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Egypt's farcical election

January 30, 2014 at 1:40 am

The farce continues. Since the July coup that overthrew elected President Mohammed Morsi last year, Egypt has gone from disaster to disaster. As flawed and problematic as his administration was, Morsi was at least elected.

Now, with the coup regime of the generals in place, led by Abdel Fatah al Sisi , one can’t help but despair that Egypt is going backwards. The Muslim Brotherhood, won election after election in the aftermath of the 25 January 2011 uprising that overthrew Egypt’s long-time tyrant Hosni Mubarak.

This was a problem for Egypt’s deep state, it’s spy agencies, secret police, and powerful military. After a short-lived attempt at détente, the military overthrew Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood backers in the 3 July 2013 coup.

The problem posed by democracy was overcome with the kidnapping of Morsi, who remains incarcerated, facing charges including the farcical – and anti-Palestinian – accusation of aiding Hamas in Gaza. If Egyptians vote the wrong way, simply undo the results and start again: this is the authoritarian mentality of Egypt’s generals, closely echoing their sponsors in the United States.

Buoyed by a newly invigorated cult of personality centred around Sisi, the military dictatorship decided to shore up its power by staging an election to usher in a new constitution. It will free the army, police and intelligence services from civilian control, giving the coup a legalistic veneer.

Once, Saddam Hussein used to to claim 99 percent of Iraqis had voted for him. The dictator Mubarak and his party “won” rigged elections with 80-88 percent. Sisi decided to out do him.

Today, the website of the state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram is (as of this writing) claiming that 98 percent of voters (with 25 out of 27 regions declared – Cairo has yet yo be announced) favour the new document.

Without knowing anything else other than this statistic, its clear this is a sham election. Credible elections do not create results of 98 percent.

It should come as no surprise to learn then, that campaigners for a “No” vote were arrested, as reported by Human Rights Watch. Election monitors were expelled.

The main opposition to the generals, the Anti-Coup Alliance, led by the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and of Morsi, called for a a boycott. With a claimed turnout at this stage of only 33 percent, their campaign seems to have been met with some limited success. The April 6 Movement and the Strong Egypt Party also declared support for the boycott.

Al Jazeera English’s coverage of the run-up to the elections has been somewhat subdued (the coverage of Qatari channel Al Jazeera has been the past quite pro-Muslim Brotherhood). Three of their journalists have been imprisoned without charge in Egypt for almost 20 days now, so this act of intimidation seems to have had the desired chilling effect. It’s to the channel’s credit, however, that it has been running daily updates on the imprisonment of their journalists and demanding their immediate release.

The generals’ infamous slaughter of over a thousand unarmed protesters in the wake of its coup, as well as a general crackdown of arrests and intimidations, has also had the desired effect. Protests are banned, and so anyone who dares do so has been persecuted, marginalised, shot or arrested. The Muslim Brotherhood has been outlawed as a “terrorist” group.

Behind all this sits the power of the US, and the influence of its Israeli ally – which has long favoured military dictatorships in Egypt.

Despite some gravely-intoned platitudes about the need to respect democratic process and to avoid heavy handedness, the American government continues to send hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to the Egyptian military. Obama is aiming to remove even the token aid curbs that have been made to date.

And Israel’s powerful Washington DC lobby played a key role in arguing for military aid to Egypt to be continued post-coup.

With increased fears of the very real bombing attacks on Egyptian targets that have taken place since the coup, especially in the Sinai, the generals have found it easier to rally support. Dark days, months and years are ahead in Egypt.

An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.