Egypt’s new President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi has taken oath before the Supreme Constitutional Court, thus officially starting his term. Egyptians are hopeful and confident that Sisi’s term would bring in freedom, social justice and national dignity, the declared and hitherto unachieved goals of the Arab Spring revolution in 2011.
The presidential elections that brought in Sisi took place last month peacefully and respectfully. Local and international organisations monitored the vote and issued their reports which, despite the divergent intentions behind them, unanimously confirmed the transparency and integrity of the elections. Neither bribery nor intimidation of voters was exercised, and the election outcome reflected the free will of the sweeping majority of Egyptians. This marks a major difference between Sisi and Egypt’s previous president Muhammad Mursi who belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood, was sworn in in June 2012 and overthrown in June 2013. Mursi came to office through a very thin margin that reflected a divided nation which he not only failed to unite but worked to deepen the divide. Sisi has come through a landslide vote to lead a people largely united in purpose and willing to collaborate with him to save the nation.
I wish to put down here a few thoughts on the recent elections which I see as a significant step towards Egyptian democratic maturity.
• Egyptians flocked to the polls in large numbers. They lined up for hours to cast their votes, responding to the call of national duty, appearing neither worried nor bothered by the large-scale terrorist threats against them which had inundated the media. They were overjoyed, confident and optimistic, a positive image of well-aware men and women.
• Impartial observers can but stand awed at the participation of Egyptian women voters—young, middle aged or old. Yet this should come as no surprise, seeing that Egyptian women have shouldered a significant national role since the Arab Spring revolution in 2011, which was in turn an extension of their role in Egypt’s modern national movement since the onset of the 20th century. The significant turnout of Egyptian women in the recent elections went far beyond political exercise. It was practically a hard blow to all the backward forces that had conspired, under the MB rule of Mursi, to turn Egypt into another Taliban that would lock up women into retardation and slavery. Egyptian women, however, proved themselves to be the equal partners of men. It is now the turn of the men to fully grasp this message and fulfil it in the near and far future.
• I already discussed last week the stance adopted by a segment of Egypt’s activist youth—not the majority of Egyptian youth—by refusing to take part in the vote. It goes without saying that Egypt cannot exclude the activist youth nor settle accounts with them, or even blame them for their opinion or stance. Wisdom would demand that they should be included, talked to, and integrated in the national effort. They should be seriously involved in development work and empowered up the management and leadership ladder. This way they would attain the maturity that would qualify them to lead the nation, and banish fear and confusion.
• A portion of eligible voters decided to either boycott or intentionally invalidate their vote. This issue was tackled extensively by the media and political circles; the boycotters were condemned and the invalidators applauded for participating nonetheless. I totally disagree. I believe that the rush to rally citizens to the ballot box to achieve a high turnout stands behind that. However, refusing to cast a vote is in itself a positive stance that expressed lack of confidence in both presidential contenders. The concept is recognised the world over; polling options on any issue usually include three alternatives: agree; disagree; or undecided. With political rights secured for everyone, I see no need to invalidate votes. And we must under no conditions boast of it. I thus cannot but feel amazed at the current debate of how to penalise the boycotters, while applauding the vote invalidators.
• I have fully abided by the utmost measures of impartiality when tackling Hamdeen Sabahi, the rival contender in the presidential race, and was keen to give him his worth of appreciation and respect. But in closely following Sabahi’s electoral campaign I was more often than not disappointed by his tendency towards verbal violence and lack of courtesy. Yet I exercised self restraint for the sake of personal and professional impartiality. But now that the race is over I believe it important to shed light on points on which I disagree with Sabahi. I do not agree with his rush to politically attack his rival, Sisi. Sabahi would at times link Sisi to the military council and at other times to Mursi, in both cases intentionally smearing his image. He even attempted to imply that Sisi, as former chief of the Egyptian armed forces, represented no added value to the Egyptian people or their revolution, rather a liability. I also disagree with the core content of Sabahi’s speech to his supporters after the elections results were leaked and he knew he had lost. While he started his speech respectfully, he lost no time to hurl allegations against the integrity of the elections, and cast doubts on the impartiality of the Supreme Elections Commission. He stressed the essentiality of remaining on the political arena in order for him to confront corruption and despotism, as though he monopolised that battle and no one else cared for it. I felt very sorry to hear all this, since I had hoped that Sabahi would end the race honourably. He is rightly acclaimed for staunchly persisting in the race, and for his formation of a strong opposition front in parliament. Yet Sabahi could not restrain his bitterness.
• Finally, I conclude with a scene I consider most honourable for Egypt and her people. It was unprecedented to see an Egyptian president, the interim President Adly Mansour, hand over to the next president, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi. Mansour has been the wise, faithful, skilled captain who navigated the rough waters and sailed the nation to a safe shore. My generation of Egyptians never imagined they would live to witness such a scene, after seeing presidents whose terms ended only by death or revolution. Let this noble scene be the first in a series that would mark democratic power rotation.
8 June 2014