Threats of boycott, fears of low voter turnout engulf Egypt election

Sisi threatened to seek “another mandate” directly from the Egyptian people.
Sunday 11/02/2018
Troubled waters. Khaled Dawoud, the head of Al-Dostour Party, speaks during a news conference on the Egyptian opposition in Cairo, on January 30. (AFP)
Troubled waters. Khaled Dawoud, the head of Al-Dostour Party, speaks during a news conference on the Egyptian opposition in Cairo, on January 30. (AFP)

CAIRO - Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s defiant warning against disrupting Egypt’s security and stability is being seen as a direct response to calls for a boycott of the country’s upcoming election and fears of low voter turnout.

Speaking at ceremonies inaugurating Egypt’s offshore Zohr gas field, Sisi said: “There will be other measures against anyone who believes he can mess with [Egypt’s] security… I fear no one but God.”

“Whoever wants to mess with Egypt’s security and wreck it must get rid of me first because by God Almighty I will not allow it,” he added.

Sisi threatened to seek “another mandate” directly from the Egyptian people. Analysts said that could lead to millions of Sisi’s supporters taking to the streets to blunt criticisms of the election process.

“There is extreme worry among opposition figures who think the noose is being tightened around them,” said Khaled Dawoud, the head of the opposition Al-Dostour Party. “We think the worst can happen in the coming few days.”

Al-Dostour is part of the Civil Democratic Movement (CDM), a coalition of liberal and left-wing parties that has explicitly called for a boycott of the election. The Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the Socialist Popular Alliance Party and the Nasserist Karama Current, other members of the CDM, have backed the boycott.

The “Stay at Home” campaign requested that voters remain at home during the March 26-28 vote and participate in a nationwide strike.

The CDM described Sisi’s comments as an attempt “to spread fear among Egyptian voters… [and] undermine the integrity of the electoral competition.”

“Clearing the political space of candidates in the name of preserving security is unconstitutional and does not promote security,” the CDM statement added.

Many well-known political figures have backed the campaign, including former presidential hopefuls Khalid Ali, a human rights lawyer, and former MP Mohamed Anwar Sadat.

Only one candidate will be running against Sisi. Moussa Mostafa Moussa, the chairman of the centrist El-Ghad Party, was a Sisi supporter before deciding to run for president.

The call for boycotting the vote came a day after the deadline passed for submitting applications to file as a candidate in the presidential election.

Many criticised the boycott campaign, particularly considering the involvement of Ali and Sadat, who withdrew from the election after saying it was difficult to meet the requirements to register. Presidential candidates must file the endorsements of at least 20 MPs or 25,000 citizens from at least 15 governorates, with at least 1,000 endorsements from each governorate.

“Some political forces, both inside and outside Egypt, want to destroy this country,” said Tarek Fahmi, a political science professor at Cairo University, who is a member of Sisi’s presidential campaign team. “This is why the president says he would seek public approval to take measures to prevent this,” Fahmi said.

In July 2013, Sisi, then minister of defence, asked for a “popular mandate” to take measures against what he described as “potential terrorism.” Millions of Egyptians took to the streets, resulting in the ouster of Islamist President Muhammad Morsi. Sisi’s comments that he could seek “another mandate” were viewed as a reference to those events.

“We have hopes that the measures the president talks about do not take us to yet a higher level of repression,” Dawoud said.

A CDM statement declared: “We affirm that states are not run by mandates and the mobilisation of supporters in orchestrated gatherings but rather by constitutions and respect for freedoms.”

Sisi explicitly called for high voter turnout in the election to counter appearances of voter apathy.

The CDM’s boycott call, which could result in historic low voter turnout in a post-January 25 revolution election, has urged some members of parliament to act.

MP Mohamed Abdel Azeem said the boycott calls could cause international embarrassment for Egypt. “This is why some action must be taken to prevent this boycott from happening,” he said. “This action can be a legislative one.”

Before the 2014 presidential vote, judges overseeing the electoral process threatened to fine voters who failed to show up at polling stations. Still, voter turnout was just 47.5% of Egypt’s 54 million registered voters, the Supreme Election Committee said.

This year, 58 million voters have the right to vote in the presidential election but, with Sisi’s re-election almost guaranteed, there is a sense that voter turnout could be lower.

This is why people have started to act, including pro-Sisi lawyers who have lodged legal complaints against opposition figures.

A complaint was filed in the northern coastal city of Alexandria accusing the opposition of inciting the public against the Egyptian state, spreading frustration among the public and scaring investors away.

“I expect the prosecution to summon us for interrogation on the charges levelled against us in these complaints,” Dawoud said. “We are not manipulating the public but we think the election will be a mere show.”