Saturday, November 27, 2010

The best show in town

It's election day here in Egypt, citizens will vote to determine a new Parliament. Already you see I've gotten ahead of myself. It's a bit of a stretch I've learned to say "citizens will vote" and "new." I was speaking with some of my Egyptian friends the other day, and they informed me that unless you work in the government and are bussed to the polling stations (where you are instructed to vote for the ruling party) most Egyptians don't vote. As my friend asked, "what's the use?" Egyptian citizens are aware of the widespread fraud and corruption, so much so that they don't see their vote as making a difference. Another friend described incidents of election officials opening polls in the morning and finding that some of the ballot boxes were already full, even before voting began. These episodes of fraud led to the invention of clear ballot boxes, but such effort was in vain. Once these clear boxes were transported in cars and vans, the ballots would be switched out en route to headquarters.
These are only examples of course of election day incidents. The real disenfranchisement begins much earlier, when opposition candidates try to enter the race. As one article written by media expert and Georgetown University lecturer Adel Iskandar explains, "Not only are most alternatives to the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) too embattled to compete on a level playing field, the field itself is rife with obstacles for any party hoping to contest the NDP’s hegemony." All of this contributes to the public's wariness of elections. Like an unfortunate Oreo, it appears democratic on the outside, lawless on the inside - leading of course to a crisis of legitimacy, "In Egypt, efforts to persuade the public into believing their elections on 28 November will be competitive and representative have fallen completely flat." Perhaps the most frustrating aspect in all this though, is how much it's people need the Egyptian government to step up to the plate for them.
Poverty and hunger are widespread. Egypt just celebrated a rather meager Eid, in which many families could not afford the traditional feast. In fact, "some candidates have been wooing supporters by offering them meat." Water and electricity (as evidenced by weekly blackouts) are also urgent problems. Additionally, the gap between rich and poor grows ever wider. Economic progress has for now only benefited the "cadre of wealthy elite" while the masses are left wanting. Without any hope for systematic improvements to the quality of life, and a gross lack of legitimacy, the elections become simply a show, and a rerun at that. The elections are now "a tired and redundant replay of a less than captivating classic film, where the “protagonist” always prevails unanimously." Though many argue that financial and economic indicators highlight a positive trend, the masses have only seen their cost of living rise. If real progress in Egypt is to be made, "it is time we see past the glossy trailer and watch the grainy gritty full feature. "

[Al Masry Al Youm, 11/28]

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