Egypt: when low voter turnout is probably OK

Tomorrow, Egyptians will go to the polls on day three of their two-day presidential election, because in the Glorious Sisi Era, the numbers 2 and 3 are interchangeable. The coronation election of President-for-life Sisi was expected to right Egypt’s ship of state after the troubles of the past three years or so, setting Egypt back on the path it was on before everybody got all crazy and started demanding that the government take steps toward democracy. Make no mistake, this free and fair exercise in popular sovereignty was inevitably going to lead to the election of the recently retired Field Marshal, who shored up his support in advance of the campaign through such tried and true democratic techniques as outlawing the opposition and also shooting the opposition. As it turns out though, President Sisi isn’t exactly being swept into office on a tidal wave of popular sentiment.

The reason why Egyptian authorities have extended voting through tomorrow, when it was supposed to end today, is because, go figure, nobody decided to show up to vote for the military strongman over his patsy opponent:

After Sisi called for record voter participation, low turnout would be seen at home and abroad as a setback for the field marshal who toppled Egypt’s first freely elected leader, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi.

The two-day vote was originally due to conclude on Tuesday at 10 p.m. (1900 GMT) but was extended until Wednesday to allow the “greatest number possible” to vote, state media reported.

Sisi faces only one challenger in the election: the leftist Hamdeen Sabahi, who came third in a 2012 vote won by Mursi and was seen as a long-shot in the race against an army man who became popular after ending Mursi’s divisive year in office.

The government isn’t releasing any turnout figures for obvious reasons, but the campaign team for Sisi’s opponent, Hamdeen Sabahi, estimated around 10% to 15%, and an NGO called the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights echoed that figure. It appears that the Egyptian government and its co-opted religious leaders at al-Azhar and in the Coptic Church are putting on a full-court press to shame people into turning out and voting, lest Sisi’s reign get off to a really ignominious start. If it weren’t for the couple thousand dead bodies Sisi has dropped along his path to the presidency, this turn of events would be pretty comical.

Why the low turnout? Well, there are a few theories. For one thing, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, who may not be as numerous as they once were but still can’t be dismissed out of hand, presumably just boycotted the whole thing. Also, Sisi ran a campaign almost completely devoid of substance (he never even made any public appearances, ostensibly because of the security risk), so his whole platform was about what a transcendent figure Sisi was personally. It’s possible that Egyptian voters like to decide that whole “transcendent figure” thing for themselves, and, still struggling under the same wrecked economy that helped to take down both Mubarak and Morsi, actually wanted to hear something about how Sisi would govern once elected. Maybe they also got sick of watching the electoral process play out like a slow-moving coronation, or got tired of Sisi continually referring to himself as their father.

There are other possibilities as well. What little substance there was in Sisi’s campaign got to sounding an awful lot like the “times are tough, so we need to tighten our belts, and by ‘we’ I mean ‘people who aren’t me'” brand of austerity that always gets the crowds so excited in places like Greece. And, of course, there’s always the possibility that heavy-handed government repression and the instability that sort of thing brings with it just plain turned people off to the whole thing. Meet the new boss, and all that.

Whatever the explanation, Sisi is heading for a real embarrassment no matter how long the Egyptian government extends the voting period. And, you know, that’s probably just alright.

Glorious Sisi, cruising the streets of Cairo in search of anybody he can Shanghai into voting for him.
Glorious Sisi, cruising the streets of Cairo in search of anybody he can Shanghai into voting for him.

Author: DWD

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