Sisi wins a very anticlimactic election

No line in front of one polling station in Abbasaya, a Cairo suburb.

No line in front of one polling station in Abbasaya, a Cairo suburb.

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I arrived in Egypt nearly a week ago, and what I thought might be an interesting and exciting two days of elections turned out to be three days of extremely anticlimactic events.  But first, to provide a brief bit of background, I’ll start with 2011. In January 2011, Egypt was one of the countries that took part in the so-called “Arab Spring” and after 18 days of protest, then-President Hosni Mubarak stepped down. Though some might call this a revolution, it was really more of an uprising since the reigns of control were never handed over to the people. Instead, the “revolution” was only successful because the military supposedly joined the side of the people. The nearly two years that followed proved that the military really only cared about itself. Turmoil reached new heights as videos of police and military brutality became the norm, and one girl even became known as blue bra girl.

2012 saw Egypt’s first free and fair elections. After 13 candidates were narrowed down to Mohammed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood member representing the Freedom and Justice Party, and Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s former Prime Minister, Morsi won the presidency with 51% of the vote.  Morsi’s year in power was far from pleasant. However, as any credible source will indicate, control over the economy remained with the military. They simply slowed an already stagnant economy and when the summer heat came, left people with nothing to do but to fill the streets and beg the military to return. Despite the fact that Morsi was democratically elected, the military gave Morsi a 48-hour ultimatum that resulted in his ouster on July 3, 2013. In all parts of Egypt, people both celebrated the ouster and protested the insult to democracy. Supporters of the ouster claimed it was an extension of the revolution while others insisted it was a military coup that was illegitimate. Of course, by definition, it was a military coup, but the United States refuses to call it one, since doing so would require an immediate cut to the $1.5 billion in aid, which would in turn, threaten the stability of Israel. (But of course, we can call Thailand a coup…)

Enter Abdelfattah El-Sisi, leader of the military coup and (almost) officially Egypt’s new president. (Does it sound like a coup yet?) Throughout the past year, Sisi has jailed over 23,000 people, including Muslim Brotherhood members, journalists, students, children, and American citizens. After the mass killing in Rabaa al-Adawiyah, one of the main squares where anti-coup protests took place (and where I protested last summer), the crackdown got worse.

Anyway, that’s some oversimplified background info that leads up to this past week. Even though Sisi has committed horrendous human rights violations, there is still a portion of the population that sees him as a national hero and celebrity. His popularity is nowhere near Gamal AbdelNasser’s (led 1954 coup in Egypt that overthrew monarchy), but the obsession is similar. Nationalist songs praising Sisi are blasted throughout the streets at all hours of the night, multiple Sisi banners are hung on every street (though many are splattered with red paint), and naturally, the state media is still painting him as a savior of Egypt. In the days leading to the election, TVs have shown commercials with people insisting that every vote will count, that their voice will be heard, and that everyone should get out the vote. The latest song that has swept Egypt, titled Bushret Khair, seems to mimic Pharell Williams’  song, “Happy,” and features Egyptians of every socioeconomic background telling people to go vote.

On Monday, I went to a polling station with my aunt, who unfortunately voted for Sisi. There was a very short line outside the polling station in the morning, and there were people posing with the military, flashing peace signs, and of course, singing and dancing to Bushret Khair. I continued to walk around Abbasaya, and by the early afternoon, there were no lines whatsoever in front of any of the polling stations. This led Egyptian state media to go into a frenzy of sorts, urging people to get out the vote. Of course, there was never any doubt that Sisi would win, but the main concern was proving that the coup was actually popularly received. Egyptian state media claimed that 30 million called for the ouster of Morsi and yet couldn’t get half of those people to go out and vote for the military strongman they so loved. I mean, how bad would it look if Sisi got fewer votes than Morsi? State media decided to blame the people, calling them lazy and ungrateful. Here’s a hilarious video compilation of Egyptian media going crazy (one of them says he is willing to cut his veins on air for his country).

After the abysmal turnout on Monday, the government made Tuesday a holiday for the public and private sector, extended voting to 10 PM, and suspended fare prices for public transportation. I heard a lot of excuses for the poor turnout, but my favorite had to have been that people were fasting for Isra & Miraj, and therefore didn’t leave their homes to go vote. The reason I thought this was so funny is because the weeks of protest that took place last summer in response to Morsi’s ouster occurred during Ramadan, but that didn’t stop people from filling Rabaa al Adawiyah.

During that second day of elections, I went with my neighbors, who were also voting for Sisi. As we approached their polling location, it looked like there was a bit of a line. However, once we got there, it was actually just people who had already voted and were standing outside the polling station to make it look like there was a line. When turnout was still low, Egyptian officials took the absolutely illegal step of extending voting to a third day. They also threatened to fine anyone who boycotted the election with 500 Egyptian pounds, which is more than a lot of people here make in a month. Of course, this would be nearly impossible to implement, but it still scared my own mother enough to submit a blank ballot.  At her polling station, there was, again, absolutely no one. “It was as if they were waiting for me,” she said.

Of the people I did see vote, none were below the age of 30, which says a lot about the “revolution” that the youth started. Once the vote counting started, I followed Egyptian state media as well as journalists live-tweeting their own eyewitness accounts. One photographer saw ballots that had “CC Killer” written on it be counted as a vote for Sisi. This, among other things (including the voting extension) contributed to the factors that made this entire “election” a farce. Sisi ended up winning (shocker) with 93.3 percent of the vote, which as any logical person would know, is not a legitimate election figure. Regardless, the election was really just meant to be a formality.

And as of this morning, Egypt’s biggest newspaper is reporting that Hamdeen Sabbahi, who lost the election to Sisi with fewer votes than there were invalid votes, would accept a Prime Minister position. When he came in third to Morsi in 2012, he refused a VP position. It’s clear now why he ran in the first place: to give a false sense of legitimacy to the elections, and also to secure a consolation prize in the form of a top government position.

A few more random observations:

  • My uncle who is obsessed (not an exaggeration in the slightest) with Gamal Abdel Nasser really dislikes Sisi. This is surprising because they’re fairly similar.
  • The Sisi propaganda is really sickening. It also upsets me that so much money has gone into advertising his face, even though it’s so incredibly unnecessary. Everyone knew he would “win” anyway – why not put that money to better use?
  • Although the Muslim Brotherhood faced a lot of criticism for misusing religion to benefit their own political agenda, this video(link) shows the Sisi campaign using mosque minaret microphones to tell people to go vote. It says “those who love Allah and the Prophet will go vote for Sisi now… we don’t want to be like Syria… those who don’t vote want to destroy Egypt”
  • One Egyptian writer urged women to abstain from having sex with their husbands until they went and voted. Sad.
  • Most of the Morsi graffiti (both pro and against) is gone. It’s really weird considering it was everywhere last year. Almost as if they’re trying to erase any memory of him.
  • Lastly, for a really great comprehensive read on Sisi