2018 Elections: Continuing Violations and Phony Results
2018 Elections: Continuing Violations and Phony Results – Report on Egypt’s Presidential Election 2018 – EIS Research and Studies Unit
Over the last few months, the world has been watching the Egyptian scene intensively; not only due to Egypt’s presidential election, but mainly for the extent of violations and repressive practices carried out by the Egyptian regime during the period prior to the election process. This made the international press highlight the political scene in Egypt intensively, and review the reality of political life in Egypt, especially the practice of democracy under the current Egyptian regime.
This report seeks to give a complete picture of the Egyptian presidential election 2018 through addressing several axes related to violations against those who had declared their intention to run for elections, and the repressive practices carried out by the regime during the voting process itself. The report also sheds light on the course of the election process in the Sinai Peninsula, especially in light of the critical security situation there, and the army’s ongoing military operations in the area. The report will attempt to analyse the declared figures of the election turnout, stating some findings and conclusions on the electoral process.
In the beginning, we will briefly refer to the Egyptian regime’s most important violations and repressive practices against whoever declared his intention to run for the presidential election. In the first place, the candidacy eligibility requirements represented an obstacle in the way of anyone seeking to run for election, except for Al-Sisi, or someone the regime allows to access elections – such as Mousa Mustafa Mousi, who was “pushed” to apply for election candidacy a few minutes before expiry of the registration time limit. (To be eligible to run for president, a candidate must collect 25,000 endorsements from constituents across 15 out of the country’s 27 governorates, with at least 1,000 citizen endorsements from each government. Alternatively, the signatures of 20 members of parliament – which is fully controlled by the regime – would suffice. This should be completed within 20 days only.) Furthermore, the regime chased all serious candidates using harsh repressive measures, which led to forcibly excluding them from election. (Such as Lt. General Ahmed Shafiq, Colonel Ahmed Konsowa, and Lt. General Sami Anan – which will be discussed here in detail) or other candidates who became desperate and were prompted to withdraw, such as Khalid Ali and Mohamed Anwar Sadat, who lost all hope in likely fair election under Sisi.
1 – Lt. General Ahmed Shafiq
Former presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq, a former senior commander in the armed forces, announced on Wednesday, November 29, 2017, his intention to run for the presidential election 2018. In a video declaration sent to Reuters as well as a telephoned statement, Shafiq said he would run in the election planned for around March 2018. “I’m honored to announce my will to run in the upcoming presidential elections in Egypt as a choice to be president of the country for the next four years,” he said in the statement from the UAE in which he highlighted his time in the air force.
“Egypt is grappling with many problems that have affected all aspects of life, and led to the deterioration of all services,” he said, referring to the reasons for his candidacy for presidency. “Success, whether big or small, will not be achieved in Egypt without a model democratic civil regime, that is stable and able to accept criticism,” he added.
One day after announcing his candidacy, Ahmed Shafiq said in another video he sent to pan-Arab TV channel Al Jazeera that the United Arab Emirates, a close ally of Egypt’s where he was living at the time, had barred him from traveling. “I was surprised that I was prevented from leaving the UAE for reasons I do not understand,” Shafiq said, adding that he thanked the UAE for its hospitality but wished to depart. Anwar Gargash, the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, denied on his official Twitter account that any obstacles had been placed to his travel, according to Reuters.
After announcing that he had been prevented from leaving the Emirates, The UAE authorities, the main supporter of Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, deported Shafiq on board a private plane to Cairo. A source close to Shafiq’s family told Reuters he had been arrested at his home and taken by plane to Cairo. Moreover, one of his aides said she had seen officials arriving at his home in Abu Dhabi. “They took him from the house and put him on a private plane. They said he would go back to Cairo, because they can deport him only to his home country,” she said, according to AFP. Shafiq landed in Cairo airport on Saturday evening (December 3, 2017) and quickly left to an unknown destination, an airport official said. His relatives told AFP almost six hours after his arrival that they did not know his whereabouts. Shafiq was reportedly escorted by the military intelligence to one of the hotels in Cairo, “JW Marriott Hotel” and put him under house arrest. He was subjected to pressures in order to withdraw from presidential election bid, and was told that he would be smeared with allegations of sexual misconduct and corruption and sent to prison, according to MEE. Also, one of Shafiq’s two daughters (living in UAE at the time) would also face corruption charges, according to MEE. Due to these pressures and violations, Shafiq on Sunday (Dec. 7) ended his short-lived presidential bid by confirming in a televised statement that he would not stand against Sisi in the March election, stating that his five years in exile in the UAE had “distanced me from… what is going on in our nation”. In a statement on his personal account on Twitter, the former military commander stated that he would not be the perfect person to lead the country. Ahmed Shafiq chose to retreat rather than be sent to military prison and smeared along with his family by the pro-regime media. It is also reported that he is put under house arrest to pressure him to openly declare his support for Sisi. However, he has so far refused to do so although he participated in the vote.
2- Colonel Ahmed Konsowa
On the same day that Ahmed Shafiq announced his intention to run for president, Colonel Ahmed Abdel Ghaffar Hassan Konsowa, an architect military officer, announced in a statement on his YouTube channel his intention to run for the presidential election. Through his candidacy statement, Konsowa expressed the reasons presidential election bid. “I would like to confirm that the story of justice and freedom is impossible to be ended on the Egyptian soil,” he said. “I proudly declare that I seek to unlock the current political deadlock by running for the anticipated Egyptian presidential election, according to its terms and conditions as defined by the Egyptian constitution and relevant laws,” Konsowa said in his statement. Konsowa also said the country was witnessing “crucial circumstances” with the “threat of terrorism” and criticised what he called “inappropriate, counterproductive and outdated policies” which “fuel extremism and discontent in the most populous nation in the tumultuous Middle East”. The direct reaction of the regime was to summon Colonel Ahmad Konsowa for interrogation, through the Military Prosecution, and hand him a 15-day detention order. The charges against Konsowa included violating military code and publishing a video in which he espoused political views, according to his lawyer. On December 19, a military court sentenced Konsowa to six years in prison.
3- Lt. General Sami Anan
On January 20, 2018, Lt. General Sami Anan, the former chief of staff of the Egyptian army, said that he intended to run in the country’s presidential election, about two hours after Sisi announced his candidacy for a second term in office. In a video declaration posted on his official Facebook page, Anan said he will run for president to save Egypt from incorrect policies and called on state institutions to maintain neutrality toward all candidates, according to Reuters. “I call on civilian and military institutions to maintain neutrality towards everyone who had announced their intention to run and not take unconstitutional sides of a president who will leave his post in a few months,” Anan said. The former army chief also said that Egypt’s deteriorating security situation across the country and Sinai was a result of “incorrect policies” which he vowed to change. “This is all the result of wrong policies which have put all the responsibilities on the armed forces without rational policies that would enable the civilian sector of the state to carry out its role in full, alongside the role of the armed forces,” the former Egyptian armed chief of staff said. Less than 72 hours after Anan announced his candidacy for presidency, he was arrested by the Egyptian security forces. The arrest occurred right before a televised statement from the General Command of the Armed Forces, declaring Anan was in violation of military rules for announcing his candidacy without seeking their approval. The Armed Forces said Anan’s announcement “constituted clear incitement against the armed forces with the intention of driving a wedge between it and the great Egyptian people.” The military also accused Anan of forging documents to falsely indicate his military service was terminated. “All legal measures will be taken against him including his questioning,” the statement said. The regime did not only abuse Sami Anan, but Al-Sisi also dismissed General Khaled Fawzi, the director of the General Intelligence, on the backdrop of his contact with Sami Anan before the latter’s announcement of his candidacy for presidency. Violations committed by the regime was not limited to Sami Anan himself, but they extended to his family; as the Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport (AASTMT) decided to suspend Samir Sami Anan, son of Lt. General Sami Anan, from work and to refer him to investigation for posting opinions and comments through his account on a social networking site. It is noteworthy that it is the first time in the history of the Egyptian armed forces that a former chief of staff be arrested and sent to prison.
4- Lawyer Khalid Ali
After the regime’s violations and practices against Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shafiq, Lt. Gen. Sami Anan, and Colonel Ahmad Konsowa, some political forces called on Presidential Candidate Khalid Ali, who announced his intention to run for election in November 2017, to withdraw from the election process to expose the absurd election scene and embarrass the Egyptian regime. On January 242018, a few days after the arrest of Sami Annan, Lawyer Khaled Ali announced that he decided halt his campaign and withdraw from the race, saying “conditions did not allow for a fair contest”. “We today announce our decision not to enter this race, and will not present our candidacy papers,” he said, adding that “There has been stubbornness by the electoral commission and many violations against the other candidate,” he said, referring to Anan. The 45-year-old Ali rose to national prominence last year when he won a case that nullified an unpopular government transfer of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, a deal that had prompted rare mass protests. “People’s confidence in the possibility of transforming electoral gains into a chance for a new beginning, has unfortunately, in our view, for now ended,” Ali said at a news conference in central Cairo. Ali noted that several members of his campaign were arrested and referred to “urgent trials and ludicrous charges” during a press conference held at Ali’s campaign headquarters in central Cairo. Ali also mentioned several other government violations, which he stated resulted in difficulties promoting his presidential campaign. “The race exhausted its purposes before it even began,” the former presidential candidate said, stressing that “what happened in the past few days is not worthy of the reputation of Egypt.” Ali’s campaign had said they faced several violations while attempting to collect the necessary citizen endorsements, required for candidacy.
Violations during the electoral process
Although the Presidential Elections Law (PEL) banned the use of government buildings, public facilities, places of worship, schools, universities, other public and private educational institutions as well as the headquarters of civil society organizations in electoral propaganda, Al-Sisi, assisted by his security services, violated all these rules during the campaign period. “All campaign materials must refrain from interfering in the private lives of candidates, threatening national unity, using religious slogans to distinguish between citizens, resorting to violence, presenting gifts or money to ascertain votes, using public buildings and transportation, spending public funds, writing or drawing on buildings, and placing flyers on locations not approved by the election commission,” stated the presidential law.
Following are some of the violations that were committed by the Egyptian regime during the voting process on 26, 27 and 28 March, 2018:
1- The use of government buildings and places of worship in campaigning
All ministries, government institutions and the private sector worked on mobilization of their employees to participate in the electoral process through threats of dismissal. The social networking sites circulated many videos showing clearly how employees were forced to go to polls for voting. In addition, civil servants were officially assigned to issue documented endorsements to approve Sisi’s candidacy for election. Also, several trade unions organized mass rallies to support Sisi, most recently a public conference in one of Egypt’s governorates for supporting Sisi for a second term in office.
2- Using military facilities in launching Al-Sisi’s election campaign
On January 17-19, 2018, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi kicked off his election campaign to run for a second term in presidency before the official date set out by the election committee on February 24. He held a conference titled “Story of Homeland” at Al Masa Hotel in Cairo, owned by the Egyptian Army, to promote his “achievements” during his first term, in violation of the election law (Article 49) which punishes anyone who violates election campaigning dates with a fine ranging from LE 10000 to 500000.
3- The use of sports clubs for Sisi’s election campaigning
While some Egyptian football fans were arrested and imprisoned for some of their cheers during matches under the pretext of overlapping sports with politics, the Egyptian Football Federation (EFF) and the heads of some sporting clubs, most notably the president of Al-Ahli Club, announced their support for Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi, where the EFF organized a conference in support of Al-Sisi. The Olympic Committee also held a meeting at its headquarters to announce a campaign launched by sportsmen and athletes for supporting Al-Sisi for a second term in office. The meeting was attended by presidents of sports federations and heads of sports clubs.
4- Exploitation of Government-owned newspapers and news outlets
Commemorative books on what the government describes as the “Al-Sisi Achievements”, were published and distributed in youth centers and at newspaper retail outlets. Also, these brochures were summarized and published by the government-owned newspapers.
5- The role of the Church in election mobilization
Pope Tawadros II, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark, declared that all Egyptians should participate in the presidential elections to raise Egypt’s name high in front of the world. At the same time, there were many scenes where clergymen announced their support to Al-Sisi. In attempt to counter the decline in the Copts’ mobilization for the presidential elections, the Church organized marches by its ecclesiastical scouts in several governorates, urging citizens to participate in the electoral process.
6- The role of Ministry of Awqaf and Dar al-Ifta in election mobilization
On January 30, 2018, the Egyptian Dar al-Ifta issued a fatwa banning response to calls for boycotting the presidential elections. In a written statement distributed to the media, Dar al-Ifta said that abstaining from participation in election vote is a sinful act. Also, Dr. Shawki Allam, the Mufti, , called on the Egyptian people, in press statements, to heavily participate in the presidential elections. Minister of Awqaf Mukhtar Gomaa said in a lecture at the Police College that participation in the elections is a national duty and a Sharia requirement. Despite the emphasis on not using mosque platforms for campaigning and political practice, the Ministry of Awqaf announced that the “imams will start calling for political participation in elections through Friday sermons, “because election is a national entitlement”.
7- Violations in universities and schools
Several Egyptian universities organized a number of seminars for students and staff about the positive participation in presidential election in response to the directives of Khalid Abdul Ghaffar, the Minister of Higher Education, who stressed the need to encourage students to go to the polls and vote, denying that these practices contradict a decision preventing political action within universities. Moreover, school students were used in electoral campaigns. The Port Said Education Directorate organized a student tour in a number of government institutions to encourage citizens to participate in the presidential elections, where students distributed leaflets calling for voting in elections.
8- Forcing young people to vote
During the three days of the election process, Egyptian police combed streets, forced young people to get onto vehicles, and took them (sometimes from coffee shops) to polls for voting. They also threatened to arrest them based on fabricated charges if they abstained from participation. A young man documented one of these practices carried out by policemen; when a policeman led him to election poll by force and threatened to detain him if he did not go with him.
Criteria and controls of the electoral process
In view of the above mentioned information, and through citation of the Egyptian regime violations prior to the presidential elections and during the voting process itself, it will be easy to conclude to what extent the Egyptian presidential election was lining with the criteria and controls of the electoral process of pluralism, competitiveness, integrity, transparency and internal and external control of the electoral process, as well as equality in campaigning to all candidates. It would seem clear that none of these criteria met the minimum requirement, which means that the electoral process may have only met the procedural requirements, but did not represent a real electoral process on the ground. This prompted the international media to highlight and document the irregularities that characterized the electoral process and the meager participation rates. A report by the “Masr Al-Arabia” website mentioned the international media that addressed the Egyptian regime’s violations in the electoral process, including The Washington Post, The Telegraph and The Atlantic, as well as some newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal and New Yorker.
Pre-election expectations: A reading in likely participation
This section provides an analytical reading of the results of the field study on the possible participation in the presidential elections 2018 prepared by the Egyptian Center for Media Studies and Public Opinion – “Takamol Masr” during the period from March 13 to 18, 2018. It is known that the opinion surveys conducted by Takamol Masr over the past years have gained substantial credibility, and the results of his polls showed a good degree of approach to reality, objectivity and independence.
The 2018-survey on the potential participation and reasons for abstention (poll allowing more than one answer) compared to the 2014- survey indicates several signs, including:
There is a clear drop in the number of potential participants in the 2018 elections compared to the numbers predicted by the study conducted by the center before the 2014 elections. The survey showed that 2.6% of Egyptians participate in the 2018 elections, while the rate of potential participation in the 2014 elections was 10%, taking into consideration that the potential participation rates usually decline in the actual voting. It is noteworthy that potential participation rates in 2014 elections declined from 10% to 6% of the Egyptians. The real percentage that participated in the 2014 vote was monitored by neutral estimates contrary to what was declared by the regime, which means that the potential participation rate in 2018 may decline to less than 2.6%.
Reasons behind Abstention
As for the main reasons behind abstention from participating in the 2018 elections, more than one factor scored very high percentages, which means that this phenomenon is complicated. 96% of abstainers said that their decision to abstain from participation in elections was mainly because they “felt that their vote was not important”, 93% because the “results of elections were already settled”, and 87% said that it was due to their “non-interest in elections”. These high percentages of abstention from participation in elections, in spite of the huge election campaigning during the past days, reflect a great deal of the Egyptian citizen’s assessment of elections and the political scene in general. On the one hand, the election scene does not seem convincing to many, especially due to the practices of the regime, including arrests, threats and restrictions on anyone who announced his intention to run for elections. This gave an impression that there is no real election and that participation in such process would be worthless, especially that the election results are almost known to everyone. On the other hand, the closure of the public sphere and all paths of peaceful change, along with a strong security grip, brutality and abuses, pushed citizens to refrain from active participation in the political scene. In fact, this reflected directly on large sectors of Egyptians that no longer care about elections, the whole political scene, or any change that could come through a peaceful democratic path.
67% of the abstainers from participation in the 2018 presidential election stated that the illegality of elections was one of the reasons behind their abstention from participation, against a percentage of 58% in the 2014 election. This indicates a rise in the percentage of those who do not participate because they believe that elections are illegitimate. This result carries indications that may go beyond non-recognition of the legitimacy of elections under a regime that came after a coup against the results of democratic elections. The high percentage of abstention is also due to the repressive practices against citizens, including arrests, torture, enforced disappearance, execution and assassination; which led to the erosion of the legitimacy of the regime, if it ever had any.
In response to a question presented by the survey about the main reasons behind participation in the 2018 elections in comparison with the 2014 elections (allowing choice of more than one alternative), there were several important signals:
– The “search for stability” represented the main motivation for participation in elections in both events, where 96% of the participants in the 2018 elections stated that the “search for stability” was one of the most important reasons behind participation in the elections, against 93% in the 2014 elections for the same reason. The most important indication in this poll is that the primary and biggest motive for some sectors within the Egyptian society was fear of deterioration of the security situation and the effect of any likely change on stability (regardless of its nature) rather than the performance of the ruling regime. Therefore, the security situation is still a motivation for some citizens to stick to the regime, especially that the situation in Sinai is still very volatile. In fact, those who resorted to ballot boxes wanted to choose a military commander regardless of his real ability to manage the security files, not to mention other vital files that directly affect their life. Also, Al-Sisi has been well aware of this since he came to power. He has always been promoting himself as the savior who can provide security to people and protect the country from collapse and terrorism even at the expense of economic conditions. This gave some Egyptians an impression that the absence of Sisi from the scene would necessarily mean absence of security, and collapse of the state and its institutions, especially that Sisi used to draw comparisons between the security situation in Egypt and that in other countries such as Syria and Iraq.
In fact, there is a remarkable decline in Sisi’s popularity, as 36% of the potential participants in the 2018 elections said “their support to Sisi” was one of the main reasons behind participation in elections, against 83% in the 2014 elections. The difference here is not insignificant and directly reflects the decline in Sisi’s popularity from 2014 to the time of the presidential election in 2018. The economic dimension is the most important factor that may explain the decline in Sisi’s popularity, as the economic crises seriously affected large sectors of society over the past years and led to a high level of discontent among them. The economic policies pursued by the regime led to the aggravation of the economic situation, the high unemployment rates, the price hikes, and the high cost of living – that resulted in the spread of poverty in society.
41% of the participants in the 2014 elections said their participation was mainly due to the “unwillingness to let Muslim Brotherhood return to power”. However, this factor only accounted for a negligible proportion of the reasons for potential participation in the 2018 elections. This shows that the fear that the Brotherhood may return to power is no longer a great motivation for participation in 2018 elections as it was in the 2014 elections. This can possibly be due to the Brotherhood’s poor effectiveness in the political scene in recent years as a result of the severe crackdown on the group, as well as its internal crises. On the other hand, the regime was able to terminate political life and weaken all parties and political forces that were active after the January revolution, through a severe security grip that besieged any political action. This accordingly gave a (fake) image of the regime’s stability to some Egyptians.
In response to a question presented by the survey about the political affiliation of potential participants in the 2018 elections, and comparing this to the 2014 elections, there is another clear indication of the decline of Al-Sisi’s popularity. The Christian bloc likely to participate in the 2018 elections accounts for 41% of the total blocs and political trends against 48% in the 2014 elections. Given this low turnout expected in 2018 compared to 2014, this reflects a significant decrease in the number of Christians who intend to participate in elections, which indicates the erosion of Sisi’s popularity even among his solid block that has always been in his favor.
A reading in the actual participation in election
We will continue reading the figures announced by Takamol Center about the numbers of participants in elections, which were actually monitored in all governorates of the Republic, including the number of participants in the voting process on 26, 27 and 28 March, 2018. The number of participants in the major and sub-committees (14073) from 9 am to 9 pm, except for the third day, which was extended until 10 pm, was as follows:
Day 1: 1,050,000 voters
Day 2: 270,000 voters
Day 3: 360,000 voters
Thus, the total number of voters during the three election days is: 1,680,000 voters out of the total registered voters (59,078,138 voters with a turnout of 2.8% of those who are eligible to vote. These results come in line with the estimates of the pre-election survey with a very simple margin of 0.2%. It is also consistent with what we have explained in addressing the reasons behind citizens’ reluctance to participate in the voting process, as well as the reasons and motives of those who participated in the voting process.
A reading in the officially declared figures
We should not forget that the officially declared numbers of participants in elections were actually monitored by pro-regime bodies amid stark violations before, during, and after elections, as detailed in this report. Therefore, these violations are likely to extend to the declared figures of election results. This requires awareness on the part of those who want to analyse the declared figures that the official institutions that supervise and announce election results lack credibility and transparency.
If we deal with the figures declared by official institutions as correct numbers, then the question that may come to mind – especially in the atmosphere that accompanied the voting process in electoral polls – is: Do the declared official figures express reality?. To answer this question, it is enough to refer to acts of pressure and coercion practiced on a wide range of employees in state institutions, the public sector, and the private sector to force them to go to electoral polls and participate in the voting process. These practices, which were widespread in all Egyptian governorates emphasize that the official figures declared cannot be considered expressive of a real popular will, especially in light of the scenes of empty polls that everyone observed, compared to the scene of presidential elections in 2012, when 25 million voters took part in each stage.
In view of the official figures of the presidential election results announced by the National Elections Authority (NEA), we find that there is a sharp difference between the figures which were monitored by the “Takamul” Center, which are closest to reality, and those announced by the NEA. The National Election Authority has announced that 41.05% voted in elections out of 59,780,138 voters, the total number of eligible voters; that Sisi got 97. 8% of valid votes, and Mousa Mustafa got 2.92, while the invalid ballots reached 7.27% of the total votes. This means that the number of citizens who cast their votes in the presidential election 2018 reached 24,254,152 voters – about 25 million voters, almost the same number of voters who took part in the run-off between Dr. Mohamed Morsi and Lt. General Ahmed Shafiq in the 2012 presidential elections.
The similarity between the two figures push us to question the credibility of the turnout rate announced in the 2018 elections. If we simply compare the size of the voters who were queuing at electoral polls during the run-off of 2012 elections which is difficult to deny and the size of the turnout at electoral polls during the presidential elections 2018, where it was clear that citizens were reluctant to participate in the voting process despite acts of coercion and pressures practiced by most state institutions on employees to participate in elections, and the huge media campaigns for mobilization of voters in front of the electoral polls. The similarity between the two figures remains a stark proof that the official figures announced in the 2018 presidential elections were false.
On the other hand, the official figures of people who voted abroad in the 2018 elections were 157,060 voters while the official figures announced for the number of voters abroad in the run-off in the 2012 elections was 306,812 voters, which means that the number of those who voted abroad in the 2018 elections was almost half the number of voters abroad in the 2012 run-off elections. Anyway, almost the same percentage is supposed to be reflected on the number of voters at home in the 2018 and 2012 elections, which means that the number of those who might have voted in the 2018 election should logically be almost 13 million, approximately half the voters in the 2012 run-off elections (assuming that the number of votes cast abroad was not manipulated either, although manipulation is logical under the practices that accompanied the entire election process). Taking into account that the number of voters in the re-election of 2012 was almost 26 million, the difference between the figure derived here in this report (13 million) and the official figure announced for the 2018 elections (24 million) shows the size of fraud and manipulation exercised by the regime of the presidential election results in 2018.
Implications of invalid ballots
The number of invalid votes in the 2018 elections reached 1,762,132 ballots against only 400,000 invalid votes in 2014.
Taking into account that the number of invalid ballots is correct, as it is unlikely that the regime would manipulate the numbers of invalid votes, this means that the number of citizens who deliberately voided their votes in the elections of 2018 reached about one million and 300 thousand voters. By comparing these figures with the figures monitored by Takamul Center about the turnout in the electoral process, which amounted to 1,680,000, we can conclude that the total number of votes that Al- Sisi obtained reached nearly 300 thousand voters only.
The citizens’ act of voiding their own votes without being directed by anyone can be understood as attempt by citizens to express their discontent and resentment for many reasons, including: coercion to push people for participation in the electoral process, the regime’s violations and repressive practices during the process, and the deteriorating economic and living conditions suffered by a large sector of citizens. In fact, the regime’s violations and attempts of pushing voters to go to the ballot boxes were met by indirect rejection through the invalidation of their votes. This is a significant signal, as the invalid ballots, irony, and boycott of the 2018 elections, may turn in the near term into a political opposition that could be more difficult.
The course of elections in Sinai
The Egyptian Armed Forces announced its comprehensive Sinai Operation 2018 in coincidence with the presidential elections. In this report, we will attempt to review the election turnout in the governorate of North Sinai and find out whether voting was affected by the military operation there, according to the declared official data.
According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), the population of North Sinai governorate reached on Friday, March 30, 2018, about 458,123 people. The number of those entitled to vote North Sinai governorate was 250,605 citizens, voting in 61 subdivisions overseen by 11 polling divisions and 49 electoral centers, and the votes are divided as follows (111846 in Arish, 56844 in Bir al-Abd, 30794 in Sheikh Zuwaid, 34750 in Rafah, 13004 in Hasna, and 3367 in B-Nakhla).
The course of electoral process
On March 25, the army forces deployed to secure the polling stations and the judges’ restrooms within the governorate. The Islamic State’s local affiliate (Sinai Province) had threatened in a video release titled, “Protectors of Sharia” of targeting the electoral process and its supervisors – as Sinai Province targeted judges in the 2014 elections, killing some of them. Despite the fact that the governorate of North Sinai openly provided buses to transport voters throughout the election days free of charge, but the voting process has seen a remarkable low turnout. The army and police forces in some areas in Bir al-Abd arrested a large number of villagers and forced them to go to election polls to vote. A video of Governor of North Sinai Maj. General Abdel Fattah Harhour and Director of Security Maj. General Reda Sweilem while checking on the election process in the governorate showed the low electorate. At the same time, the official pro-regime media continued to portray the matter differently, exactly as it did in covering the electoral process in all governorates of Egypt.
Facts in Figures
Al-Watan newspaper reported that the voting rate in the governorate of North Sinai was nearly 40%. However, the same newspaper said in another report that the total number of voters in the governorate of North Sinai was 41769 voters, out of a total of 250605 voters, which means that the percentage of those who cast their votes was only about 16.6%!
The photos that were circulated about the congestion of polling stations in the Sheikh Zuwaid area do not reflect the reality of citizens’ participation in the voting process, taking into consideration that some 1,300 voters from Sheikh Zuwaid and Rafah residents were moved to Arish to cast their votes there according to Youm7 daily newspaper. According to Al-Watan newspaper, the total number of votes counted in the polling stations of Rafah and Sheikh Zuwaid was 5372 votes until March 29, which is very low and does not reflect the intensity of votes there. (The total number of eligible voters in the areas of Sheikh Zuwaid and Rafah is 65,544 votes.)
Although some of the voters went to cast their votes out of their own free will, others went to polling stations out of fear of being considered opponents to the Egyptian regime in case they did not go to the polls. Some citizens were keen on voting to prove their support for the Egyptian regime because of fear of military arrests during Operation Sinai 2018. In fact, citizens in North Sinai stand heavily in queues, not to cast their votes, but to obtain bread, which has become rare and difficult to get under the military operations conducted by the army in Sinai.
The follow-up of the so-called electoral process of Presidential Election 2018 in Egypt showed a great failure to the ruling regime in achieving any degree of legitimacy for Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi for the following:
– Inability to provide necessary circumstances to secure running for elections freely, and competing with real candidates,
– Inability to attract the Egyptian people for participation or convince them of the credibility of the whole process,
– Failure to achieve Al-Sisi’s objectives of showing his popularity through mobilization of people. This means that Sisi had become isolated from the public, although he is being backed by state institutions (albeit strong). This also means that Al-Sisi could be vulnerable in the event of any likely changes in Egypt or the region, which could prompt these institutions to abandon him – especially if this coincided with a popular uprising similar to what happened in 2011.
Although the Egyptian elections represented a rich material for the international press to address the Egyptian scene with all the violations and repressive practices of the regime – exposing Sisi completely before media institutions, study centers, human rights organizations, civil society and some parliaments – yet this was not sufficient to make Western governments refrain from recognizing and welcoming these phony results of the so-called presidential election. [Soon after the election result was officially announced on Monday, April 2, 2018, US President Donald Trump congratulated Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on “gaining the trust of his people!” and securing another four years in office as president of Egypt. The White House said Trump and the former general spoke by phone after it was announced that Sisi won 97% of the vote against a man who was, until recently, his campaign manager. Trump has repeatedly bucked Washington norms since coming to office, congratulating foreign leaders on elections that his own officials say were dubious, unfair or rigged. The US State Department had earlier noted “reports of constraints on freedoms of expression and association in the run-up to the election”. However, Trump ignored all US media reports on Al-Sisi regime’s stark violations of election regulations.] Unfortunately, the international system seems to believe that relations should be based on common interests rather than democratic values and political practice standards. Furthermore, practical reality indicates that the international powers prefer regimes that lack internal legitimacy to regimes that enjoy internal legitimacy. This can be understood in view of the magnitude of concessions that can be provided by a regime that lacks internal legitimacy to those international powers, regardless of the impact of those concessions on the state potential, its wealth, and its national security, with no regard to any popular accountability in any way.
The question now is: Why did the Egyptian regime try to mobilize voters in front of the polling stations despite the fact that its repressive practices and violations were quite enough to secure Al-Sisi’ s election win?
Perhaps, the regime was attempting to state and emphasize its legitimacy both at home and abroad through mobilization of voters. The high rates of election turnout does not only provide legitimacy for the Al-Sisi regime, but it could also give the Western world a positive impression on the entrenchment of political life and democratic practice in Egypt, an image that the regime seeks to prove in light of the intensive coverage by international media of the regime’s violations and repressive practices that have restricted political life and closed the public space in the country.
However, there are still a number of questions that need to be studied deeply, such as:
– Where will Egypt go in the short and medium term, in light of the regime’s failure to achieve the objectives of this “election process”, except for keeping Sisi in office in one way or another?
– Will the international support for Sisi continue under these circumstances?
– Will Al-Sisi work to remove the restrictions in his way, to secure remaining in power for the rest of his life?
– How long can the Egyptian people endure all this suffering without restoring their role as a major player in the equation?