Egypt: Back to square one

What to say about the fraudulent Egyptian elections? When I wrote about the rigging process last Sunday and said "There are indications this time that the government may have been too restrictive for its own good" in its efforts to suppress the opposition, I didn't expect it to be quite this bad. For all practical parliamentary purposes, the opposition parties have been wiped out. There still are run-offs to be held in some areas but the overall picture looks grim.

Mubarak's National Democratic(?) Party was determined to secure its position in preparation for a smooth transfer of power in the presidential vote next year but in the light of this week's poll, "secure" is not a word I would use. It's overwhelming – and dangerously so. As Shadi Hamid of Brookings puts it in the Guardian, "We're talking full-blown, unabashed dictatorship".

The message this sends to Egyptians who are discontented with life under the Mubarak regime (and there are millions of them) is that there is nothing to be gained from participating in electoral processes. Whatever hope there might have been for progress down that road, even in a system that was already so heavily weighted against them, has gone – at least while the old man is still alive and the apparatus that he surrounded himself with remains intact.

That is why the result is so dangerous. If change can't be achieved through the ballot box, people will look increasingly for alternatives. I don't just mean jihadism (though no doubt some will move in that direction) but street protests, strikes, disruption – any way they can think of to express their feelings.

The other side of this is the international reaction. The US State Department is "dismayed by reports of election-day interference" and "disappointed by reports ... of disruption of campaign activities of opposition candidates and arrests of their supporters". 

Dismayed and disappointed. Is that all? Think back to the stolen election in Iran last year and the reaction then. This week's Egyptian election is every bit as scandalous, and yet it is scarcely front-page news. One reason, of course, is that the Wikileaks affair has diverted people's attention. But the bigger reason is that Mubarak, unlike Ahmadinejad, is supposedly a friend of the west.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 1 Dec 2010.

UPDATE: December 1: Worth reading ... Issandr El Amrani's analysis in al-Masry al-Youm:

"The risk with this state of affairs is that politics becomes entirely a wealth-creation mechanism. With these elections, the autocrats sent a message that whatever opening took place in 2005 is now closed. They will now no longer tolerate genuine political alternatives, particularly ahead of a still uncertain presidential transition. 

"But they also sent a secondary message: that, as long as they operate within the rules, the plutocrats are invited to help themselves to a free-for-all in which court decisions will be routinely ignored, fraud tolerated and money will always trump the rule of law."