Commentary

Boycotting Egyptian Elections a Non-Starter, Say Observers

Middle East In Focus

Middle East In Focus

The situation in Egypt continues to remain unstable, as opposition figures call for a boycott of the upcoming parliamentary elections. The threat comes after Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi brought the elections forward, ostensibly as a move to accommodate Christian minority concerns about a possible clash with Easter celebrations. The opposition, however, is not taking the explanation at face value, accusing Morsi of attempting to rig the elections. But most observers, both at home and abroad, are not convinced that a boycott is the best strategy for the opposition. Many suggest that, to be an effective political force, the opposition must rid itself of internal division and reconnect with the grassroots.

Reacting to news of a possible boycott from the opposition, Muslim Brotherhood (MB) spokesman Yasser Mehrez, in a statement published by MB site Ikhan Web, the MB spokesman Yasser Mehrez  rejected any rational for boycotting and “stressed that elections are the only mechanisms of legitimate change in a democracy, that the street-mob approach will not affect any real change, and that the Egyptian people do not wish to see streets crowded and blocked every day....Demands made by the Salvation Front — such as rushing to form a new government to guarantee the integrity of the elections and the dismissal of the new Public Prosecutor — are most absurd. The real guarantee of integrity of the elections is the Egyptian people themselves, with their full awareness and constant defense of their rights.”

The pronouncement of some of the opposition leaders in favor of boycotting the parliamentary elections has also been met with disapproval from media observers both in Egypt and elsewhere. The Khaleej Times editorial, for example, worries that the boycott “is likely to jump start an agitation campaign, which will lead to more uncertainty and chaos....This development suggests that there is a huge trust deficit between the government and the opposition parties, and there isn’t any valve of interaction between them....The NSF’s claim that there can be no elections without a law that guarantees the fairness of the electoral process is debatable….Merely boycotting of polls and the path of dialogue will neither serve party nor national interests.”

Likewise, the Saudi Gazette editorial believes the opposition must seek out a constructive political solution: “It seems insane that the very thing for which politicians of all persuasions struggled and made their revolution is now being rejected....The NSF, unhappy at the president pushing through a mild Islamic constitution, and fearful that the Muslim Brotherhood will be returned to the new parliament with a clear majority this time, are themselves seeking to disrupt the democratic process that they claim to value so highly....Those opposition leaders who genuinely want democracy must address the issues that they have with Morsi in political terms alone.”

While believing that there are genuine reasons for concern regarding the upcoming parliamentary elections, Daily News Egypt’s Farid Zahran is convinced that the “reasons for not participating in the upcoming parliamentary elections are weak and unconvincing, with the exception of those who call for more measures to be taken in order to ensure the transparency of the poll....The option of boycotting the elections should be kept available if necessary guarantees are not made to ensure the free and fair nature of elections, but we should not be tempted to do so merely out of frustration and rage.”

Others question whether the opposition has sufficient cohesion to mount a credible and legitimate political campaign that can convince the Egyptian voters to give them a governing mandate. The Egypt Independent columnist Omar Halawa is not convinced that the opposition members are united in their call for a boycott, given that there are “signs inside some political parties within the NSF that not everybody is satisfied with the boycott calls. Some prefer to contest the race. Such a division in the ranks is problematic for party leaders seeking to satisfy their subordinates and remain committed to the front’s positions....some analysts believe the bloc’s boycott decision will not garner public support, while contesting the elections could mean opposition forces would be forced to abandon closed-room political disagreements, and address the street and citizens’ needs.”

For Ferry Biedermann the problems the opposition faces are obvious. In a recent article on The National, Biedermann points out that “what the period since Egypt's revolution shows is that much-praised media activism, social and otherwise, is no replacement for old-fashioned boots on the ground organization-building....The international community can help, not only by imposing conditions on aid to the Brotherhood-dominated government, as it is doing, but also by imposing conditions on aid to the opposition and the activists. They must unite, organize and reach out to all layers of society. Otherwise they risk becoming irrelevant.”

Finally, the need for the opposition to reconnect with the grassroots as well as the imperative to unite rather than fight is evident in the most recent Gulf Today editorial: “Critics see the NSF as a non-starter since it includes parties that are too politically different to achieve consensus on any action....Those who seek to dilute the Islamists’ political power in post-Mubarak Egypt should get their act together rather than fight among themselves. NSF partners should realize that the Brotherhood’s grassroots support and strong organizational abilities make the Islamists a formidable force that could only be met by a united and cohesive platform where there is no room for dissent.”


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