Even with the more or less disappointingly low turnout in the first round of Egypt’s parliamentary elections, first indicators reveal that those who made it to Egypt’s upcoming parliament are overwhelmingly secular, not Islamist. This parliament is the first after the 30 June Revolution—the massive 2013 revolution that led to the overthrow of the post-2011 Arab Spring Islamist rule in Egypt.
The secular win is reassuring for all who care for a modern, democratic Egyptian State. But the low turnout, pronounced by unofficial figures to lie anywhere between 15 and 30 per cent is disturbing. The question that is begging an answer everywhere in Egypt is: Why so low? Especially given that the country has been without a parliament since 2012 when a court order dissolved the lower house of the then Islamist majority parliament, deeming it unconstitutional.
All but one
Egypt’s new parliament is unicameral, with 568 elected members. Among these, 448 are elected on an individual basis and 120 through closed lists formed of party alliances and individuals and including quotas for women, Christians, the disabled, and youth. Egypt is geographically divided into four districts in which ‘lists’ may contest the elections: Giza and Upper Egypt, East Delta, West Delta, and Cairo and South and Central Delta. The president may also appoint a further five per cent of the total number of elected lawmakers.
The individual candidates are independent and have various political leanings, many of them come from different political parties but are running as individuals. In rural provinces, it is expected that local family and clan loyalties would dominate the election scene.
Among the several lists contesting the elections all but one are secular, that one being the Salafi (ultraconservative purist Islam) al-Nour Party list. The secular lists include the loyalist In the Love of Egypt, the Mubarak-era dominated The Egypt List, and the leftist The Call of Egypt and The Democratic Current.
The Muslim Brotherhood which came to power on the wings of the Arab Spring and were ousted by the 30 June Revolution have been declared by court order a terrorist group and are as such banned from political practice. Their supporters are boycotting the elections.
The first round of voting took place last week and involved Egyptians outside Egypt and in 14 Egyptian governorates. The second will involve 13 governorates and will take place on 22 – 23 November, and the re-runs on 26 – 27 October and 30 November – 1 December.
Even before the balloting started, no high turnout was expected. President Sisi and Prime Minister Ismail Sherif as well as nationalist media outlets tried to persuade Egyptians to go out and vote but this obviously fell on deaf ears. Whoever had intended to vote did so, and whoever had not did not.
Was it apathy? Disenchantment? Protest? Boycott? All of the above?
The answer is probably a bit of everything. Barring boycott which was explicitly called for by the MB and a few Arab Spring revolutionists, the other factors have been cited by analysts as probable reasons for the low turnout.
Said Sadeq, professor of political sociology at the American University in Cairo, said on the TV talkshow Hawa Misr (Egypt Live) broadcasted by France24 that Egyptians are experiencing political malaise and are tired of so many elections during the past few years. On the same show, the writer and expert in parliamentary affairs Ahmed al-Batreeq expressed the disenchantement of many in Egypt when he said that the upcoming parliament will lack character, and will expose how fragile the political parties are.
In a survey conducted by Watani [https://en.wataninet.com/uncategorized/the-silver-lining/13287/] in several places in Egypt, most of those surveyed expressed deep disappointment with the candidates nominated for the elections, saying they were too many, too unfamiliar with the voters and their needs, if not outright out of touch.
On social media, a recurrent theme was that nothing has changed much in Egypt since before the Arab Spring and the consequent 30 June Revolution, so why bother to vote? Disappointment with the current economic situation and spiralling prices was also cited as a reason for not voting; it was frustrating and again bred a feeling of no hope that things might change.
The old vs the young
One blogger cited an opinion that Egyptians are in general not interested in elections; they only head to the polls if motivated by a critical cause or in fear of specific consequences. He might not be an expert, but his opinion carries credibility given that the highest turnout in Egypt’s recent elections was when the MB were running for the post-Arab Spring parliament in 2012, when the country’s new Constitution was approved in January 2014, and when Sisi was elected President in May 2014.
A woman in her forties from a Cairo populous district said she wouldn’t vote. “I only go [to the polls] in case of referenda or to elect a president,” she insisted.
A Baseera poll placed the proportion of voters in the 18 – 30 age bracket at 21 per cent, the 31 – 50 at 51 per cent, and the above 50 at 28 per cent. On TV, the older voters voiced frustration with the young who did not show up. “What are you waiting for?” a woman in her sixties said. “You just call for change and complain that nothing’s right then don’t bother to do anything about it?”
One person who was not surprised, however, was Ahmed Zaky Badr, Minister of Local and Administrative Development. “It has always been like that,” he told the media. The turnout is not unusual for parliamentary elections.” One staunch supporter of his opinion is Samia Sidhom on Watani’s editorial staff. “I have never missed voting in an election since the 1970s,” she says. “I never saw a better turnout except during the 2012 parliamentary elections in which the MB targeted a majority of the seats so rallied all their supporters, and the 2014 elections for the Constitution and the President.” If anything, she insists, the poor—or rather normal—turnout means the MB were not rallying support, implying they realise they have lost public ground and had no hope of winning. The silver lining to the ‘poor turnout’ cloud? Possibly.
21 October 2015