The privatization of fraud

The privatization of fraud

 Egypt’s recently concluded legislative elections did not only end with a landslide victory for the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), having secured 93 percent of the seats in parliament, but also with a resounding defeat for the opposition. How exactly did the opposition fail and to what extent was the NDP responsible?

The strategy of the new NDP leaders, coming into this election, hinged on a plan to bring down specific opposition forces–like the Muslim Brotherhood, and certain independents–while allowing other parties to try their luck in the electoral swamp that was marred by thuggery and vote buying. To carry out this plan, the NDP did two things.

First, it coordinated with security authorities to bring down any Brotherhood candidates, achieving this goal in a sordid and shameless manner that exposed the ruling party’s inability to confront the Brotherhood through politics alone. Although the Brotherhood had erred politically on several counts–by using sectarian slogans and and challenging the idea of a secular state–the NDP, which also has little to offer the Egyptian people politically, still resorted to intimidation tactics to hold the Islamist group down.

Second, the NDP’s Secretary for Organizational Affairs and powerful steel tycoon, Ahmed Ezz, personally targeted of a group of popular opposition leaders, including Hamdeen Sabahi, Alaa Abdel-Moneim, Saad Abboud, Diaa Rashwan, Mustafa Bakry, and Gamal Zahran.

In contrast to the 2005 elections, not only were poor citizens paid to register their votes for the ruling party this year, but many candidates also bribed state officials, including security and electoral authorities, to steer the outcome in their favor.

Thus, what Egyptians witnessed in this election is a phenomenon I call the “privatization of fraud.” Rather than a top-down, centrally-managed plot to steal the elections, the NDP’s victory was the result of an electoral system that was marred by corruption at the very base. This model of privately-managed fraud, initially used by Ezz to target a specific group within opposition, became generalized to any and all of the other candidates.

It was only natural then for ruling party candidates–backed by a regime that has brought the chaos and thuggery of everyday life and the hegemony of capital into the electoral process–to crush the opposition. Opposition parties found it impossible to win against NDP members that abused all of the state’s powers and institutions.

The privatization of fraud came at a terrible price for the Egyptian people. It reflects a much deeper problem in our country–the dissolution of the state itself.

To be fair, some of the more established NDP leaders rejected this blatant exclusion of the opposition, but in the midst of such chaos and corruption these sober voices had very limited sway.

Not only did the NDP exclude the opposition, but in some cases it also excluded its own reputable members, such as former MP Mohammed Afifi whose candidacy application was rejected by the electoral commission. Another victim was former NDP MP and Chairman of the Committee on Transportation, Hamdy El-Tahan, who paid the price for issuing a report blaming the government for the Red Sea ferry disaster in 2006 that claimed 1000 lives. His nomination was rejected by the NDP’s new leaders.

Only some reputable candidates managed to escape this fate and won a seat as party members or as independents. But in every constituency where two or more NDP candidates competed against each other for the same seat, the candidate with more “clout” won.

What occurred in these elections was more than a repressive state using fraud to exclude its political opponents. That would be nothing new as Egypt has a long history of such kinds of political manipulation, practiced by former President Anwar al-Sadat, for example, against politicians who opposed the Camp David Peace Accord in 1979. The fraud, violence and disregard for judicial rulings that Egypt witnessed in these elections was political chaos created by self-serving individuals at the expense of an already crumbling state. It gives us a glimpse into how the final scene in Egypt’s presidential succession drama may unfold.