Simple formula

Simple formula

In the past few hours, the chronic symptoms of our political malaise got worse. It is the same old story, the same miserable ailment that has been taking its toll on Egyptian elections for decades with no sign of remedy in sight.

The familiarity in itself is saddening. The view that unfolds of the elections is pathetic, for it is a view that one can only see in the most backward of nations.

A scene of violence and bloodshed, of tear gas and stones, of protest marches that end up in fierce clashes with the police is the legacy of 30 years of what some people still like to call a golden age of freedom.

In the run-up to elections, the police singled out Muslim Brotherhood candidates who were using such slogans as "Islam is the solution", although court rulings have permitted the use of such slogans. Then, with only a few days to go before Sunday’s voting, the government is clamping down on the entire opposition, Brotherhood members, independents, and the rest of them. With tensions running high, supporters of rival candidates decided to use firearms to settle their differences.


The police had their hands full arresting hundreds of protesters, only to have them released by the district attorneys. No one knows how this sad scene is going to end. One possibility is that those candidates who managed to escape the dragnet would see their supporters arrested on their way to the polling stations.

When government critics say that elections are being held in a climate of intimidation and repression, the ruling party counters by saying that the participation of 5,000 candidates from various political parties and currents is evidence enough of the nation’s confidence in democracy and of its commitment to a culture of participation. But with so many candidates excluded, and on illegal grounds if I may add, what proof do we have of the probity of elections and the neutrality of those organising them?

We’ve seen it all before. Despite all the constitutional and legal amendments, there has been no change in the way the business of elections is conducted. Candidates don’t run because they have a political programme. They don’t run because they feel strongly about something or want to resolve a dire problem. They run because they have the ruling party behind them, and because the ruling party would get local authorities on their side. They run because they have a clan or a tribe behind them. And they run because they have money to buy voters, to bribe them with rice and meat, and cash too sometimes.

The media, for all these reasons, cannot do anything to help. Aside from the scenes of violence, clashes, and arrests aired on foreign television channels, we have nothing. With only few days to go before the polls, we haven’t seen any political debate, and we haven’t seen any discussion between government candidates and those of the opposition. We have no clue as to where the candidates stand on domestic and foreign policies. Each party merely presents us with a well-groomed and well-dressed leader, spouting dreams and painting a rosy picture of his party’s ambitions.

This being the case, one cannot blame the silent majority for staying home. Why go to the polls and risk being maimed or arrested? The ruling party will win, as usual. And the violence, the police intimidation, will remain part of the scene.

The violence is instrumental. It is what keeps the regular voters from going to the polling stations. And the less the voters turn out, the more likely the National Democratic Party will win. Simple, isn’t it?