October 22, 2019

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  • Why I’m voting

    Outside the Constitutional Court on Thursday, protesters waited for an "expected" verdict. (Photo by Sarah El Sirgany)


    Cairo: When the results of the first round were announced, the choice was clear for me. It wasn’t difficult. In case of a runoff between a representative of the Mubarak regime and another candidate, then I’m choosing the latter. No brainer.

    Ahmed Shafik is an ex-air force commander, a long-time civil aviation minister under Hosni Mubarak and the last prime minister appointed by the ousted president in a theatrical attempt to appease the masses in January 2011. His incompetence as prime minister — showcased in his inability for over a month to do any of the things he’s promising to do in his first days as president — is only rivaled by his laughable lack of coherence in any nighttime TV interview or speech. It’s a joke to which we are forced to play along.

    But that’s not the main issue. Shafik is part of the Mubarak regime. He’s been part of its executive power. He’s the face of its military roots and incestuous network of political and financial connections. He is the choice of the military rulers who vowed to protect their business interests to the death (military control anywhere between 15 and 40 percent of Egypt’s economy). His proclaimed and implied strong connection to the heavy-handed arm of the regime, the security apparatus, is enough proof to show where he stands when it comes to the revolution, which started with protests on police day on Jan. 25, 2011.

    And those who think these connections work to his benefit and would be translated into restoring the security forces that abandoned their duties in a year-and-a-half bid to punish the entire Egyptian people for revolting, should consider that he could pull back the police from the streets just as fast with the slightest sign of street opposition.

    The police he will bring back won’t be for people’s security, not their top priority. Their heavy hand will be in the face of opposition, which has been on a gradual rise over the past 15 months, and what’s left will be for crime. And no one will mind, even though beating down a protester in Tahrir never prevented an armed robbery in Sohag or Shubra.

    People claim that Shafik will not restore the tyrannical regime that fueled itself with brutal force, sectarian violence and entrenched ignorance, even though the cornerstones of this regime are right by his side, offering support through previous National Democratic Party connections, or even from behind bars. Those who make this argument say the revolution changed people, but forget that they are and have been against the revolution and all its manifestations.

    Shafik, who unashamedly proclaimed that he’s the candidate of the civil state, is a slap in the face of everything Jan. 25 represented. He’s entrenched in and supported by the militarized governance. He’s anti-freedoms but just not on a religious platform. His rare bouts of coherence are at their best when he promises to use force against protesters.

    It’s not like the contender on the other side of the fence is the protector of the revolution. Mohamed Morsi, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, is a front to an organization that put political gains over the very street action that got it those very fragile parliamentary seats. Their faults go beyond the fatal smugness that cost them the popular support they need now after the military-backed Supreme Constitutional Court ordered the Islamist-dominated parliament be dissolved. Their MPs applauded the minister of interior’s denials that his forces were shooting at protesters two blocks away from parliament’s doorstep.

    They failed to use the limited powers given to their cherished parliament, feuling theories about backroom deals with the military rulers. They could be accused of too much political conservatism, but they were also drunk on power. Even under pressure and threat of losing everything they failed to reach consensus with all political powers over the constituent assembly that would draft the constitution.

    Like all politicians, they want it all. Even though I believe they are in no way equitable to the same regime that ravaged this country for decades, I’ll start with the assumption that like Shafik, Morsi is an equally power-hungry, corrupt politician. Then the choice comes down to their ability to achieve their goals.

    Even with the parliament in hand, which the Brotherhood has now lost, it couldn’t have done much with a president. The police, the military, the intelligence, the judicial structure, state-media and the ministry of endowment whose imams control the majority of mosques, are all in the hands of the military and whoever it backs. Most of these institutions are inherently anti-Islamist and have repeatedly failed to commend the Islamists even when they agreed with and supported the military’s take on events over the past year.

    It’s obvious the military will be calling the shots, protecting its own interests and those of its wider network. Any president outside its ranks will attempt to fight for control. And it’s this friction in power, even on a limited scale, that could allow for other, less organized revolutionary movements to work on the street.

    Over a debate-infested couple of weeks, I was 100 percent sure. That was until the court verdict ruled to dissolve the parliament and overturned a law that would have disqualified Shafik from the race. It was expected, but under the blistering sun outside the court last Thursday, it still felt like a knockout, especially that on the same week, the Ministry of Justice overrode the powers of the then-functioning parliament to give military and intelligence officers the authority to arrest civilians without judicial authorization.

    It played on concerns I had relegated to the back of my mind: It’s all an act. The military will do what it wants and there’s nothing you could do to change it. Suddenly all my conversations with friends and activists promoting boycotting the vote or invalidating the ballot became a tangible option.

    It further threw me into the abyss of defeatism resulting from being cornered of having to vote for a candidate I didn’t want, of having to play along a military-orchestrated election in the hope that it might not be the tight-knit plan I thought it was.

    But then again, boycott or invalidating votes won’t influence the outcome, as morally satisfying as that would be. We will wake up on June 21 and we will have one of these two as president, whether we voted or not. The legitimacy of the election is established by the 5+ million voters that each of the two candidates got in the first round and who will go out for them again. I do hope that these movements are right or could even prove something on the long run, but until they do, I don’t want the person overseeing this to be Shafik.

    My vote and a million others may not matter if the election is rigged, or if Morsi is in cohorts with the military. But at the end of the day, I go to a question I was frequently asked in 2009-10. Once I switch off the recorder at the end of interviews with diplomats, they would ask ‘what if Islamists take over after Mubarak, doesn’t this worry you as a woman?’

    I used to tell them: Even if they want to model Egypt to the Saudi or Iranian conservatism, which is socially, economically and politically impossible, it would take them more than 10 years to do so. Any new president from outside the regime will have to battle second-, third-, and fourth-tiers of regime beneficiaries, even just to replace them with equally corrupt but loyal officials. Taking over power, much less enforcing a complete social and political change, would take years.

    Even though I had much higher hopes in February 2011, under the consequent jabs and undercuts the revolution has suffered, I will settle for this small crack in power — and it pains me to say so.

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