Egypt’s Silent Election
By Henry Lewis
Photograph of Egyptian voter courtesy of Yahoo News
If an election happens in a forest and no one votes, does it make a noise? Egypt does not have many trees, but the proverbial question nonetheless applies to the current parliamentary campaign. Since claiming power in a 2013 coup, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has governed without a legislature. In an effort to put democratic window dressing upon his autocratic regime, Sisi has authorized parliamentary elections. The balloting begins this week and extends until November. However, these elections have garnered little enthusiasm, as initial reports suggest a paltry 10% turnout rate. Yet this low turnout likely reflects disinterest in the electoral process rather than hostility to the administration.
Egyptians have plenty of reasons to feel indifferent towards this campaign. First of all, the exact role of the new parliament remains unclear. It seems hard to build enthusiasm electing positions that may not have much authority. Further, the choice of candidates appears quite limited. A vast majority of those running for parliament have close ties with President Sisi. In fact, the government has banned most prominent opposition parties from fielding candidates. Without many options, voters have little incentive to flock to the polls. Fatigue provides another possible cause for the low Egyptian turnout. Egypt has held a lot of elections in recent years, holding at least seven nation-wide polls in the last three years alone. Voters likely feel apathetic towards yet another trip to the ballot box. Yet this indifference does not necessarily reflect latent hostility towards the Sisi government. Rather, the low turnout simply illustrates a lack of interest in the vaguely defined parliamentary positions, limited choices, and an annoyance with the glut of elections.
Nevertheless, these elections could still have some importance for Egypt’s future. Sisi will have to navigate the new parliamentary process. No matter how tightly he controls the legislature, passing laws will assuredly prove more difficult than issuing proclamations. Further, the elections do provide some- admittedly meager- outlet for Islamist opposition. The Nour party has fielded a list of candidates. Despite Islamist sympathies, Nour supported Sisi’s overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood. Still, it seems worthwhile to monitor the level of support that Nour garners at the polls. How Sisi interacts with the Nour faction in parliament will also shed insight into the limits of dissent Sisi will permit. Overall, the elections provide a fascinating glance into the country’s political future- even if Egyptians don’t seem too interested themselves.by