Egypt presidential vote: To boycott, or to spoil?By DALLIA MONIEM in Cairo | Saturday, June 16 2012 at 10:12
Egypt's first democratically contested presidential election has thrown up the most unlikely of scenarios – vote for an Islamist or for a stalwart of the old regime.
The two candidates gunning for the presidency have hit the campaign road hard over the last few days ahead of the June 16 and 17 runoff, but there's a growing number of voters who aren't enamoured with either choice on offer: Ahmed Shafiq the old guard and remnant of the past regime or Mohammed Mursi the Muslim Brotherhood candidate.
Turn out for the first round of elections saw less then half of the country's 50 million eligible voters cast their ballot, resulting in both Mursi and Shafiq each winning less than a quarter of the votes cast. No wonder enthusiasm for the run-off has considerably waned.
To many, this is no longer an issue of being stuck between a rock and a hard place but more of a case of choosing “which one of the two devils”.
But there is a third option, and one that's been growing in popularity every day – the choice to boycott or invalidate one's vote.
There are two distinct camps behind this movement: those calling for a boycott, the Muqate'oon, who believe by not voting the election's legitimacy will be called into question, and those calling for people to annull their votes, the Mubteloon, thereby guaranteeing fewer chances of fraud.
Following the High Constitutional Court's (HCC) controversial decisions on Thursday, the calls to boycott the ballots have only gotten louder and angrier; signalling people's general sense of disenfranchisement with both the electoral choices and with the political malaise the country is now in.
The decision to boycott or annul ones vote is an easy one for many: to give their vote to Mursi would give the Muslim Brotherhood unprecedented powers as they would control all branches of government and would undoubtedly introduce a form of political Islamisation many do not want to see implemented.
Further, the Islamist party is not trusted by the liberals, leftists and revolutionaries who feel it throws its support when its needs are best served but will abandon ship if it feels it has nothing to gain as witnessed in the past when protestors clashed with state security forces and the Muslim Brotherhood refused to join preferring to issue statements instead.
As one Egyptian activist stated “The Muslim Brotherhood collaborated with Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), denounced strikes and Tahrir protests, for a year...all for a parliament that was swept away in one day.”
Shafiq on the other hand is seen as a crony of the past regime; a military man who will suppress the protest movement and one who has yet to face accountability over the infamous Battle of the Camel, a violent and deadly incident orchestrated during his short-lived tenure as Prime Minister in Hosni Mubarak's final days, a move widely acknowledged as an attempt to appease the Tahrir protestors.
More importantly, Shafiq is the ruling military's pick which many see as giving the green light to a return to the days of old when the police and security services ran amok and utilised repressive tactics with impunity to quieten any dissent.
In an interview with the Financial Times, boycott campaigner Salma Said insisted that “abstaining will weaken the election and its result.”
She runs a collective of “citizen journalists” documenting human rights abuses by the police and the ruling military and believes that “participation will strengthen the president, who at all events will come to repress the revolution and clamp down on street action.” It is a view shared by many who believe both Mursi and Shafiq are one and the same regardless of what doctrine they preach.
To choose one or the other is not a dilemma to many because simply it's a no-go option as there is a strong, deep seated belief to do so is a “betrayal of the revolution, of those who lost their lives so we could have this moment, and those who continue to fight for us to enjoy this opportunity we've been given and which we've never had before,” said one individual who will invalidate their ballot come election day.
Hassan, a taxi driver echoed the sentiment saying “I see no difference between the two. I don't want the Islamists in power and I don't want us to go back to being a police state which will be the case if Shafiq wins. Either I won't vote or I will spoil my vote. This is the only option we have and we should exercise it.”
Ahmed, an Upper Egyptian doorman opted for the Muslim Brotherhood in the first round but won't cast his vote in the second round: "they're all rubbish and taking the country downhill," he said.
The April 6 Youth Movement (Democratic Front) has already declared its intention to boycott the election runoff saying there was no way they would back Shafiq as "instead of the Mubarak regime being held accountable for the crimes it committed against the Egyptian people, it is trying to find its way back into the presidency."
The renowned novelist and activist Alaa Al-Aswany joined the boycott campaign saying that Shafiq should be excluded on the basis of vote rigging and accused “the ruling military council of protecting Shafiq and pushing him to office to secure the interests of 'Mubarak's thieves and drain the revolution'."
Writing in the Huffington Post Al-Aswany said: “The second round is illegitimate and will be rigged, just as the first round was rigged, in order to ensure that Shafiq takes the presidency. If Egyptians object to the fraud after Shafik takes office they will be violently suppressed...On Election Day I will go and spoil my ballot paper. If many people spoil their ballot papers, it will send a powerful message that the elections are not valid...What legitimacy will the president have if the number of invalid votes is greater than the number of votes in his favour?”
Sense of bitterness
Hamdeen Sabahi, the surprise candidate who came third in the first round of voting, also added his voice to the boycott movement by announcing that his party would not add their voters voice in the run-offs.
But not everyone is on the boycott bandwagon. The optimism and euphoria felt by millions in the wake of Mubarak's ouster has been chipped away at bit by bit and replaced with a sense of bitterness at how things have turned out and at the state of affairs with a Constituent Assembly dominated by Islamists, a presidential choice that no one envisioned nor wanted and a feeling that regardless of the outcome of the elections there will be fresh outbreaks of unrest by those not happy with either result.
Hence many believe political stability is required in order for the new president and his cabinet to embark on re-building the country and the economy after a tumultuous 16 months.
What will happen on the weekend of June 16 and 17 will go a long way to signalling the political direction Egypt will take.
Will the army continue to have a role and say in the running of the country? Will the protesters, activists and revolutionaries go back to Tahrir if it does end up being a Shafiq-SCAF political combo?
The picture is definitely not clear nor is it anywhere near completion.
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