Democracy’s growing pains
BY SAFAA ABDOUN
Cairo: No sooner were the preliminary results of Egypt’s first post-Mubarak election announced, anger, attacks and accusations rippled through the streets of Egypt.
Much to voters’ dismay, the results pit the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi against Mubarak’s last prime minister Ahmed Shafik in a controversial face-off leading Egyptians back to Tahrir Square.
The reaction puts Egyptians’ readiness for democracy into question and anticipates future conflict after the runoff results within a few days.
On May 23 around 23.6 million eligible voters cast their votes in Egypt’s first election following the January 25 uprising, approximately 46 percent of registered voters.
Presidential candidate Khalid Ali led protesters in the square, declaring that the election was rigged by the Presidential Elections Committee and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to prop up Shafik, the candidate of the ousted regime.
Other protesters said that the results were forged to exclude Nasserist candidate Hamdeen Sabahi from the race, again in favor of Shafik.
Sabahi and presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Abol Fotoh also deemed the results invalid.
This backlash left many wondering if the excluded candidates were no more than sore losers, further widening the gap between the “Tahrir protesters” and what has come to be known as the “silent majority.”
“What do they want now? They wanted democracy and they got it and we had elections
in which people made their voice heard but because the result isn’t in their favor, they won’t accept it, is this democracy?” asked Ahmed El Taweel, an Arabic teacher at a public secondary school.
The reaction also found its way to social media, where Facebook and Twitter users engaged in a war of words over one another’s choices.
“It’s a pity reading all these insulting political jokes, a lot of disrespect which means that we will never be ready for democracy. Why did you allow there to be elections in the first place when you do not accept people’s choices?” wrote 26-year-old Dalia El Tayebi on Facebook.
“Why did you make everyone vote if you only wanted the votes of a certain group? Why are we attacking one another as if we are in a civil war? Obviously we are not ready for coexistence or democracy,” she continued.
Even Omar Suleiman’s infamous words in his ABC interview during the uprising last January, when he said “The Egyptian people are not ready for democracy” were resonating with social media users.
However, experts argue that while Egyptians are ready for democracy, it is a process that will take time.
“Egypt is indeed ready for democracy, it just needs training, no transformation will happen one day,” argues sociology and political science professor at the American University in Cairo, Said Sadek.
“This is very normal as we are just embarking on democracy,” he added.
Historically, this is the first time for Egyptians to choose their leader. Ever since its foundation the republic has been a semi-monarchy as its first president Mohamed Naguib was forced to resign by Gamal Abdel Nasser who assumed power, succeeded by Anwar Sadat and finally Mubarak.
“Put in mind that an autocracy depoliticizes the society so you can’t expect people to become politically aware in the span of a year and a half,” Sadek noted.
It’s been a crash course in politics for Egyptians since January 2011. The country’s first free and fair elections, the parliamentary elections, were held last November. The Islamists won the vast majority of the People’s Assembly seats with the Freedom and Justice Party raking in 47 percent and the Salafi Al-Nour Party 24 percent.
“The people made their choices based on the fact that this is a religious candidate who won’t steal and embezzle like the Mubarak regime but they learned that being religious does not make a good politician,” explained Sadek.
In the presidential race Islamist candidates Mohamed Morsi and Abdel Moniem Abol Fotoh together won only 43 percent of the votes.
On the other hand, activist Mohamed Abdel Hamid from No Military Trials for Civilians, finds all the raging debates and arguments that are taking place “what democracy is all about.”
“Democracy is having the space to say and the space to argue,” he said.
Yet Abdel Hamid finds that we have created “Twitter celebrities” whose views only are the only ones that are accepted. “We are very good at creating gods,” he pointed out.
“We just need to accept that now everyone can voice their opinion and treat each other the way we want to be treated,” he added.
At the same time, Sadek reminds that there are currents that do not want a democracy, so they are taking advantage of the situation and spreading the notion that we are not ready for democracy in the minds of the people, because we make the wrong choices and do not accept each other’s opinions. But the analyst asserts, “Egypt has no option other than democracy.” –The Egypt Monocle