Koert Debeuf Column

In Bitter Fight, Egyptian Islamists Rig The Elections. (Column)

The Muslim Brothers and the Salafis have three things in common. First, both are in favour of political Islam. Secondly, both Muslim Brothers and Salafis were surprised to win the first elections in Egypt that big. And the two first are the reasons why – thirdly – they deeply hate each other.

The Egyptian elections are organised in three phases. In each phase nine governorates vote for party-lists and for independent candidates in a majority system. The independent candidates need to have an absolute majority in order to be elected, which means a second round in most of the cases. On the elections of 28 November the Freedom and Justice Party of the Muslim Brotherhood had forty percent of the votes, the Salafis a surprising twenty four percent. And this in the most liberal governorates of Egypt.

Now (14-15 December) Egyptians have to vote in nine other – more conservative – governorates. The political battle is not anymore about a Islamic or a liberal state. Now it is clearly a brutal confrontation between the Muslim Brothers and the more extreme Salafis. That would be no problem, at least not a democratic one, if both parties would not use all possible means to gain votes. And if I say all, it means literally all means. I give you some examples of seen and reported frauds.

In Suez a judge (who is controlling the elections) is seen to sign ballot papers for voters, voting for El-Nour, the Salafi-party. Also in Suez, Salafis were convincing people waiting in long rows to vote for them. Activists who were filming this forbidden campaigning have been arrested.
In another polling station in Suez voters were not allowed to put their ballot paper in the ballot box themselves.
In Gerla-Sohag, a huge banner of El-Nour was hanging above the entrance of the polling station.
In Giza (a more liberal area) a polling station has been closed down after there was gunfire around a very calm row of waiting voters.

This is just a limited list of irregularities which in normal democratic elections could only result in new, better organised elections, at least for those areas where the game wasn’t played by the rules. Now it is already clear that in the next few days a long list of electoral frauds will become public. There goes the illusion of so many Egyptians that the most conservative Muslims are also the most honest people. But more important is: what will be the consequence?

A couple of days ago the Egyptian writer, Alaa Al-Aswany, told me the military is using double standards. Where the liberals and revolutionaries have to follow the law scrupulously, the Islamist parties can almost do whatever they want. The liberal side has been accused of foreign money (which they have not) while nothing is done with the proven payment of 300 million Egyptian pounds of someone in the Gulf to an Islamist party. The Minister who made this payment public, told the press he forgot to whom it was paid.

I am not going to say that the liberal parties are losing the elections only because of this kind of Islamist fraud. They are too divided to be strong and their campaign is almost only concentrated on being against the Islamist parties instead of promoting their own plans for the future of Egypt. But if Egypt wants to be called a democracy, the rule of law must apply for all parties. Until now the Supreme Council of Armed Forces prefers the rule that all parties are equal but some are more equal than others.

by Koert Debeuf

FLI Koert Debeuf PortretKoert Debeuf lives in Cairo, Egypt, where he represented the EU parliament’s Alde group for many years. Currently he is Project Coordinator “World Leaders on Transitions towards Democracy” at International IDEA. He is a former advisor of a Belgian prime minister. Reporting from post-revolutionary Egypt, his columns are a window on events in the Arab world. Koert Debeuf is also author of ‘Inside the Arab Revolution’.

For more columns of Koert Debeuf, click here.

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