Thursday, December 2, 2010

Egypt's 'election' was pure stagecraft, directed by a dictator

Sunday's farce sends a message that the transition from one pharaoh to the next must take place within autocratic confines


Jack Shenker
, Wednesday 1 December 2010

"Covering Egypt's parliamentary elections this week was a surreal experience. There was, for example, the polling station where security officials cut the power to prevent us seeing stuffed ballot boxes, only for opposition candidates to light burning torches and lead us self-righteously into the darkness.

The day after the poll, civil society monitors, human rights activists and journalists all swapped examples of egregious violations, from vote-buying to police intimidation – yet how can you violate a circus? At times it felt as if merely using the language of "irregularities" helped to confer a sort of false legitimacy on to these electoral theatrics, however systematic those irregularities were shown to be.

Thankfully, Egypt's high elections commission (HEC) stepped in this morning to clear up any misunderstandings over whether or not the country had just conducted a serious democratic exercise. Announcing first-round results, which hand the ruling NDP party 97% of the seats contested and leave the Muslim Brotherhood – previously the largest opposition force in parliament – with nothing, the commission's spokesperson informed us that "the elections as a whole were conducted properly, and the results … reflect the will of the Egyptian electorate". In Cairo, farce talks with a straight face....

But this show was about something else. It was about sending a message that – whichever elements from within the existing autocracy triumph in the internecine battles to come – the transition from one pharaoh to another will take place wholly within that autocracy, with all other voices excluded.....

As Shadi Hamid of the Brookings thinktank put it: "The regime … is not in the mood to take any chances over its own survival as we enter what will be one of the most challenging periods in Egypt's modern history.".....

Make no mistake; there is no desire on the part of Egypt's western allies to see the country embrace any genuine form of democratisation – you only have to speak with police torture victims in Alexandria, some of whom have been bound up with American handcuffs while facing the blows of their tormentors, to understand the extent to which the "international community" supports the repression of any dissidents that could potentially upset Mubarak's grip on power....."

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