Why is Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird going out of his way to put Canada’s seal of approval on this week’s farcical presidential election in Egypt?
On Friday, Baird issued a statement praising the election as “a key step along Egypt’s path to democracy.” He pronounced himself “encouraged” that the “overall security situation was peaceful throughout the country during the election.” And he said “we look forward” to confirmation of preliminary results that the former field marshal who led last July’s military coup, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, has been elected president.
In fact, as Baird and any other foreign observer must surely know, the whole procedure was a sorry spectacle that demonstrated only that the soaring hopes of Egypt’s Arab Spring three years ago have long ago turned to dust.
Let’s review. El-Sissi ensured his own victory by having his military regime throw many other potential challengers in jail. He did not hold a campaign rally, take part in a debate or issue a serious platform. Instead, he relied on subservient news media, most of them state-run, to put out his message.
The campaign followed months of repression, during which his government killed some 1,400 protesters and imprisoned many thousands more. Hundreds of leaders and supporters of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood have been condemned to death after show trials.
Independent observers drew the obvious conclusions. The president of Democracy International, which monitored the election, pronounced that “Egypt’s repressive political environment made a genuinely democratic presidential election impossible.”
Egypt’s voters apparently agreed. Less than half took part, even according to inflated official estimates — far short of the 75 per cent that el-Sissi had set as his target for turnout. That, even after the government extended voting for a third day because so few Egyptians were showing up at the polls.
Baird could have maintained a diplomatic silence on this travesty of a vote. But he chose to lend Canada’s legitimacy to the proceedings for no apparent good reason. This follows on Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s troubling statement during his visit to Israel in January that last year’s military coup marked a “return to stability” in Egypt.
Canada should stand with Egyptians for an end to repression. At the very least, it should not needlessly give cover to those who make a mockery of basic democratic norms.