Boredom at the ballot box in Egypt

Abdallah Schleifer
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It’s almost all over. A parliamentary election for Egypt’s House of Representatives, which has dragged on for over a month and has been about as boring as it has been complicated, is drawing to a close.

There have been two stages to the elections, each with a run-off and a complicated ballot in which the large majority of seats has been contested by individuals running as “independents”.

A minority – about 25 percent – of the total seats in the new parliament have been contested by party lists and there are so many candidates for the “independent” seats that in most cases in the first round, and now in the second round, no candidate had secured a majority of the vote. In the first round of the second stage there were 2,803 candidates competing to fill 222 seats for “independents”, and 196 individuals competing for the 60 seats for party lists.

Political alliances

There are four serious alliances – broad coalitions combining parties and leading personalities – and one party running outside of the alliances, all of which support President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to a greater or lesser degree.

In the 2014 presidential election, Sisi encouraged Sabahi to remain in the race. He welcomed the opposition. This time around Sisi did not do so. That was a mistake.

Abdallah Schleifer

The For The Love of Egypt coalition – which includes three political parties including Wafd, the oldest liberal political party in Egypt, and two post-Mubarak era parties – is believed by many Egyptians to be the alliance favored by Sisi. The president denies that he is supporting any alliance, but the feeling persists and For The Love of Egypt has swept all of the party list seats.

It is no secret that the various alliances backed a number of candidates for the “independent” seats, which is why I put the word within quotation marks. For The Love of Egypt-backed candidates took a large number of those seats in the first-stage run-off, and are expected to do well in the second stage, and could conceivably end up with a majority of the seats in the new parliament.

The big surprise is that the Salafist al-Nour Party – which did so well in the last parliamentary election, having coming in second behind the Muslim Brotherhood’s party – has done so poorly this time around.

But the Salifists are not one organized and disciplined movement like the Brotherhood. Rather it is a religious perspective in which each individual Salifi sheikh, of which there could easily be two thousand in Egypt, and his immediate followers constitute a movement.

Election boycotts

Many Salifis who voted for al-Nour the first time around, when the party participated in a short-lived coalition with the Muslim Brotherhood, were opposed to the party’s support for the army after it deposed former President Mohammad Mursi. They are expressing that by boycotting this election.

And of course the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters have boycotted this election. While most of the Brotherhood cadre, and all of its leaders, are either in prison or in exile, the ordinary voter supportive of the Brotherhood, be they member or sympathizer, has stayed at home following orders to boycott. If an estimated 25 percent of the registered voters are members or sympathizers of the Brotherhood, it would be reasonable to assume that at least 40 percent of the many Egyptians who boycotted the elections did so out of sympathy for the Brotherhood.

Voter fatigue

What about the rest? Many are simply suffering voter fatigue: Since the January 2011 uprising, there have been two elections for parliament, at least two referendums and two presidential elections.

The Egyptian youth was most notably absent from the lines of voters in this election. Many had participated in the 2011 uprising, and their high hopes of dramatic change in both the political and economic life of the country have not materialized. They are at best bored with politics – and, at worst, they are now hostile to Sisi.

But one of the reasons for the boredom is that there was no real opposition party alliance in the race. That is because two small but serious parties – the Al-Dostour party and Socialist alliance – boycotted the elections. If those two parties had formed an opposition alliance of their own, many of those who stayed at home might have come out to vote. Their decision to boycott, for whatever reasons, was a mistake.

In the 2014 presidential election, when the one opposition candidate Hamdeen Sabahi came under pressure from some of Sisi’s most over-enthusiastic – or, conceivably, opportunistic – voices in the local media to drop out of the contest, it was Sisi whom spoke out and encouraged Sabahi to remain in the race. He welcomed the opposition.

This time around President Sisi did not do so. That too was a mistake.

Abdallah Schleifer is a veteran American journalist covering the Middle East and distinguished visiting professor of political mass media at Future University in Egypt. He is also professor emeritus at the American University in Cairo where he founded as served as first director of the Kamal Adham Center for TV and Digital Journalism. He is chief editor of the annual publication The Muslim 500; a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (USA) and at the Royal Aal al Bayt Academy for Islamic Thought (Jordan.) Schleifer has served as Al Arabiya Washington D.C. bureau chief; NBC News Cairo bureau chief; Middle East correspondent for Jeune Afrique; as special correspondent (stringer) , New York Times and managing editor of the Jerusalem Star/Palestine News in then Jordanian Arab Jerusalem.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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