supervised by judges,” said NEC Chairman Lasheen Ibrahim. On Monday, Ibrahim and Haifaa Abu Ghazala, assistant head of the Arab League, signed a memorandum of understanding to allow a mission of observers to participate in monitoring the poll.

The NEC also announced that the registration deadline for the 2018 election observers was extended to 15 February. It said out of 48 NGOs, several have so far received approval to monitor the poll. “Forty-four local and four international NGOs have been endorsed to monitor the 26-28 March poll,” an NEC statement said.

The most serious reaction, however, came from President Al-Sisi who issued a stern warning on 31 January. Al-Sisi said he would not allow anybody to tamper with the security and stability of Egypt. “What happened seven or eight years ago will not be repeated,” said Al-Sisi, adding that “if the situation necessitates, I will be willing to call on all Egyptians to take to the streets again to give me a new mandate to stand up to the evil people that threaten the country.”

In comments during a ceremony in Port Said to inaugurate the first phase of operations at the giant gas field Zohr off Egypt’s Mediterranean coast, Al-Sisi said “no one can mess with the country’s security. What has been accomplished in terms of security and stability will not be impinged upon by anyone again.”

The president also warned citizens not to allow anyone to “lead you astray”. “The security of Egypt is worth my life and that of the army,” he said, adding that “let me die first before anyone dares tamper with the lives of 100 million Egyptians.” “Those who want to mess with Egypt must get rid of me first.”

Al-Sisi said “talk will never rebuild Egypt.” “I am not a politician who is clever in talking and rhetoric, but I am one who believes in hard work and only knows the language of achievements as nobody knows what great efforts have been exerted to make this country stand on its feet again. I urge everybody to think first before you talk,” said Al-Sisi, wondering why “some people speak on some issues before taking care of the dangerous impact of this talk on 100 million Egyptians.”

Abdel-Moneim Said, an Al-Ahram political analyst, said “Al-Sisi’s talk about ‘evil people’ does not refer in particular to leftist opposition figures who issued the boycott calls. This is not the first time for Al-Sisi to use the words ‘evil people’ because he usually uses this expression every time he refers to the Muslim Brotherhood.”

He added that “leftist forces have the right to criticise the poll but when it comes to boycott calls it made a big mistake. After they failed to agree on a single opposition candidate or meet the registration requirements, they resorted to boycott tactics. Instead, they should have called for amending the constitution to make the registration process much easier. In this case they would be able to gain a lot of listening ears.”

Many leftist figures blasted CDM’s boycott calls. Abdel-Hamid Kamal, an independent MP with the leftist Tagammu Party, said they reflect “a kind of political bankruptcy. When you issue a call for a boycott, you must be sure first that you have widespread popularity on the street and that a large number of people would agree with your call,” said Kamal. “But as we all know most CDM parties are almost non-existent or rather suffer from a kind of political extinction.”

Nashwa Al-Deeb, a leftist MP, described the forces which called for a boycott of the poll as “leftist extremist”.

“I warned the Arab Nasserist Party of which I am a member not to join these forces because ours is a national party which rejects all kinds of malicious foreign agendas,” Al-Deeb said.

Kamal Ahmed, a veteran Nasserist MP, condemned the CDM’s position as very negative. “We do not ask these political parties to be supportive of President Al-Sisi, but we also ask them not to be a source of trouble in terms of urging the public to join demonstrations or boycotting the poll,” Ahmed said.

Al-Ghad presidential candidate Moussa vowed that he will refer all those calling for an election boycott to trial for “grand treason” if he wins. Moussa said in a TV interview that “the boycott calls aim at inciting foreign forces against Egypt and this represents a case of grand treason.”

The Mostakbal Watan (the Future of a Nation) Party, the second largest in parliament, also issued a statement condemning the boycott campaign as “serving foreign agendas”.

“The Egyptian people face a dangerous and major challenge. We must stand behind the state in order to foil all schemes that seek to block the country’s path of accomplishments or to defame the presidential election process in order to impede our achievements,” the statement said.

Alaa Abed, head of Parliament’s Human Rights Committee and spokesperson of the liberal Free Egyptians Party, said “the big number of endorsements which President Al-Sisi was able to collect shows that he has a lot of popularity on the street and that people will turn out by the thousands to vote in the coming poll. The problem is that some political forces believe they have a magic wand and that they can use it to tell the people to do what they like or what they do not like any time,” Abed said.

Abed said several political parties and coalitions plan to mobilise the public to turn out in large numbers to vote in the March elections in order to strengthen the democratic process. These include the liberal Wafd Party, Free Egyptians Party and Mostakbal Watan.

The ultraconservative Salafist Nour Party also said it will urge its members to turn out by the thousands to vote in next month’s ballot.

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