On the last night of Egypt’s elections the April 6 movement posted a message on its Facebook page: “Notice for tomorrow: huge surprise – the independent candidate Abdel Fatah al-Sisi wins in the three-day theatrical elections.” As can be surmised from the post, the movement did not take part in the elections and called for a boycott. The post deserves attention because every word has deep political import.
Sisi is not “independent,” despite the fact that he tried to present himself as such when he took off his military uniform. He represents the army, and is supported by Mubarak’s men. The elections were theatrical because of the hysteria created by talk-show hosts when they heard of the low turnout, which seriously undermined Sisi’s legitimacy. The original election period was extended by a day not because the Egyptian people overran the election booths but because the booths were so quiet. The extra day was to “encourage” voters to participate in the “democratic celebration” in various ways – threats, curses, humiliation, and calls from the minarets. To give the elections a veneer of legitimacy, at least 25 million voters were required – the same number as those who turned out in the last elections which raised up the Islamic representative, Mohammed Morsi, before he was removed and arrested.
Some 62% voted in the elections which brought Morsi to power. In the current elections, despite the extra day, initial estimates put voter turnout at no more than 40%. The blatant intervention of the Elections Committee in the voting process cast a dark shadow over the elections’ legitimacy. The low turnout was a resounding slap in the face to all those who took part in the military coup which brought down the first democratically-elected president in Egypt’s history.
On 30 June 2013, the army and Mubarak supporters exploited the people’s frustration and anger towards the Muslim Brotherhood. They took advantage of the Tamaroud movement, led by the youth who participated in the revolution, to get millions out into the streets. They called this wave of demonstrations the “second revolution.” Already by 3 July, Sisi had removed the elected president and appointed a puppet government. He then published a “road map” towards a new constitution whose main aim was to legitimize the coup. This constitution enabled the army to govern, ostensibly until elections could be held – elections in which Sisi, having no serious contender since the Muslim Brotherhood was outlawed, was expected an easy victory.
The Muslim Brotherhood and the liberals cozy up to the army
The low turnout does not necessarily mark a victory for the Muslim Brotherhood, which called for an election boycott. Above all, it reflects the anger and loathing towards the political movements and parties which are responsible for the terrible conditions in Egypt since the revolution of 25 January 2011 which brought down Mubarak’s regime.
The Brotherhood’s behavior during the revolution led to their isolation, which enabled them to be outlawed. Instead of building an alliance with the revolutionary youth who initiated the uprising and sacrificed themselves in its name, the Brotherhood preferred to move closer to the army, on the basis of a division of interests. As a strong electoral bloc with good chances of winning elections, they got their part in the regime in return for a commitment to look after the interests of the army, which controls some 25% of the country’s economy. Thus the revolutionary youth became the enemy of both the army and the Brotherhood.
Morsi was the one to appoint Sisi as Defense Minister; to grant an amnesty to businessmen from the Mubarak era; and to continue the economic policies of the previous regime. When anger grew against the Brotherhood, the leftwing and liberal forces, who had gained strength thanks to the democratic awakening, threw in their lot with the army. In a mass demonstration which ostensibly expressed “revolutionary legitimacy” as opposed to constitutional legitimacy, an opportunity arose to get rid of Morsi. Thus the Left and the liberals gave their backing to the military coup, which led the way to elections marred by the murderous suppression of dissent.
The elimination of the Brotherhood was the common aim of the army, Mubarak supporters, the Left and the liberals. The opening volley was the dispersal of the “tent city” set up by Morsi supporters in Rabaa al-Adawiyah square, together with the massacre of over 1,000 citizens. Thousands of Brotherhood members and leaders were imprisoned, including Morsi, Parliament Speaker Saad al-Katatni, and the spiritual leader Mohammed Badie. In unprecedented staged trials, 600 people were sentenced to death. Since then, despite the oppression, Brotherhood demonstrations have been ceaseless, and Egypt has not known a single day of peace. Moreover, terror attacks from the Ansar Bait al-Maqdis group in the Sinai Peninsula and around the country have added to Egypt’s chaos.
The army turns against the liberals
The new regime was not satisfied with merely suppressing the Muslim Brotherhood. Every voice of protest or criticism against the regime was cut down mercilessly, just as in the days of Mubarak. A group of intellectuals and activists, who had played an important role in bringing down Mubarak, severely criticized the acts of the army, which closed down the Islamic newspapers and recruited the private and state media to its own cause. As the protest grew, all those demanding democracy and the end of army intervention in politics were accused of supporting terror and the Muslim Brotherhood, which had been outlawed.
As expected, the regime legislated against demonstrations, which only increased democrats’ opposition, especially the April 6 movement. When this movement took to the streets to protest, its leaders including Ahmed Maher were sentenced to three years behind bars for the crime of participating in illegal demonstrations. Since then, thousands of youth have been imprisoned, including those who have no connection to the Brotherhood, and some 50 of them have died during torture. The new regime has lost all legitimacy, both at home and abroad. The Obama administration continues to finance the army, but public opinion in the US and leading media outlets are leveling harsh criticism against the military coup and General Sisi.
The behavior of the Left and the liberals in the elections is evidence of their political bankruptcy and the lack of a secular, democratic alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood and the army. The Liberal Salvation Front which supported the military coup is divided between supporters of Sisi and supporters of Hamdeen Sabahi. At the head of the Sisi supporters are the Wafd Party and the Tagamoa parties, at the center of which is the Communist Party. Sabahi was the candidate of the Left and the liberals in the 2012 elections. Unfortunately, these parties decided to give a democratic fig-leaf to the current election farce. Even Trotskyists and Marxists supported Sabahi, claiming that Sisi must be weakened. Only one small but significant group of public figures, intellectuals and politicians called for boycotting the elections.
The low turnout was no doubt a surprise to the leftwing supporters of Sabahi. Following the Election Committee decision to extend the election period by a day, they rushed to call on him to exit the race. Sabahi refused to back down, saying it was crucial to prevent “anarchy” at any price. From the start, Sabahi gave Sisi his tacit support, refusing to criticize the criminal suppression of his opponents. As a Nasserist, he decided to run with the army all the way, with the expected result. Current estimates put support for Sabahi at just 3% of the votes, a long way from the 3 million votes he garnered in the 2012 democratic elections.
The Arab Spring is alive and kicking
The results of the elections in Egypt suggest that the Arab Spring is still alive and kicking. By refraining from going to the ballot the Egyptian people have refused to grant Sisi the legitimacy he craved or a green light to continue his hounding of the Muslin Brotherhood. Sisi presented no platform. When asked what he would bring the Egyptian people, he replied, “ma fish” – in other words, I have nothing to give – and was paid in the same coin by the Egyptian people at the ballot. The people demand democracy and social justice, and they will not receive such rights from the army. The Egyptians have a clear message: the army must return to the barracks, the Muslim Brotherhood must be allowed to return to politics, and the Left and the liberals must quit their alliance with the army and join the Brotherhood to bring back the democratic regime.
The sin of the Brotherhood and the liberal parties was to join up with the army to overcome its opponents, and thus the revolution was lost. Egyptian society and its economy will not flourish again if the political forces fail to unite to set up a broad democratic regime. In Tunisia, the Muslim Brotherhood together with other civil and secular streams agreed on a constitution. The election results in Egypt show that this is what the Egyptian people want too.
Translated by Yonatan Preminger