Egyptian blogger from Cairo.
Revolutionary Socialist.
Partner & Creative Director at ThePlanet.

Boycotting SCAF’s elections: The revolution continues

Under: Egypt Tags: . . .

Finally, after nine months have past from the promised six-month transitional period, we are about to embark on the road to democracy with a handful of elections carrying us through till early 2013 (that’s right; the six-month transitional phase will translate to about two years).

On November 28th, millions of Egyptians (including those abroad) will queue up in front of local schools to take part in what seems to be the first free and fair elections in the nation’s history. Ballots will be counted in districts all over the republic to determine the country’s first batch of democratically elected members of parliament. Looks like the struggle is paying off after all.

That is why we need to boycott the upcoming elections.

Tantawi with Robert Gates in 2008

There are many reasons why I think that, just as March’s referendum was a vote for or against SCAF, boycotting in November’s elections is supporting the continuation of the revolution, and partaking, regardless of the chosen candidate/party, is opting for reform.

  1. The people demand the downfall of the regime

    SCAF appear to have been in power since February 11th, but the army, as an entity, has enjoyed overwhelming power since the coup d’etat of 1952. in fact it has long been an economic giant. Whether it’s vast lands, factories in the different industries, man power forced to work at little or no cost, there’s plenty to prove that SCAF has enjoyed more than the average share of the power pie. More importantly, it has always been an integral part of the old regime. I won’t go into why I’m against SCAF, that’s beyond this argument.

    Military Mubarak. Photo by Hossam El Hamalawy

    The issue here is that SCAF is putting together this limited infrastructure of ‘democracy’ for us to play in. While we fight on whether we want Egypt to be secular or Islamist, SCAF is happy with the conditions that accompany the 1.3bn dollar package from the US. While we prepare for free and fair elections, SCAF detains activists to add them to their list of 12,000 civilians triad by the military.

    The fact of the matter is, taking part in the elections would be collaborating with SCAF to ‘overcome’ the current phase and start working towards a democracy. While there’s nothing against working with the army in transition, taking part in the elections would give legitimacy to SCAF and their actions. We would be saying that everything they’ve done so far, although not perfect, is acceptable. On January 25th we took the streets to completely overhaul the corrupt, inhumane regime. This means settling for nothing less than a real change. If the entire army remains as it has been for 60 years, then we need to clarify that we deserve better. Thus, boycotting.

  2. Power to the people

    It’s comforting to believe that the army will hand over the power to a representative government as soon as we see the elections through. That is very naive, to say the least.

    We can only predict SCAF’s behavior by studying their past. That, and their motives. But given how the SCAF leaders have always been an integral part of the old regime, and that unveiling any of their activities would be a direct threat to each of them, it is rather obvious that they would like to protect the status quo.

    Thanks to the army, Egypt has remained a military dictatorship for 60 years. The emergency law has always existed in different shapes or forms, and while it is easiest to blame the police for abusing it, it is really the army that controls it. In fact, by the end of the Mubarak era, press had opened up to allow direct criticism of government officials and indirect bashing of the president himself. However, it was dangerously frowned upon to mentioned anything related to the military. In conclusion, if it wasn’t for the army’s backing, Mubarak’s regime would’ve lost its grip.

    Since February 12th, an argument was ignited in which some claimed SCAF’s blatant efforts to protect the status quo, most were blinded by the fairy tale of a knight in shining armor looking to take Egypt forward. Evidently, the following proved otherwise:

    No SCAF personnel in the right state of mind would transfer all of the power and authority to a civil, democratic government. There is absolutely nothing to suggest they are willing to collaborate, all the contrary. SCAF, fully backed by the United States, has been the biggest counterrevolutionary force hindering our efforts. How on Earth can we justify accepting their offer for elections after their intentions became crystal clear?

  3. Bread, Freedom and Social Justice

    If it’s unrealistic to believe that the revolutionary demands can be met, then it’s a cracking joke to think that things can remain the way they are.

    We simply cannot build a new regime when we’re nowhere near done overhauling the old one. The ‘political game’ at the voting booth is played when we’ve achieved our basic demands. Diplomacy, especially when carried out via a government that has very limited power, will never bring change. It will be basic reform at best. And I didn’t take the streets to make some amendments here and there.

    If all we were after were free and fair elections, why did we remain at the square after Mubarak’s second speech? He had clearly indicated that he would not be running, nor would his son, and after everyone had seen the effect of taking the streets the elections would’ve most probably been valid. And if it’s about taking Mubarak to court, that could’ve easily happened with our first democratic government. We remained at the square because the regime had lost all legitimacy. We remained because we wanted to take matter into our own hands and wanted no favors from nobody. We remained because we weren’t asking for much, and we weren’t going to be appeased by anything short of it. That is why the struggle continues.

    We are not in a weak position, and there’s absolutely no reason to give up and think we should hang on to whatever we can get. We took the streets seeking bread, freedom and social justice – is this too much to ask for? Why settle for any less? What do citizens of the ‘developed’ world have that gives them the right to demand basic rights, while we scrap for whatever SCAF are kind enough to let us have?

    When you assume, you make an ‘ass’ of ‘u’ and ‘me’. Assuming SCAF will transfer all power to the government is going to leave us all looking like asses. It’s naive and completely unfounded.

When will I be willing to vote?

We all want to be able to take part in proper elections. If SCAF were to do the following, I’d be the first in line to take part:

  • Release those unjustly detained and put the rest through civil prosecution
  • Bring an end to any sort of censorship imposed on the different media outlets, as well as indictment propaganda against any critical voices
  • Allow protests to take place without the use of force
  • Vow to become but another entity in a government lead by an elected president and legislated by a parliament representing the people, and in no way a separate entity. This would eventually mean complete transparency. (I’d take their word for it and give them the benefit of the doubt)

If we allow SCAF to exit the spotlights before any of the above demands have been met, we would be letting them slip away and hide behind a powerless government in no way responsible for the real damage (a la Essam Sharaf now). That is absolutely unacceptable.

Not to mention…

Just as we thought SCAF wouldn’t dare dodge free and fair elections:

  • Remaining figures from the old regime are running in districts all over the republic, with enough money and power to help them win
  • As oppose to having small constituencies that better represent the people, different areas that might not even be adjacent have been merged together to dilute political representation
  • No one has a clue where to vote, how to vote, how the lists vs independent candidates system works, or anything at all. These are probably the most confusing elections in recent history
  • No actions have been taken to assure proper monitoring, avoid rigging, protect voters from harassment, and prevent bribes and the deployment of thugs.

Weak. Very weak.

The only problem is that they're good at what they do

Common criticism

I’ve recently come under fire for openly opposing the participation in the upcoming elections. The following are some of those points put forward, with my answer to each one.

  • If you don’t vote, you will allow Feloul (remnants of the old, defeated regime) to win
    This is based on the assumption that the elections are legitimate, which they’re not. It doesn’t matter what happens since SCAF will continue in its attempt to protect the status quo
  • If you don’t win, Islamists will gain control
    First of all, unlike many around me, I don’t get the image of American-portrayed Taliban whenever the word ‘Islamists’ comes up. More importantly, I’ll save my reaction for when we have real elections where the members of parliament aren’t useless jackasses like Essam Sharaf
  • Boycotting marginalizes your voice. Vote to be heard
    Boycotting means voicing my disagreement with the current regime and how its running matters. My voice would only be wasted if it went to a party that doesn’t stand a chance of winning against an ex-NDP who will give SCAF all the leeway necessary. Or an honorable and respectable candidate who finds himself in a completely powerless position and takes decisions equivalent to changing Egyptian timing, leaving all calls related to foreign policy in the hands of SCAF
  • If you boycott, you won’t make a difference. If you vote, you will
    If one vote of mine is insignificant when I abstain, why does it suddenly become a deal-breaker if I were to vote? It is one vote either way, and this is how I choose to make a difference
  • It’s too late to boycott
    It’s too soon to have elections. No one has a clue what on Earth is going on anyway. I doubt anyone knows who they’re going to vote for, so it’s fine to decide to boycott now (not to mention that I had decided to boycott a couple of months ago)
  • You can’t have everything, let’s get what we can
    This defeatist argument is completely beyond me. Why the hell did we all take the streets, with many of us dying in the process, if we didn’t think we can go all the way? And we’re not after ‘everything’. In fact, it is extremely easy to meet the revolution’s basic demands and grant the Egyptians basic human rights. And don’t be naive enough to think that any significant change will happen from within after elections
  • What difference will it make? Just take part and don’t choose a candidate. There’s a fine for those who abstain.
    If I participate but vote blank, I would be legitimizing SCAF’s elections but voting against the candidates themselves. While I’m not exactly fond of many of those running for seats in the parliament, my main objection is with the system itself. And if I’m forced to pay a fine for abstaining, then I’ll do it, it’s a very small price to pay for doing what I believe in (now’s not the time to battle for my right to abstain)
  • Take part, and then join demonstrations and strikes
    Who would I be demonstrating against? It doesn’t make much sense to collaborate with SCAF, vote in their elections, and then take the streets complaining of how they’re handling matters. After elections, we will have people who are powerless, yet for some reason accountable for all of our problems. It will be their responsibility to face the music when SCAF inevitably makes the decisions that are in noway favorable of the people
  • Boycotting, if not by a majority, is useless
    On a personal level, I would never forgive myself for legitimizing SCAF and their fake elections, even if I were the only one to do so. Generally speaking, any voice abstained reduces the participation and gives more credit to the subsequent argument against the system

We took the streets seeking change, and that is our only option. The revolution continues, and justice will inevitably prevail. Y hasta la victoria siempre!

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17 comments

Sherif Nagui

November 10, 2011

Although I agree with all the premises that base your argument, I see (from my point of view) a few logical flaws in your conclusion:

1) Conditions 2,3 and 4 that you set in order for you to vote are all enforced/ backed up by legislation. Guess who’s going to be responsible for amending / approving / monitoring them a few months from now.

2) You seem to confuse and overlap two very distinct authorities, legislative and executive. Power is attained through the executive institutions, i.e. the government. The parliament is merely a legislative and monitoring unit, hence your “balance of power” arguments aren’t very valid in this case

3) You claim that participating in elections gives SCAF legitimacy. I don’t see how you made this link. Elections are a common democratic process that takes place periodically. Actually, elections, in itself, is the largest representation of the people’s legitimacy and it is part of the key pillars of Citizenship – which I assume you would be a big proponent of. The only way this claim is valid is if the elections were orchestrated in a way towards the SCAF winning seats in parliament. If you argue against the supra-constitutional laws they’re trying to impose(which I’m very surprised you haven’t mentioned), I would then agree with your legitimacy argument.

4) Logically, from your tone, pessimism and evidences, which I don’t necessarily disagree with. You believe its naive to think that SCAF will hand over power any time soon or, as you’ve mentioned in point 1, they’re too big to completely collapse. Then when do you see them abiding by your conditions to vote?

5) If you are boycotting as a form of continuation of the revolution, why isn’t it in Arabic language as well so you can broaden your support, send your message through and ‘revolutionize’?

TT

November 10, 2011

Tarek, thanks for this interesting blog post. I hope that more people are sharing these ideas or will come to the same conclusion. The majority of the western media and people are still ‘sleeping’…
Stay safe!
Kindly

HZ

November 10, 2011

The revolution is lost. The bad guys won. To vote or not to vote is irrelevant now. The people have clearly spoken. They want no more than “mild reform” — perhaps sprinkled with a more Islamic facade. I have therefore emotionally cut myself off from the future of this country. Fuck it all. And fuck the people who believe in the media. They are blameless, but fuck them nonetheless.

Amr

November 10, 2011

I am a great believer in the goals and aims of the revolution. And I do agree that the fight against the military dictatorship is yet to be fraught and concluded. I am however totally against boycotting the elections, it seems to me that you have become rather addicted to the struggle on the street, enjoying the revolutionary high while ignoring a greater demand for a return to a degree of stability even if it might be a fake one. It is because of actions like this that the general public has become disgruntled with revolutionaries like yourself. It doesnt sll have to be tear gas and bullets, room must be given for dialogue and some politics to play. Regardless of how defunct the coming parliament will be, it is by no means going to be a 99% win like the old days, and it will atleast offer some resistance to SCAf’s unquestioned authority. Furthermore even if u do boycott and manage to convince thousands to do the same, the SCAF won’t lift a finger to make u happy or change the status quo vis a vis parliament, if anything ull be doing them a favor. Don’t let your idealist principles blind you from reality

taha

November 10, 2011

Thanks for the post ya Shibbles. Well thought through and provocative. Not to mention a conversation that needs to be happening/popping more.

I wonder too about places like Turkey and Tunisia. Granted they are in very different situations then we are but still there seems to be plenty we could learn and adapt to ours.

In comparison to the way Tunisia (from the little that I looked into and understand about their elections) have run things we are looking unbelievably (disastrously?) unorganized – and generally very messy. It is like there is a deadline (which already passed) and we just need to have these elections – no matter what.

I do hear advertisements/campaigns to go out and vote on the radio here occasionally – but when you look at the excitement/enthusiasm and the will and the way elections were prepared for and executed in Tunisia it leaves a lot to be desired from those running things here.

In Turkey it seems they are still moving towards complete civilian rule. The secular state has been backed somewhat dictatorship-y/authoratarian-y by the army. They are moving, slowly but surely and the army’s power does seem to be eroding but it has taken quite some time. Perhaps this is the more optimistic model – that through a diplomatic process the people can regain power/control from the army eventually (although in Turkey it is yet to be realized in full).

But then again why go through all of that, why can’t we learn from the lessons from the Turks and not cede power to the army at all in the first place and then have to go through this lengthy/painful process of regaining it.

Generally I would agree with the view that we need to move to civilian rule as quickly as possible – so having elections as early as possible would be best. But under what conditions?

The questions are as you mention – do these or can these elections mean any real transition to civilian rule?

Since February the SCAF has been all over the place, incompetent and unorganized (which might have been more acceptable had they addmited to this) and most importantly very unclear and very, very uncommunicative/untransparent with us.

Suffice it to say I have no idea what to expect of these elections that are supposed to happen at the end of the month which in itself is hard to believe. And I have to say at the moment they remind me of elections under Mubarak.

Tarek Shalaby

November 10, 2011

Sherif Nagui: Thanks for the comment. I guess you know where you an I do not agree.

I’ll tell you, though, you’re right about Selmy’s ‘laws above constitution’, I forgot to mention that. But it’s still a minor issue for me, and was completely predictable.

And you’re absolutely right about writing the post in Arabic. Unfortunately, my written Arabic isn’t as good as my English, but I’ve asked a friend to translate it for me.

TT: Thank you very much.

HZ: hahaha!!! That’s hilarious. I think the people will mature with time and learn from their mistakes. Until then, I recommend you go live in Pakistan or somewhere that makes you feel better about us! hehe

Amr: Thanks. I obviously disagree, but it’s good to know that, regardless of the arguments, those who have already decided whether they’re voting or taking part, are not going to change their minds. We’ll see how things develop.

Tarek Shalaby

November 10, 2011

B-pops! I liked your response so much, I’m dedicating a comment just for you.

You’re right about Tunisia and Turkey being case studies that we need to look at, even if they’re different. I would consider Tunisia’s elections a big success (but perhaps I don’t know enough to make a proper judgment).

I don’t know how I feel about Turkey though. Like you said, it took them a couple of decades to be ‘almost there’. My bigger problem is that while most of the Turks might be fine with their army, Kurds aren’t exactly fond of them. And I think you simply cannot assume Turkey a success in anyway as long as the Kurds are oppressed in such a way.

What makes us different is that SCAF, backed by the US, is our biggest obstacle. I believe that #jan25 is not just about changing the regime, it’s really about independence. We need to be able to make our own calls without foreign interference. We want to be able to act on what’s best for us, not what would guarantee the US and Israel remain pleased with us.

Especially given how the armed forces, as an institution, is overwhelmingly large and powerful, toppling their corruption while they’re fully backed by the West makes it extremely difficult.

The reason why these elections look a lot like the ones we had in the Mubarak era is because not much has changed…at all. It’s takes a lot more than taking the president to the hospital and imprisoning a handful of business for a regime to be ready for change.

I feel that, whatever happens, we will win. It’s just a matter of time before the people’s voice is heard. The current setup is in noway sustainable. Especially with the debt crisis in Europe, and the Occupy Wall Street movement in the US, we can be optimistic that soon, we will be independent, and overcoming the obstacles will be even easier.

Taking part in the elections is a step backwards, but it’s certainly not going to end the revolution.

TT

November 10, 2011

Tarek, this might be outside of the topic and I dont want to draw to much attention to this issue, but I wonder based on what kind of observations do you say that ‘Kurds are oppressed’ at present time in Turkey? One shouldn´t mix PKK with ordinary Kurdish people. Again, I don´t want to spoil this post, but please do write someday(night) a blog post on this issue, based on reliable facts…And hey, you can still have Turkey as a good case study, since Egypt don´t have Kurds ;-)
Stay strong!

Tarek Shalaby

November 10, 2011

TT: I’m by no means an expert on the subject. My observation is based on my visit to Turkish Kurdistan (where Kurds are not even allowed to speak the language, learn it in school, put up signs, or name their kids), my Kurdish friends and loved ones from the different parts, and some reading. I have not come a single place/person/source that suggests that the Kurds are not oppressed. You’re the first (after some angry Turks in Istanbul).

Shy Girl

November 11, 2011

Thanks for inspirate us. Egypt and Tunisia encouraged to many spaniards. Without you, spring never would have rise this year.

I hope the Army won’t back to appropiate the revolution, and Tahir Dream won’t become a nightmare.

Please, enjoy democracy moore than us. We left all our sovereignity in hands of politicians, and then Markets bought them. Now that we realise that, left parties are a parody, referendums “put the European Union in danger”, and FMI decides who can present himself to democratic elections. People who protest in streets, are arrested and defamed as antidemocratic terrorists, or marginal “dog-flutes”.

Sorry for my bad English

TT

November 11, 2011

Tarek, when did you travel to southeastern of Turkey, 15-years ago? It is really weird that your friends aren’t allowed to speak Kurdish, when TRT6 (Turkish radio and television institution) exists. This channel is only broadcasting in Kurdish. There are a lot of signs in southeastern of Turkey that are both in Turkish and Kurdish, how come you´ve missed them? Turgut Özal, formar and late Turkish president, had Kurdish origin. Many popular celebrities, politicians and other famous people in Turkey have Kurdish background (and sometimes Kurdish names), which many of them are proud of. I´ve got friends with relatives that can´t speak Turkish, and yet they live in the heart of Turkey. Look up the number of politicians in the Turkish Parliamentary that have Kurdish background, you´ll be shocked. An oppressed ethical group would never have been given these opportunities/rights, right? Oki, this list can be made very long and which proves the contrary of what you are saying. But sadly, yes, some of the things that you/your friends, are describing were true before. And during that period, when Turkey was under military regime, leftist, Kurds or anyone against the regime were oppressed and often jailed…This was THEN. Nowadays the situation is different, actually, if you have time to follow the Turkish news, you´ll notice about a case called “sledgehammer”…you can see it as a ‘payback time’ to the old regime/and the supporters of it, interesting and weird case. And PKK (plus it´s sister organisations and followers) are the only ones, which involves Kurds, that the Turkish army and people are conducting struggle against nowadays. Btw, I hope that you are not supporting PKK? If that´s the case, well the only thing that I can say is that you are naive…
Believe you me when I say that I am not alone with these thoughts/facts among people that have knowledge about this issue and that are not affected by pro-PKK propaganda. I know that you have your ‘heart at the right place’ and feel solidarity with oppressed people. That´s probably why I have followed you for the last 9 months, that plus your sense of humour. But to put an end to this comment, and as you said, that you are not an expert on this issue (nor am I, but I think that I do have some knowledge/facts), you might need to study it more and have a second opinion?

Goodluck tomorrow with the meeting!
Kindly (or should I say angrily)

Tarek Shalaby

November 11, 2011

Shy Girl: Gracias por el apoyo! Nuestra revolucion ha perdido mucha gasolina, pero gracias a vosotros hemos vuelto a creer que podemos llegar a la victoria, sobre todo cuando vuestros gobiernos corruptos intentan impedirnos. Juntos, lucharemos hasta que haya pan, libertad y justicia social en Egipto, en Espana, y en todo el mundo.

Lo de perroflautas me he dejado muriendome de risa! jaja…

Tarek Shalaby

November 11, 2011

TT: I have a lot to say, but this discussion goes beyond the blog post. so I’ll share with you the link that summarizes why a lot of what you said regarding Kurds in Turkey is complete falsehood:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights_of_Kurdish_people_in_Turkey

And just in case you were having any doubts, I do support a free and independent Kurdistan. And since their flag is officially banned in Turkey, I’ll take advantage of free speech on my blog and share it here

Kurdistan

I think we’ll have to agree to disagree, my friend. Thanks for all your support.

Amira

November 13, 2011

Thanks i actually formed my opinion regarding elections after reading this .. No way i am going to participate in such a “Mahzalaa”

dr Tamer Harfoush

November 14, 2011

Totally agree
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Chombey Wemps

November 14, 2011

It’s just ridiculous.
People revolted, a revolution broke out, SCAF took over, detained the revolutionaries and sentenced them to 3, 5, 7, and 12 years in prison, once these revolution voices were in prison, SCAF now wants to have a free and fair election in the name of the revolution.. wtf?

It’s just depressing that the average Egyptian is never enabled to see just how blatant these actions are..

I don’t believe in voting either.. The whole election is a dark joke.. and I feel depressed about the future of the revolution at this point..

Nevsh

November 15, 2011

Teetas, thanks for the post! I think that a couple of months after the elections people will realize that nothing has actually changed…but I do think that opposition parties NEED to make obvious statements about their position in reference to the elections, since that will hold a lot more weight, than a couple of activists boycotting the elections..

HZ: I totally sympathize with your feelings, especially the “some reform with a touch of islamism”

Taha: I’m also mixed about Turkey cause Edrogan’s gov is actually quite scarey…

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