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Foreign Coverage Paints Gloomy Picture of Egypt’s Elections

October 20, 2015
An Egyptian woman casts her ballot paper during the second day of presidential elections at a polling station in Heliopolis, 2014. Credit: EPA/KHALED ELFIQI

By Aswat Masriya

A “meaningless” election featuring a “low turnout” signalled the beginning of an Arab Winter and prompted “sarcasm and mockery,” international media outlets said of Egypt’s legislative elections, just as authorities accused them of attempting to tarnish the country’s image.

Egyptians have voted inside Egypt and abroad from Saturday to Monday, in the first of two phases which end in November.

The New York Times said there was “never much suspense” about the elections, noting that the voting system put in place by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi “seemed designed to virtually eliminate policy debate or ideological competition.”

The Times added that “most of the candidates are local notables without known ideologies or platforms.”

Similar to the Time’s take on the elections, Bloomberg View proposed that the, “the election is structurally identical to the sorry affairs in dictatorships before the Arab Spring” explaining that “the point of the vote is simply to show that the government can engage in the charade of democracy.”

Egypt’s “meaningless” elections “set the scene perfectly” for an Arab Winter, Noah Feldman wrote.

However, the Egyptian government was quick to defend the poll and the political scene surrounding it.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said in a statement late on Monday that Western media’s attempts to “to jump to conclusions regarding the results and significance of the elections before the end of the first day … to meet publication deadlines, indicates these reports’ inaccuracy.”

“Anyone with a basic knowledge of Egypt’s political landscape should know that this year’s parliamentary elections are subject to many complex factors,” said Abu Zeid, adding that these factors are linked to “electoral fatigue experienced by Egyptians after participating in eight polls in four years” and the “absence of the polarisation that marred” previous elections.

Abu Zeid took the foreign media coverage to task for “implying that Egypt’s political opposition is absent because the terrorist Brotherhood is not participating,” which he says demonstrates this media’s “lack of credibility.”

Indeed this was the first parliamentary race to be held in three decades with the complete absence of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was designated a “terrorist organization” only months after the military removed Islamist President Mohamed Mursi from power one year into his term following protests against his rule.

But Egyptians seemed to be refusing to play along in what Bloomberg View described as a “familiar farce.”

The voter turnout on the first day of voting inside Egypt was 2.27 percent by late afternoon according to the Supreme Electoral Commission. Prime Minister Sherif Ismail claimed the turnout was between 15 and 16 percent by the end of the first day, still a far cry from the 54 percent showing recorded in the 2012 elections, the first to be held after the 2011 uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.

Headlines on Sunday and Monday, both in the Egyptian and the international press noted a “low turnout” and reported on measures taken by the government to “boost” participation.

The Financial Times said the authorities were “scrambling to increase turnout.”

The BBC ran a story on “Egypt’s melancholy” and described the way people expressed online “ridicule and frustration” at the elections, through the hashtag “#no_one_went,” adding that the low turnout prompted “sarcasm and mockery.”

But spokesman Abu Zeid said reports linking the turnout to the “extent of popular support for Egypt’s leadership and the credibility of its democratic transition, reflect another failed attempt to tarnish Egypt’s image.”

He added that “these media outlets have consistently disregarded all positive developments in Egypt,” without specifying which media outlets he was referring to.

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