Some people may not remember that the parliamentary elections were supposed to take place in October 2014, but were postponed more than once, and we are now in May 2015. The new promise is that the elections will be held after Eid Al-Fitr, roughly three months from now. These continuous postponements have raised many questions about whether the elections will be postponed yet again after Eid, or whether they will continue being postponed indefinitely. In other words, does the government have the intention and will to hold parliamentary elections? Or will they be delayed until the circumstances are favourable for the government to hold them? If this is the case, what are the circumstances the government may see as suitable to hold elections, if it fears holding them now?
In order to answer these questions, let us start with contemplating the current political scene, which has gradually become clearer since 30 June until now. Generally, we can say that the 30 June coalition between democratic powers, the army, and the old regime collapsed after several months of succeeding in toppling the regime of the Muslim Brotherhood. Here, we have to point out that the coalition was neither official nor public. This coalition originated because the three parties’ activities on the ground against the Brotherhood intersected at certain points, without any announcement or even direct coordination most of the time. After the alliance succeeded in toppling the Brotherhood, its different parties started to recognise that they do not have a common vision for leading the country. Consequently, the coalition gradually collapsed, leaving power completely in Al-Sisi’s hands, supported by the old regime, after the collapse of the coalition. So how did this happen?
If we notice what happened, it will confirm that Al-Sisi’s popularity is what led to granting him absolute power, not the opposite. This sweeping popularity of Al-Sisi did not start with the role he played, at the top of the military institution, in ousting the Brotherhood. It started much earlier, because Al-Sisi’s popularity was based on the notion that he is the president who saved us, who is able to impose stability and security, who can provide people with a living and stop the chaos. This president, who is able to provide security and stability, according to populism, as well as the traditional authoritarian point of view, is the president who has the ability to control people by force, because these people cannot be controlled except by force.
Therefore, we can say that Al-Sisi’s popularity was based on dissatisfaction and frustration that accumulated over time as a result of the inability of the revolution to achieve its demands. This inability is not just because of the mistakes or even crimes of the revolutionary powers, with the democratic forces on the top of them. The main reason behind their inability to foster change is the resistance of the counter-revolutionary powers to democratic transition, which is the only road that could have led us to meet the demands of the revolution. The counter-revolutionary powers refers to the Brotherhood and the old regime.
The moment of toppling the Brotherhood was the same moment Al-Sisi reached the peak of his popularity, because the process of ousting the Brotherhood became, for the crowds who participated in this process, the last step for them to get rid of chaos and disturbance. In other words, it was the last chance to restore security and stability. It’s true that the people’s demands faded gradually, after they had high hopes for achieving justice and freedom for all people. Demands then became limited to no more than restoring security and stability before the 25 January Revolution: the security and stability of Mubarak’s regime. And with demands reaching this low level, hopes were placed on any loyal president able to achieve that. Al-Sisi seemed to be this loyal president, as he is at the top of the military institution that is able to impose security and stability by force, away from any illusions.
The accumulated dissatisfaction and frustration ended up dividing the wide political audience into two factions: the first was fed and supported by media of the state and businessmen, and surrounds the president, who was able to impose security and stability. This direction affirms its hostility towards chaos and instability, and they consider democracy, rhetoric, parties, policy and politicians, and even sometimes the 25 January Revolution itself, the reasons that led and still lead to chaos and instability. This is especially true because the country is at war against terrorism, and no voice should be louder than the voice of battle. As such, all politicians are loudmouths, while the country needs work.
The second faction, made up mostly of youth, urged by the same state of dissatisfaction and frustration, did not attach themselves the idea of a loyal president, and do not believe in him. This is because this loyal president, from their point of view, does not seek to meet the demands of the revolution. At the same time, people adopting this opinion no longer believe in the political process or in politicians. Moreover, most of them did not believe in the political process in the first place, due to the traditional propaganda, which has been going for decades, and they consider politics the work of Satan. People of this opinion, especially youth, left the political field completely, whether through immigration, or isolating themselves in circles, cursing everybody in a nihilistic and gloomy atmosphere of defeat, starting with those who turned to drugs to escape, and ending with those who escaped through the field of culture, which is definitely more accommodating than the field of politics.
Both directions are full of desperation, dissatisfaction and frustration. Those who are supportive of the president are still the majority, even if they are slowly decreasing in numbers compared to the nihilists or the Brotherhood. Principally, both groups do not care about the parliamentary elections, whether because they believe it is a waste of time and will “distract” the president when we all are supposed to adopt the slogan of “let the man work”, or because it is a waste of time as there is no difference between the participants in the political process, whether they are in power or opposition.
I believe that the direct experience of people and the frequent disappointments they have faced time after time, since 25 January 2011 until 30 June 2013, were the main reasons behind the general mood reaching this level of dissatisfaction and frustration. However, I believe that the role that the state and media played in linking the state of dissatisfaction and frustration to hostility against the democratic and political process was a decisive factor in causing people to reach this position of rejecting the elections and being completely convinced of their futility, and consequently avoiding participation. Therefore, we can say that constantly delaying the elections was not because of fears of the percentages that the Brotherhood and their allies may obtain. The main reason is also not the hidden conflict between Al-Sisi and the old regime, in spite of the importance all these reasons.
The main reason, in my opinion, is to push the people to reach that level of lack of interest in the political process back to participation rates that would not exceed 5% in cities and 20% in villages. This simply means that the elections would be under control, where security bodies can liaise with individual candidates who have the ability to mobilise the needed votes due to tribal and/or financial power, which is already happening. Note here that the electoral system is supporting the notion of individual elections, and consequently reaching a parliament that would be under the state’s control. Also note that the administrative bodies of the state can support the candidate who has a tribal voting bloc, or who can be propped up through political funding.
One can conclude by saying that suppressing the youth movement and democratic powers with unprecedented fierceness, even in Mubarak’s era and directly after 30 June, was intentional in order to frighten and terrorise people, especially the youth, from political work. This started with the case of the Shura Council demonstration and ended with the death of Shaimaa and Mayada. That is why it was rational to make promises repeatedly, and on the highest level promise to release the detained youth without doing so.
Finally, we can say, based on all the above, that the general atmosphere now, thanks to the state’s efforts, has become favourable for conducting elections that guarantee a flexible parliament and pave the way for the president to work.
Farid Zahran is a publisher and writer. He is the co-founder of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party