The initial results announced at the end of the first day in the first round of the 2015 parliamentary elections revealed that turnout did not exceed 2.7%. This was according to official sources, and from inside the electoral commission, as well as from inside the different polling stations.
It was clear through the satellite channels following up on the electoral process in tens of polling stations that the turnout on the second day did not increase in any way than the first day, if it was not less. This was in spite of all the “advocacy” or “media” efforts the state conducted to urge citizens to go to the polling stations. However, the results announced officially by the end of the first round indicated that the voters turnout ranged between 20% and 40%, which is a relatively high rate compared to the turnout rate in previous elections in Egypt. By that, I mean the real rates in the period between 1952 and the 25 January Revolution.
We can say these results seemed contradictory, not only with the initial results that were announced at the end of the first day, but, in a very surprising way, to the consensus of all observers, including the most enthusiastic state supporters. Everyone agreed that voters refrained from participating, perhaps in an unprecedented way. That situation shocked the Egyptian state, the elites and the groups supporting it, especially media figures. It forced the question: Why did people refrain from going to the ballot boxes?
In this context, various reasons have been cited. However, what is remarkable is that many of these reasons, especially for the supporters and sons of the “Family of 1952” (the military elite that has been in charge of running the state since 1952), were based on what they considered as the nature of the “people”. This caused me to contemplate the image of the people in the eyes of the Family of 1952’s presidents, which is the image adopted by supporters and opposition elites who grew up in the era of that family. We will try to conclude from this analytical contemplation what we see as the real reasons that led to the phenomenon of “refraining from participation”.
The worst-case-scenario analysis suggests that refraining, which is also one of the characteristics of the 1952 era, is “taking the easy way” and came due to superficiality, which is an issue related to intellectual and political deterioration. This is due to the absence of a democratic climate that can enable a flourishing intellectual and political life. This is why we can see how those who oppose the regime consider refraining as a factor that supports the justification that the regime is invalid, therefore making it necessary to oppose.
On the other hand, supporters of the regime consider refraining as a factor that supports the justification that the regime is valid, and therefore it is necessary to accept and support it. Under the polarisation that is built on prior positions, it became clear that both groups do not want to understand what happened, but just want to use what happened to change or fix specific policies and situations.
All analyses began with a group that claims it knows and understands the “nature of people”. This begs the question; who are the people to the ‘Family of 1952’? Or rather, who are the elite of this era? We can say that, to those analysts, people are a deaf mass without components or colours. If you try and talk about groups within the people; you will face a storm of accusations that originate from lack of understanding, or firm belief of the simple fact, being that the people are one bulk.
To those elites, talks about components and groups of the people are talks that call for discord and division. This explains why political pluralism or intellectual diversity was deemed reprehensible and unacceptable in principle throughout this era. In the golden age of this era, the Nasserist era, the people had to be packed in one party, not to represent a majority that should enforce a dictatorship over the remainder, which is acknowledged there according to the Marxist-Stalinist model, but for the party to be a representative of all the people.
Those who dared to form other social and political groups were called traitors, and were banned from practising politics, for not being members of the Arab Socialist Union. At the time, all politicians had to be members of that party, even if sometimes they were arrested. I am not exaggerating at all. Let’s read what Samy Sharaf, Abdel Nasser’s office manager and a Nasserist figure who advocates for the current president, published in Al-Ahram newspaper on 10 November.
He said: “Abdel Nasser’s media was the media of the Egyptian people. The media was of the poor. It was the media of workers and farmers. It was the media of the majority, not a media of a single voice for the sake of advertisement. The advertisements that are controlled by the capital used to proclaim that Nasser’s media is not suitable for the era of the Internet and social media; for blocking other voices. This is untrue. I wonder who those other voices are. I believe they are the enemy of the people. They are traitors, mercenaries, and thieves. They claim that Abdel Nasser nationalised the press, which is wrong. He rather reorganised it to serve the public, so it would not publish the words of agents and spies.”
This is how Samy Sharaf summed it: All those opposed to Abdel Nasser are agents, spies, mercenaries or thieves.
Perhaps you will notice that, dear reader, in spite of the existence of pluralism now in the political scene – restricted as it may be – it is still almost a formality. And even that is unacceptable, incomprehensible and unpalatable to the “group” or the ruling junta that is compelled to live with this abhorrent “pluralism”.
Only within this framework can we understand the president’s call to unite and run for the elections under one list, as it is totally incorrect that it was a call to build a unified front as his advocates claim. A front is composed of several parties that discuss among themselves and agree on plans. The president in that case is a political party in this discussion, not a party against politics, so much so that the presidency itself claims that they are training youth in order to prepare cadres to lead the country, without being engaged in politics.
President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s call was not designed to call for a public discussion, a programme, or a consolation; it was only meant to drive us towards packing all politicians into one group or party.
This group reports to the president himself, and works as per his commands. It will work under the impression that any call for diversity is a call for division. It would believe that the people must be united to seek “the right goals”.
Here, the goals refer to the goals of the president, as his party is the sole representative of the people. Here, we can say that President Al-Sisi is like Abdel Nasser, Mubarak, and Sadat. They all believed that all the people must unite so that the president can close his fist and excitingly announce that things should be done “like that” in front of the cameras.
In the next article, we will closely look at the elites raised during the era of 1952. We will see how many of the 1952 family, as well as their opposition, shared the same image of the people.
Farid Zahran is a publisher and writer. He is the co-founder of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party