Egypt’s 2010 Elections – Fraud, Oppression and Hope for Change
|Wednesday, December 15,2010 14:57|
Eygpt’s 2010 parliamentary elections will go down in history as a blatant fraud and crime against democracy and the people it represents. The elections were a manifestation of tyranny and the extent to which a regime will oppress its own people to retain power – even at the cost of its own nation. On the other hand, the varied responses to the elections are also a reflection of people who care deeply about removing corruption, stopping the hand of the tyrant and bringing about positive and peaceful change. This work provides relevant details about the government crack down against its opposition, the role of various government bodies in the corruption of the polls, the results and what we can expect in the future.
Egypt’s 2010 Parliamentary Elections
Government Crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood Campaigns, Members and Supporters
The landslide victory by the Egyptian regime was pre-meditated. The election took place amid a series of planned violent acts that dispersed opposition campaigns, and the arrest of more than 1400 MB members and supporters as well as intimidation against voters. Human Rights Watch predicted that it was unlikely that the elections would be fair as the run up to the election was fraught with electoral violations. The whole process was completely pointless.
The Muslim Brotherhood – the best organized and respected opposition group in Egypt – faced great hardship during the pre-election period. The extent of violations that took place gave Egyptians a glimpse of what is to be expected next year during the Presidential elections.
The government laid claim to hundreds of MB political activists, claiming the arrests were justified because of a ban on religious political groups. Nevertheless, the Muslim Brotherhood is adamant that it will continue to use its longstanding motto ‘Islam Is the Solution’. Organizing many charities, and a great deal of health care throughout Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is trusted, respected and well-supported.
The regime continued to ‘squeeze’ the Muslim Brotherhood hoping it would lose the seats it gained in the 2005 elections and also hoping that the use of repression would weaken the Brotherhood. However, the government’s plans backfired and their brutal tactics actually engendered more sympathy and support for the MB.
The government disqualified some Brotherhood candidates outright. Most were technically reinstated by court orders, but the Brotherhood says the government has kept their names off the ballot.
All this happened while the US – pushing for democracy across the Arab world – could do nothing more than show lame ‘concern’ and ‘disappointment’ in the way the polls were conducted. With election monitors shut out of polling booths, the regime was free to conduct ballot box stuffing and intimidate as they chose, leaving hard-working campaigners feeling angry and frustrated. The government was adamant that it would not allow a repeat performance of the 2005 election where the Brotherhood secured a fifth of the seats in parliament. In an attempt to do just that, Egypt rejected US and other international calls for foreign election observers saying it violated their sovereignty.
Over 2000 applications were made to the government for election observers, but none were approved, so in response a huge network of volunteers made use of the internet to map and document Egyptian election irregularities. The High Elections Commission website has a facility for visitors to click on a link for the role of ‘Civil Society and Observers’ but throughout the run up to elections the page read ‘under construction’.
The Brotherhood achieved more success in 2005 as it was permitted to campaign more freely and prior to the election, no Brotherhood political activist was imprisoned, even though hundreds had been temporarily detained in the weeks before the poll. Seeing the Brotherhood’s success during the first round, the regime wanted to prevent further success in the second and third rounds, so they used riot police and thugs wielding machetes and sticks to keep Brotherhood supporters away from polling booths while they brought in their own supporters. Despite the violations, the Brotherhood still took 20% of parliament; its best-ever result.
The 2010 elections – though undermined by similar electoral violations – witnessed unprecedented vote rigging and ballot box stuffing that left Egyptian voters without will, without a voice and without a choice. The MB obtained zero seats in parliament despite being the most popular and respected opposition in the country. It was a fierce battle, with rampaging crowds, frustrated MB supporters, determined candidates and brutal security officers and hired thugs. The number of candidates hit an unprecedented 5,120, up from 4,243 in 2005 and 4,250 in the 2000 election. The candidates competed for 508 parliamentary seats, 64 of them reserved for women.
The Higher Elections Commission (HEC), the semi judicial body in charge of supervising the polls, looked on as vote rigging and other such violations took place. Angry citizens could do nothing but protest and report government crimes.
Posters were placed in MB strongholds during the campaigns depicting candidates as violent, preaching blind compliance, and oppression. In many cases the posters were placed immediately under the MB’s publicity posters and put next to NDP posters.
The NDP also launched a wide-scale publicity campaign accusing the Brotherhood of violating the constitution and working to transform Egypt into a religious state. These and other such scare-tactics did little to turn people away from the MB and in fact, further disabled the government’s credibility.
In a further attempt to strike the MB out of their way, the NDP filed a complaint with the Attorney General Office hoping it will lead to Brotherhood candidates being cancelled after they are voted into parliament.
During the campaign period mass arrests took place in Alexandria – an MB stronghold – with security forces seeking to suppress the Brotherhood’s chances of winning the quota seat there. Despite the intimidation, the MB continued to participate, aware that with the increasing suppression change will come. The women’s quota is particularly important as female candidates campaign to defend women’s issues.
The Independent Coalition for Elections’ Observation concluded that the 2010 parliamentary elections were a ‘political and moral catastrophe’ – forging the national will - and recommended that Mubarak use his powers to dissolve parliament.
But the government had begun to implement its strategy to monopolize the parliamentary elections well before Election Day. The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CHIRS) noted that months before Election Day the government tightened their grip on the media and marginalized them from the electoral process, stopping live coverage, rejecting international monitoring and refusing civil society monitoring, giving them limited permits. Video footage was made to document pre-electoral and electoral violations that took place across Egypt. This included an NDP member attacking candidates, footage of the head of a polling station taking a bribe, the use of police dogs to threaten MB supporters, NDP candidates using public institutions for their electoral campaigns and of course, arrests of people supporting the Brotherhood. There were also reports of hashish being handed out to NDP supporters. Most of the blame for these violations fell on the Higher Elections Commission (HEC) for not performing its duties properly, which included lack of respect for rulings of the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC). Clearly this puts the legitimacy of the new parliament in doubt.
In unprecedented examples of violations against human rights and civil liberties, the ruling regime’s state security kidnapped Magdy Ashour, an MB candidate, forcing him to continue his campaign even though the MB had officially withdrawn from the runoffs, leaving the NDP in an awkward position as all the opposition had withdrawn.
Due to the blatant and widespread fraud before and during the elections in favour of the ruling party, the Brotherhood and Wafd pulled out from the elections two days after the November 28 vote.
Final results showed that government’s NDP got over 90% of seats while the opposition appears to have only 4%. New elections are being called for.
Unprecedented Fraud in Egypt’s 2010 Parliamentary Elections
Government sponsored violence and widespread fraud were expected by both Egyptian and international observers but nothing could prepare them for the unprecedented rigging and ballot box stuffing that went on. The regime used thugs to intimidate voters, journalists, observers and candidate representatives even if they held official accreditation.
With ballot box stuffing down to a fine art, the regime managed to prevent even a single MB candidate from obtaining a seat in parliament. To highlight the pervasive and blatant fraud of the 2010 elections, it is important to note that although the 2005 polls were also characterized by violence and fraud the MB still obtained a fifth of the seats in parliament. The Muslim Brotherhood decided that to continue in the runoffs would endorse the fraud, so they, and the Wafd party, decided to boycott the second round. The run-off left 283 seats in contention, but the undecided seats all involved candidates from the NDP, assuring a resounding victory for the party.
The only one disputing the blatant fraud that characterized the 2010 Egyptian parliamentary elections was the government’s NDP. It was a matter of the NDP vs the NDP. Even journalists were prevented from covering the elections which included the government’s irregularities that occurred during the first and second rounds of the elections. Reporters without Borders drew up a list of cases of abusive behaviour towards journalists at the hands of NDP members and supports that occurred with the knowledge and sanction of the police, such as the case of reporters and photographers being attacked while photographing a voting station in Dokki that was closed just two hours after the polls began. Women supporting the NDP were seen attacking female voters and journalists while police looked on. At other times journalists were detained for varying periods of time, after trying to cover the elections.
The decision of the Muslim Brotherhood – which held 88 seats in the outgoing parliament – and the Wafd party to boycott the runoffs was based on protest to the blatant fraud of the elections. Even though the government’s High Election Commission (HEC) assured Egyptians that the ‘transgressions’ did not undermine the integrity of the first round results, human rights groups criticized the reforms that reduced the independence of the HEC. The embarrassingly overwhelming victory of Mubarak’s NDP is proof enough for many that the fraud of the elections was both pre-determined and implemented by the government.
However, despite feeling itself now firmly in control, the NDP has lost much of its remaining credibility. Flaunting itself to the world as a vibrant democracy, the Egyptian government overstepped itself and gave the popular Muslim Brotherhood zero seats. Bitter strife set in to the NDP as rival candidates within the same party vied for the same seat in many areas. At the same time, secular opposition parties were squeezed out and the MB complained that their supporters were not even allowed to vote in many places.
Egyptians have been demoralized by the elections and some have turned to rage as the possibility for change seems almost impossible. Anger erupted as peaceful rallies and demonstrations turned to nothing but police violence and brutality. The bitterness engendered by the elections is far-reaching as many see the government’s tactics as indicative of what to expect in the presidential elections in 2011.
With Mubarak set to run for another six-year term the people see that the regime seeks to stem human development and has only made a show of being a democracy. At least for now, the reins of political power seem certain to remain in the same hands.
The Role of the Higher Electoral Commission in Egypt’s 2010 Elections Debacle
The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies issued a statement criticizing the High Elections Commission (HEC), describing its actions before the election as somewhere “between timid silence and speaking on behalf of the Interior Ministry.” The statement specifically denounced the failure of the HEC to “implement all Administrative Court orders to reinstate candidates rejected by the security directorates.”
The NDP endorses the Higher Electoral Commission (HEC) commending it as a neutral body capable of performing its functions of overseeing the elections. However, analysis of the HEC has shown that it is not independent and only functions intermittently and has limited legal authority, funding and manpower. Mainly, its function is to announce the results of the election but it does not have the means to manage or supervise them.
At the same time, the government has instigated a campaign to repress supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, along with intimidation of the media, civil society and human rights groups who attempted to monitor the elections. Powerless, the HEC was unable to utter a single word against what was obviously a far cry from free and fair elections as espoused by the government.
In March 2007, the government made an amendment to the Egyptian constitution, transferring parliamentary election oversight away from the judiciary to ‘an independent, neutral commission’. The people to head the commission were chosen by parliament which is monopolized by the NDP. There is a rapid turnover in the HEC’s leadership which has greatly affected its ability to function properly.
For all intents and purposes, the HEC is supposed to determine the polling stations and vote counting centers, lay down rules for preparing voter lists – whereas the Ministry of Interior actually does this – make proposals for electoral district boundaries and set rules that regulate campaigning, however, it has no power over the Ministry of Information which can impose its own rules on the media. The HEC is also supposed to receive and investigate reports and complaints. Unfortunately, the HEC lacks both the human and financial resources to undertake these tasks.
For example, the HEC announced that campaigning could not start before November 15 but was not able to stop several ministers and candidates from openly campaigning well before that date. The HEC seems to have relinquished whatever power it had to enforce these rules to the state security forces. This is the same power that should have been handed to local human rights organizations.
According to reports by human rights groups, the Ministry of Interior dominated the process of registering candidates and effectively denied dozens of nomination requests, particularly from the Muslim Brotherhood. Some of these candidates complained to the administrative court and won rulings in their favour but until now the Ministry of Interior has failed to carry out the rulings and has managed to do so by appealing to other courts to delay the process.
A struggle is now emerging between the HEC and the Ministry of Interior on such issues.
The Hec also capped campaign spending at $35,000 but this limit was passed by some candidates even before the campaigning officially began. Despite berating the Muslim Brotherhood for campaigning under the slogan ‘Islam Is the Solution’, the HEC allowed top NDP candidates to campaign in places of worship which are legally off-limits.
Even the chairman of the HEC – expressing impotence, grief, regret, and anguish - noted that the Commission is incapable of playing a vital role, “as it is the Interior Ministry that prepares the voter rolls and sets the polling centers” and “the Justice Ministry prepares the list of judges who will head the general commissions.” The HEC chairman himself could not promise that the elections would be fair, as this “depends on the government’s intentions,” meaning that the HEC’s hands would be tied if the government had bad intentions. The chairman also noted that he had no alternative but government bureaucrats to staff the Commission.
Shocking Election Results – Where Do We Go from Here?
Despite predicting the Egyptian government’s vote rigging in the 2010 parliamentary elections, there was an element of shock when the results eventually came in. The Muslim Brotherhood’s seats in parliament fell from 88 to zero. Election watchers at home and abroad were not expecting the apparent rigging to be so brazen and obviously in favour of the NDP.
The elements that would ensure proper democracy including presidential term limits used to be in the constitution but were removed. The Muslim Brotherhood and Dr. El-Baradei want those limits reinstated in the constitution. Also, eligibility to get on the presidential ballot in Egypt needs to be loosened up a bit as they are at present too rigid and have been established to prevent any effective competition to the ruling party.
The Independent Coalition for Elections stated that the 2010 elections were a "political and moral catastrophe". Noting that the violations of this year’s parliamentary elections were not random – were so huge that they nullified the electoral process - and could not be disregarded, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies made the following recommendations to President Mubarak:
· President Mubarak should use his constitutional powers to dissolve the new parliament.
· President Mubarak should issue a decision to amend the law on the exercise of political participation before calling for new parliamentary elections to ensure transparency.
· An investigative body composed of independent entities should be formed to investigate events that happened before and during the elections.
· The constitution should be amended to permit judicial supervision of elections, giving the court of cessation the right to judge the fairness of the electoral process.
The Coalition was formed to monitor this year's elections, and what they finally reported was the "forging of national will" and the "natural result of the government's actions for the last two months", referring to crack downs on the media and intimidating candidates, marginalizing the Muslim Brotherhood, stopping live coverage, rejecting international monitoring, and even refusing civil society monitoring and giving them limited permits. The Coalition also blamed many of the violations on the lack of judicial supervision and the fact that the Higher Elections Commission (HEC) did not, or was not able to, perform its duties properly. The Coalition noted that one of the biggest violations was the lack of respect for the rulings of the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC). All in all, this raises questions about the legitimacy of the parliament. The Coalition was hopeful that if they take their cases to the Supreme Constitutional Court, it will most likely rule that the elections are null.
After the unprecedented fraudulent elections of 2010 what can we expect in the future? The current atmosphere of intense competition is likely to lead to outbreaks of violence. Also, intimidation of voters by security forces and hired thugs could well have an affect on voter turnout, making people afraid to venture out to vote. But most of all, this year’s parliamentary election has shaped the political scene for the presidential election in 2011 because only political parties that won seats in the People’s Assembly can nominate a presidential candidate. So, after Mubarak’s antics before and during the elections, the NDP has now limited the pool of presidential contenders.
Mubarak is the recipient of mega-dollars from the US and on the surface Egypt and the US have a good relationship, but Egypt does not like to be criticized and Mubarak’s response to the State Department affirming US commitment to free and fair elections in Egypt, provoked a diplomatic ‘mind your own business’ from Egyptian officials who strongly oppose external interference in the country’s domestic political affairs. The Obama administration now has to clarify its support for political reform in Egypt as the presidential election approaches and the inevitable question about political succession must be raised.
The neutrality of the High Election Commission (HEC) is also called to question. The Commission has a number of responsibilities which include approving the registration of candidates as well as accrediting election monitors. Working hand in hand with the Ministry of Interior and at the bid of the regime, its credibility is doubtful. The HEC is partially appointed by the People’s Assembly and it inevitably reflects the preferences of the NDP. The elections this year went on without the watchful eyes of supervising judges, whose role was vital in the 2005 elections, meaning that voting and counting procedures were not closely scrutinized.
Both at home and abroad the election results were seen as a clear step away from democracy. It was even seen as an invitation to radicalization by the growing opposition as peaceful measures are commonly seen by the masses as ‘not paying off’. Moreover, the age and health of 82-year-old Mubarak casts doubt on his ability to remain in office. The State Department finally made its lame statement concerning the blatant vote rigging that got Mubarak’s NDP back into power, saying the US was ‘worried’ and the Egyptian elections gave them ‘cause for concern’. But when it came to diplomatic relations in a sensitive region and maintaining the people’s trust by committing to democracy, diplomacy won out and the people came second.
The US, the same country that invades nations to impose democracy, reacted feebly in the face of its favourite Arab dictatorship. Egypt receives $1.5 billion in annual aid and yet is permitted to make a mockery of democratic rights. It could be said that the Obama administration is thoroughly intimidated by Hosni Mubarak, when the real issue is who or what will succeed him.
It is not sure whether the divisions in the NDP are ideological or not. There is some who are loyal to President Mubarak, and others who believe it is time for his son, Gamal, to take over. Others believe divisions are based on struggles over obtaining the spoils available for members of parliament. This may not affect the lives of ordinary Egyptians but everyone is looking ahead to next year’s presidential elections, wondering if Mubarak will stand for re-election or go the way of succession. The outcome of the elections reinforces the idea that Mubarak will seek to continue in power. But if a political party does not even have the discipline to conduct proper parliamentary elections, how can they be trusted to handle the complicated matter of handing over power to a successor who is controversial within the government and in the country as a whole?
Why is the US wary of upsetting Egypt despite its obvious electoral fraud? Egypt is an important ally for the US and was once a leader of the Arab world, so its elections have broad implications for the bilateral relationship and US interests in the region.
The US wants to continue to work with the Egyptian government on issues like regional peace, stability, military issues, and counterterrorism, but the US is morally bound to support Egyptian demands for improved human rights and greater political freedom.
Since the 1970s, the US and Egypt have had diplomatic, military, and strategic cooperation to promote peace and stability in the Middle East, while at the same time, Egypt has been the recipient of annual aid with the US devoting tens of billions of dollars over the last 30 years to promote the economic development of Egypt, and modernizing the Egyptian military.
In the last ten years or so, the US has also taken an interest in developing the Egyptian political system and human rights. There have been increasing calls from Egyptian society for political reform and human rights improvements. The US sees this type of progress as directly linked to Egypt’s economic prosperity.
In May 2010, the Obama administration protested when the Egyptian regime renewed the state of emergency, which has been in effect since 1981 and which significantly curbs civil liberties inside Egypt. Instead of keeping his promise to lift it, President Mubarak chose to renew it instead, and the Obama administration started taking an increased interest, raising issues related to human rights and free elections during Mubarak’s visit to the US in September 2010.
However, on the political front, it is the everyday Egyptians who will determine the reform and democratization in Egypt because the US is an outside actor despite its significant influence.
If the US does not clearly state it support of democratization and improved human rights in Egypt, then Egyptians may well assume that the US stands against reform and stands with a government that wants to inhibit it. This may be a point where radicalization will take place as people realize there is no one to turn to in order to address their grievances. The US can be more effective by supporting the demands of Egyptian civil society and not trying to impose their own list of demands. The Muslim Brotherhood and other peaceful opposition movements are asking for certain changes in the law, the constitution, and in practice, and the US can affirm its assistance to programs supporting these sort of demands.
The 2010 elections is a critical time in Egypt’s political history and in US–Egyptian relations. Mubarak’s 30-year dictatorship is most likely drawing to a close, and there is rising discontent with the government, as the Egyptian society expresses itself in a variety of ways. There is a rising opposition movement in Egypt that is strengthening day by day and is acting more cohesively than it has in the past.