The West’s troubling silence in the face of Egypt’s sham election
What’s truly instructive about the sad state of affairs in Egypt isn’t Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s horrible but all-too-predictable behaviour as the dictatorial head of Egypt’s military junta. Rather, it’s the silence of the West that’s most revealing
By AHMED ABDELKADER ELPANNANN*
Thu., April 5, 2018
You may not have heard about it, but a presidential election was held in Egypt last month under what might be the country’s most politically repressive and unfair conditions in modern history.
The whole episode revealed rather clearly the international community’s double standard when it comes to stomaching autocrats. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ran as the incumbent with virtually no competition and cruised to victory with an absurd 97 per cent of the vote, while barely 41 per cent of registered voters showed up to the polls. In other words, the whole thing was an utter sham.
Since taking over as president after a military coup toppled the democratically elected Mohammed Morsi in 2013, Sisi has presided over one of the region’s most repressive regimes. Egypt has become a de facto dictatorship under him, albeit one that holds fake elections every once in a while. The slow and low voter turnout last week prompted the regime to televise time and again on its state media outlets that failing to vote is a crime.
Places of worship, universities and sports clubs were all used to campaign by Sisi in violation of election laws. Young voters were threatened with arrest if they didn’t vote. Government-owned newspapers and media outlets were exploited. Sisi prefers not to take chances. He had to have a clear path to victory. So he rounded up and intimidated every major candidate who threw his name into the race.
Ahmed Shafik, a remnant of the Mubarak era who ran and lost against Morsi in 2012, withdrew his candidacy this past January after receiving threats from the Sisi administration. Sami Anan, a former military chief of the Egyptian army, was disqualified for “inciting against the armed forces” and arrested by state police with 30 of his campaigners. The list goes on. In the end, Sisi ended up running against a stooge candidate who, up until this January, was collecting nomination signatures for Sisi.
Yet the truly instructive aspect of this sad state of affairs isn’t Sisi’s horrible but all-too-predictable behaviour as the dictatorial head of Egypt’s military junta. Rather, it’s the international community’s silence — and the West’s in particular — that’s most revealing.
This was the same cohort of countries and leaders who derided Morsi after getting elected fairly as president in 2012. And yet the West, which praised Sisi’s ascent and Morsi’s fall years ago as transition into democracy, now has nothing to say about Egypt’s current regime of total repression. Feel free to say what you want about Morsi: he misgoverned, he wasn’t inclusive enough, he made plenty of gaffes.
But while there was much to criticize and disagree about, Egyptians of all convictions were at least able to speak, advocate, and protest. While he was constantly chastised by Western media and politicians and repeatedly told that “democracy is more than the ballot box,” the generals who threw away the ballot box and who are running the most repressive and violent regime in Egypt’s modern history get a carte blanche. What’s undeniable is that Morsi was elected in a highly contested race by the Egyptian people. It was the only fair election that ever took place in the entire history of Egypt.
Morsi governed in a time of difficult transition and within a freer system that had plenty of counter-balancing forces, such as the judiciary. There was at least a separation of powers at that time. Can the same be said about Sisi? Not even close. The man has monopolized the entire government under an iron fist, something that Egyptians (and many other Arab populations) are all too familiar with. He has taken Egypt all the way back to the pre-Arab Spring stage and further.
Sisi maintains his monopoly on power via classically dictatorial maneuvers like intimidating potential opponents (one of Anan’s notable surrogates was mysteriously beaten), gutting the free press, and blocking over 500 civil society and human rights websites. None of it is a secret.
But of course, the underlying problem in Egypt isn’t who wins or loses elections. The problem is that there’s absolutely no respect for human rights or the rule of law. According to the HRW 2018 World Report 378 persons were been disappeared in 2017, 800 persons sentenced to death under Sisi, and 17 journalists remain detained. Since the military coup Egyptian authorities have arrested over 60,000 political prisoners including women and children. Torture has become systematic. The international community also seems to be totally fine with all of this, as long as they have a pliant Pharaoh sitting in Cairo. The only way forward to a stable, democratic, and prosperous Egypt is to protect freedom, respect the dignity of the human being, and honour the democratic choices of the people.
What happens in Egypt is not irrelevant to our own lives. A stable democracy in Egypt is good for the region and the world. It is good for peace, it is good for security, it is good for prosperity and commerce, and it is good for our collective conscience. It is time for us to stand with the people and not with their oppressors.
* Ahmed Abdelkader Elpannann is the founder and president of Egyptian Canadian Coalition for Democracy (ECCD). ECCD was founded to provide a platform and lend support to Canadian and Egyptian advocates of democracy and human rights in Egypt. Ahmed is a former board member of the Canadian Muslim Forum and the Canadian Citizens movement, He is a telecom engineer and technology entrepreneur by day.