November 22, 2017

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  • Voters look for third option

    Screen grab from the boycott campaign video says "I refuse," urging Egyptians to go on mass protests instead of voting.

    BY MAI SHAMS EL-DIN

    Cairo: Many Egyptians find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place in the first post-Mubarak presidential election. This political and moral dilemma of having to choose between an icon of the ousted regime and the Muslim Brotherhood candidate has boosted boycott calls as a viable third option.

    Former air force commander and Mubarak’s last prime minister Ahmed Shafik is slated to face off with the Freedom and Justice Party’s Mohamed Morsi in the June 16-17 runoff. Egyptians abroad have already started voting.

    The candidates embody the two extremes of a polarized political sphere. Shafik represents the regime of ousted president Hosni Mubarak and Morsi the unclear prospect of political Islam through a party whose performance so far has fallen short of expectations.

    The choice between the continuation of a military state or Islamist rule led activists to promote the option of invalidating ballots or boycotting the election altogether.

    Boycott campaigners believe a lower turnout would delegitimize the process and the president it yields. They are also fearful of the idea of electing a president whose mandate is unclear in the absence of a constitution delineating his powers and authorities.

    The revival of mass protests denouncing the verdict in the Mubarak trial on June 2 has galvanized revolutionary forces, whose return to Tahrir Square is giving more steam to the boycott movement.

    “Both candidates do not represent me; they both sold my blood,” said Nada Nashaat, an engineer who voted for the reformist Islamist and former Brotherhood member Abdel Moneim Abol Fotoh in the first round.

    “I am definitely boycotting. One of the candidates killed me and the other was watching silently as I was getting killed,” she added, using a metaphor to draw a contrast between Shafik who was prime minister when protesters were attacked by camels and horses on Feb. 2, 2011, and Morsi, who heads the Freedom and Justice Party which abandoned protesters facing deadly crackdowns during parliamentary elections last November and December.

    Yet the boycott will not delegitimize the process, and without consensus, its effectiveness is dubious. Observers argue that it could boost the chances of the candidates, though they disagree on who would benefit the most.

    Both candidates have a solid network across the country, fiercely campaigning and rallying voters. Regardless of the general dissatisfaction with the results, it is projected that each candidate will maintain the number of votes that took them to the runoff. The boycott could influence the swing vote, but it is difficult to speculate the exact impact.

    The rank and file of Mubarak’s dissolved National Democratic Party was mobilized for Shafik’s campaign. This is only rivaled by the Brotherhood’s organizational capacity, which, over 80 years gathered strength and achieved credibility on the grassroots level, even when the group was banned.

    Some voters, determined to bring down Shafik, say they will vote for Morsi, despite their fear of Islamist rule.

    “I am voting in the election even if the choice is between Morsi and Shafik. If Shafik wins, it means we lost all battles against the old regime and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces since Jan. 25, 2011,” said software developer Hussien Negm who voted for leftist candidate Khalid Ali in the first round.

    “Morsi may not be the president we wished for after the revolution but adjusting, improving and applying pressure would definitely be much easier with the MB in power than if SCAF, Shafik or the old regime are back,” he added.

    Negm believes that many of those who voted for Hamdeen Sabbahi or Abol Fotoh in the first round are going to choose Shafik in the runoff.

    “Christians, liberals and others afraid of the Brotherhood won’t mind going back to the old regime or don’t really believe that Shafik is the ‘old regime’. Shafik is also the logical second option for most of Amr Moussa’s voters,” Negm said, referring to the former Arab League chief who came fifth in the first round.

    In addition to benefiting from the polarization of voters, Shafik would also benefit from the boycott, Negm argued.

    But professor of electoral systems at Cairo University Mazen Hassan disagrees.

    “Morsi has the ‘critical bloc’ that is loyal to him and willing to vote for him under any circumstances,” he explained, referring to the group’s members and close supporters who were not phased by its diminishing popularity.

    With such a network, he argued, lower turnout will be in the group’s favor.

    “With or without boycotting, the turnout will be lower. Compare the turnout for the presidential election to the parliamentary elections,” Hassan added.

    Hassan projects that turnout will not exceed 30 percent in the runoff, compared to 46 percent in the first round and around 60 percent during legislative elections.

    On the other side of the fence, boycott advocates were not concerned about who would benefit from their campaign.

    Eman Osama, a member of the April 6 Youth Movement who voted for Abol Fotoh, told The Egypt Monocle that she didn’t care whether boycotting would help Shafik win.

    “I will not reward Shafik for killing my brothers and sisters in January and February, and I will not reward Morsi for being silent while my brothers and sisters were being killed for the rest of the year. Both are far from the revolution,” she said.

    No sooner were the first round results announced on May 28, two campaigns were initiated, “Moqate’oon” (Boycotters) and “Mobteloon” (Invalidators).

    Mobteloon is calling on voters to invalidate their ballot papers in protest, but have not agreed on a specific message to write on the ballots. Contrary to a boycott campaign, activists argue, spoiling one’s vote would send a stronger message contesting the legitimacy of the electoral process.

    The boycott campaign, however, according to a video they posted on YouTube is calling on Egyptians not only to refuse to be part of what they call a “charade” but also to hold mass protests on June 16 to draw attention to the fact that the “military dictatorship” overseeing the “sham elections” has no legitimacy. The campaign further aims to present alternatives such as setting up a presidential council free of military representation or empowering a national salvation government comprised of revolutionary forces.

    Over 400,000 of the 23 million ballots cast in the first round were declared invalid. Compared to the voter turnout during the parliamentary elections just six months ago, about 7 million Egyptians did boycott the first round already. –The Egypt Monocle

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