By a SOAS Spirit Contributor
Opposition leaders in Egypt have called for a boycott as the country grinds towards an ‘election’ that can be described with little to no stretch of the imagination as a farce.
The current schedule will see Egyptians inside the country go to the polls from Monday, March 26 to Wednesday, March 28, facing a stark choice between the military-backed incumbent President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Moussa Mostafa Moussa, leader of the centrist Ghad Party.
Last month a coalition comprised of eight Egyptian opposition parties and 150 public figure issued an open letter calling for a boycott of the “absurd” poll, urging voters to “stay at home”. Speaking after the campaign launch, opposition figure Abdel-Geleel Mustafa told journalists: “It is not right for us to surrender to what has become an absurdity bordering on madness.”
In the run-up to the candidate registration period in January, a string of would-be challengers were all arrested, prosecuted or intimidated out of the race. They included Khaled Ali, a leftwing lawyer with a strong support base among young Egyptians who took part in the 2011 revolution, who withdrew citing corruption while still appealing against his own “politically motivated” three-month prison sentence.
This came just days after former army chief of staff Sami Anan was arrested by the military on declaring his intention to run, accused of not seeking permission to run and forging documents. Colonel Ahmad Konsawa was also convicted of violating military regulations and jailed for six years.Former Prime Minister Ahmad Shafik was also deported from the UAE, where he had fled in 2012 after losing the general election to Sisi, and arrested on arrival in Egypt.There is also concern that Moussa, a prominent supporter of Sisi who submitted his papers just 15 minutes before the deadline, may be little more than a ‘puppet’ in the upcoming vote.
Speaking to Al-Jazeera, Prof Sahar Aziz of Rutgers Law School said: “I don’t think that Moussa is a legitimate candidate. He was previously a supporter of Sisi as a candidate, he lobbied and advocated for him, and for him to then announce himself as the opposition… shows that someone called him and said ‘I need you to be a placeholder so it is not so apparent Sisi is destined to win the election’.”
In the circumstances, Egypt’s upcoming election is arguably little more than a democratic veneer legitimising an increasingly tyrannical authoritarian regime – one, lest we forget, that began with the sentencing some 720 men to death after the ousting of former President Mohammed Morsi. Just last week, the President declared defamation of Egypt’s armed forces an act of ‘high treason’.
The possibility of a low turnout and embarrassingly low number of votes cast is now an object of speculation as the countdown begins to the vote, which for expatriates begins on Friday, March 16. Ruminating on the issue in the Saudi-owned Arab News, politician Mohamed Nosseir said: “The political conditions surrounding the 2018 election have basically skimmed off any fat that could have encouraged citizens to go through the hassle of confidential voting.
“The entire world already knows who will win the election, which discourages even the followers of the anticipated winner from participating.
“Unknowingly, the state is pushing its citizens to become more engaged in the underground politics from which Egypt has suffered most in recent decades. It is a sad path for our nation, but one that is apparently our political destiny, and certainly not our choice.”