11 December 2011
Again, the Islamist currents have been hard at work to polarise the vote along religious lines. The first time this happened was last March during the public referendum on constitutional amendments of presidential prerogatives and terms. Islamists persuaded voters that it was only the non-Muslims and ‘infidel seculars’ who would vote “no”, and it was the duty of good Muslims to vote “yes”. The result was a very obvious religious polarisation of the vote, with some 77 per cent voting yes.
Does it say so in the Qur’an?
It is déjà vu in the parliamentary elections currently taking place. The Islamist parties are crying: “For the sake of your country and your religion, do not vote for the Crusader Bloc”, referring to al-Kutla al-Misriya (The Egyptian Bloc), the liberal bloc which calls for a civil State in Egypt. During the first round of the parliamentary elections, a voter who stood in line in a polling station in Heliopolis saw a Muslim Brotherhood member vociferously campaigning for the Freedom and Justice Party. The voter told the campaigner that campaigning at polling staions was banned by law. Upon which the Muslim Brother drew a Qur’an from his pocket, opened it, and challenged the voter: “Show me a verse here that says that.”
Reality on the ground
Many Egyptians believe, or fear, the new parliament will be Islamist, meaning it will not significantly represent all the different trends and movements of the Egyptian people.
The judge Amir Ramzy, a member of the Cabinet’s National Justice Committee, told Watani that Copts do fear the elections would bring in a predominantly Islamist parliament. “Because the MB is a very organised force,” he explains, “they manage to be everywhere in the polling stations to pressure voters, playing unfair game to divide the community into Muslim and Christian.”
Ramzy calls upon all enlightened Egyptians to unite in order to protect Egypt’s opportunity in a civil future and to secure human rights, since an Islamist win would work to undermine human rights and dignity, and would risk the rights of minorities and women.
“We should not be worrying about an Islamist majority in Parliament,” the political analyst and activist Kamal Zakher says. “This is a reality on the ground, which must be faced and dealt with. We must be rational, see what the Islamists are offering apart from the religious rhetoric they flaunt.”
Coptic activist Medhat Bishay says that the Islamists have exploited the poor public awareness and the rampant illiteracy, which amounts to some 60 per cent, to steer voters in a religious direction. “This illustrates just how poorly equipped for democracy Egyptians are. The general climate is dominated by illiteracy and sectarianism.”
Back to the dark ages
“The ballot box is not alone the epitome of the democratic process,” says international lawyer Awad Shafiq who resides in Switzerland. “It is not in itself an end but a means.” Democracy, he told Watani goes beyond polling to include all aspects of rights and participation in political life.” In total agreement is Medhat Qelada who heads the alliance of Coptic movements in Europe, and who vocally criticises the current elections for rampant “vote-buying and exploitation of religion”.
For his part, Ezzat Boulos of the Copts United website, deplores what he sees as the thwarting of the aspirations of Egypt’s young people who sacrificed their lives for freedom, democracy and social justice. More importantly, they called for a civil State. “What we see now,” Mr Boulos says, “will inevitably drag Egypt back to the dark ages, in the name of religion.”