Whatever the numbers are that are being broadcast about voter turnout percentages in the current presidential elections, one must bear in mind that the number of people going to the polls was very modest and that a carrot and stick was used to motivate people to vote. It took quite a bit of effort to get people to the polls.
The people’s reluctance to go to the polling stations was remarkable to the extent that many felt that it was important to interpret what this truly means, especially since the authorities had pinned their hopes on a large voter turnout as they sent many letters to people both at home and abroad. Although the result of these elections was a foregone conclusion and although everyone knew that it was guaranteed, there were many people who were betting on the voter turnout, as it was still unclear how many people would actually participate. While I do not know how the officials in the decision-making circle responded to people’s apathy, as was reflected in the voter turnout, I would imagine they were not happy with the outcome.
While I also do not know how decision-makers will respond to this situation, I would argue that the message is loud and clear and that it should be received by political leaders and it is also worthy of both some reflection and review.
What has happened has remained the focus of much commentary and analysis over the last three days as there have been many explanations for the people’s reluctance to vote. Many say that the hot weather kept people from voting while others believed that the summer farming season preoccupied farmers and village residents from participating. Another theory is that people were fasting in commemoration of Israa and Miraj (Prophet Mohammad’s ascension to heaven) and this kept people away from polling stations.
Others blamed the media for the low voter turnout because they broadcast stories suggesting the elections were swayed heavily in favour of Field Marshall Abdul Fatah Al-Sisi. Media personalities also said that many candidates did not have proper political parties backing them and that many of them have similar backgrounds, opinions or experience. Television hosts also discussed how this presidential election was weak in comparison to the 2012 presidential elections as there are currently only two candidates in comparison to the 12 candidates who competed for the presidential seat last time.
Others suggested that the government’s actions are what negatively impacted voter turnout whether it was in regards to the duration of voting hours or whether it had to do with the amount of polling stations that were available to the general public.
Some personalities went on to consider the emergence of Mubarak-era symbols during the electoral period and their endorsement of Field Marshall Al-Sisi, which led to the public’s alienation from the elections and sparked a large amount of resentment. Another factor that was considered in the media was the fragmentation of the popular front that was formed on June 30. One must also consider how the atmosphere surrounding the elections brought about questions of treason and repression as well as specifically targeting the youth, many of whom were tried and imprisoned.
These may very well be some of the factors that influenced the low voter turnouts but I would argue that those who chose not to participate in the vote are not any less patriotic than others but they are divided into three different groups:
The defeated: the individuals who believe that there was no competition or fight to begin with. Despite the medias efforts to portray the image that a there was indeed competition among the two candidates, those who are more critical and intelligent quickly understood that Hamdeen Sabbahi’s presence in the elections was merely for decoration and that there was no true sense of competition between him and Al-Sisi. These people also knew that standing in the election’s long queues would only serve the military’s purposes as this meant participating in the theatrical performance that is needed to direct this film. Not to mention the fact that when one is convinced that his voice has no value and that his absence or presence will not affect the election’s outcome, then it is only natural for that person to prefer sitting at home or in a café.
One media personality pointed out that the average Egyptian citizen is not really concerned with our image to the outside world and, as such, he or she would not care to participate in Al-Sisi’s grand performance.
The rejectionists: this group of people are those who had many reasons that persuaded them to participate in a political boycott and by this I mean the broad groups of people who went out to protest on June 30 in defence of the January 25 revolution. They consider themselves to be the individuals who founded the revolution and its principles.
There are four different factors that pushed this group to boycott the elections:
The first factor is that these people demonstrated on June 30 asking for early democratic elections and not to replace the governing power with the military and they certainly did not ask to implement a new governing system that destroyed everything they had worked for.
The second factor is that they witnessed a severe attack on the January 25 revolution (and its principles) and this caused them much concern.
The third factor is that politicians from Mubarak’s era began to appear in Al-Sisi’s media campaigns. In addition, Mubarak-style security provisions returned with the comeback of Habib Al-Adili as interior minister. All of these factors raised many concerns and encouraged them to boycott the elections.
The fourth factor is that none of the police officers or officials who were responsible for the crimes committed against the revolutionaries and protestors were held accountable for their actions. Not one official was held responsible for the killings of demonstrators and out of all the police officers that were charged in more than 40 cases, only one or two were held accountable for their actions.
The third group of people who boycotted the elections are those who fell victim to the events that followed July 3, whether this was the Muslim Brotherhood or any of its allies or sympathisers, who are about five million people. Moreover, these individuals are those who gave their vote to Dr Mohamed Morsi in the 2012 presidential elections.
Among this number are the families of the victims of the massacres that took place at the beginning of the coup. This includes the thousands of detainees who fill Egypt’s prisons at the moment despite the fact that we know that many of them have nothing to do with the Muslim Brotherhood or the demonstrations. Instead, they were arrested randomly or arbitrarily during the time that the military attempted to crack down on demonstrations by targeting university students.
Due to this, the parents of the coup’s detainees or victims find themselves in a conflict with the new regime and choose to participate in the boycott.
One of the tasks of the next stage is to call on these groups of people and reconcile with them, regardless of whether they have lost their enthusiasm or confidence or were severely wounded. This must be done not only to appease them but also to restore the lost sense of stability that we still desire.
Translated from Shorouk newspaper, 31 May 2014
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.