News / Middle East

Voters Remain Pessimistic as Egyptian Elections Approach

At a polling station in Cairo (file photo)
At a polling station in Cairo (file photo)

Egypt's parliamentary elections are less than a week away and even though government officials insist the balloting will be free and fair, many Egyptians remain pessimistic the process will lead to fundamental change.

Some are too busy simply trying to make a living in tough economic times to get involved in politics. Others are skeptical about the political process in a country that has been ruled by the same man for almost 30 years. And still others point to what they see as suppression of any credible political opposition.

In the middle-class Cairo suburb of Dokki, election posters dangle from billboards or hang from lamp-posts alongside the heavy bustle of traffic. Merchants go about their business, mostly ignoring the political undertow of the November 28 parliamentary balloting.

Voter indifference

Ahmed, a vegetable seller, says the election doesn't matter much to him. Even though he comes from the same province as President Hosni Mubarak, the street merchant places little faith in Egypt's political process.

"I'm tired from working two jobs," he complains, "and I don't have time to worry about politics."

Egyptian political analysts say those kinds of attitudes are likely to persist unless Mubarak's government offers more transparency in the way leaders are chosen. And few are optimistic that will happen.

Voting irregularities occurred in past elections. Human rights groups have accused Egyptian authorities of using force against political opponents and voters to keep Mubarak's National Democratic Party in power. In recent days, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood opposition group says security forces have arrested several hundred of its supporters in fresh clashes around the country.

Government: poll will be fair

Egypt's foreign ministry is bristling over a recent U.S. call for international observers to monitor the elections. Ministry officialssaid the U.S. demand amounted to meddling in Egypt's internal affairs and was a violation of the nation's sovereignty.

Karim Haggag, director of the Egyptian Press and Information Office, told a recent panel at the Voice of America that the use of international observers was not necessary to guarantee transparent elections.

Haggag said the polling will be supervised by an independent high elections commission and complemented by a system of judicial observers.

"I think taking these things together you have a very robust system of safeguards that will insure that these elections will be free and fair," he told the symposium hosted by VOA's English to Middle East Service.

Analysts skeptical

But many analysts are less than optimistic about the election's transparency and chances the results will lead to significant reforms. The elections are a prelude to a presidential vote next year that is lining up as a referendum on President Mubarak's positioning to stay at
Egypt's helm.

Abdallah al Ashaal, international relations professor at the American University of Cairo, says the ruling National Democratic Party has been using a variety of methods to hold on to power and discourage competition in the parliamentary vote. Ashaal has expressed an interest in running for president himself, but says he expects Mubarak and his ruling party to maintain power.

"There is a culture of despair over reform," Ashaal says.

From his book-lined study overlooking both a church and a mosque, analyst Amr Hamzawy, too, sees little competition in Egypt's political landscape.

Egypt recently cracked down on the media and members of opposition groups, Hamzawy says, including the Muslim Brotherhood. He says the crackdowns are indications that the government has no intention of opening up its political systems.

"Most probably, after the (November) elections, we will still have pretty much the same picture we are looking at as of now," says Hamzawy, an analyst at Carnegie Endowment for Peace in the Middle East. "The NDP will continue its dominance over the legislative process. So, at the macro level, not much will happen."

Hamzawy expects that the Muslim Brotherhood will lose many of the 88 parliament seats that it now holds in favor of moderate opposition parties, including the liberal Wafd and the leftist Tagammu Party.

Fouad Ajami, director of Middle East Studies at The Johns Hopkins University in the United States, says despite any claims to the contrary, Egyptians are convinced the elections ultimately "reflects the will of the ruler (Mubarak), the family members around him, and the security apparatus."

"Egyptians are a shrewd and knowing people who see through the pretensions of the regime and the melodrama of the ruling party, offering a measure of false choice," Ajami says.

Still, some analysts hope that international pressure might lead Egypt on a new road toward Democratic reform.

Glimmer of hope

Saad Eddin Ibrahim, an Egyptian-American political sociologist and democracy activist, argues that the elections are crucial to planting deeper democratic roots not only in Egypt but throughout the Middle East. "Egypt is the biggest Arab country in the Middle East," Ibrahim says. "It is the center of the Arab world. It has always led culturally and politically and if the election is carried out freely and fairly, Egypt can hope to lead the democratic transformation of the region."

 

NEW: Follow our Middle East stories on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Computer Crash Halts US Visa, Passport Operation

Problems with database have resulted in extensive backlog of applications, affected State Department's consular offices all over the world More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

World Bank: Boko Haram Stalls African Aid Projects

Islamist group’s terrorism sets back agriculture, health efforts in Cameroon, Chad and Nigeria More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnelsi
X
July 24, 2014 4:42 AM
The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video MH17's 'Black Boxes' Could Reveal Crash Details

The government of Malaysia now has custody of the cockpit voice and flight data recorders from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was hit by a missile over Ukraine before crashing last week. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports, the so-called black boxes may hold information about the final minutes of the flight.
Video

Video Living in the Shadows Panel Discussion

Following a screening of the new VOA documentary, "AIDS - Living in the Shadows," at the World AIDS conference in Melbourne, a panel discussed the film and how to combat the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid