Written by Azza Radwan Sedky
Busted! I am, that is. I predicted that an unprecedented number of voters would go to the polls to elect the next Egyptian president. Sisi, himself, had hoped for 40 million voters saying that he would do wonders if so many Egyptians supported him. I went along the same vision.
But other than the number of voters, which was off, I was right in all my predictions. The votes were around the 47% mark of over 50 million voters. However, approximately 23 million voted Sisi in— 95% to be exact; the spoilt ballets and Sabahi divvied up the remaining 5%. To make a comparison, the turnout in 2012 was 52.5% of eligible voters, but Morsi squeaked in with a 51.7%. In numbers that translates to approximately 13 million Egyptian voters.
Egyptians danced and ululated their way into and out of polling stations parading their dipped-in-red-phosphoric-ink fingers. No inhibitions, no holding back—simply genuine feelings of a people who have finally gotten what they wanted.
But the world doesn’t seem to see eye to eye with Egyptians. Observers and western journalists worked against this tidal wave of joy.
At certain periods of the day, in particular around noon and late afternoon, the polls seemed empty. Some hailed this as proof that Sisi had lost his following and that Egyptians aren’t interested in the race.
These folks didn’t’ get it right. First, voters preferred casting their votes in the early morning or the late evening to avoid the heat; it was 42 degrees on May 28. Besides, the Election Committee had opened a few thousand more polling stations, so the line-ups didn’t seem as long.
But the Election Committee took it upon itself to add an extra voting day: May 29th. Both candidates complained, but the Committee went ahead with its decision anyway.
This change gave western media an even better opportunity to criticize. It had a field day with the turnout, the observers’ comments, and the elections in general. The headline to David Kirkpatrick’s pieces in the NY Times read: “International Observers Find Egypt’s Presidential Election Fell Short of Standards,” “Egypt Scrambles to Raise Turnout in Presidential Vote,” and “In Egyptian Town, Cheers for Sisi but Murmurs of Discontent.” Not once did Kirkpatrick refer to the scene of joy and jubilation; not once did he talk about the positive elements.
David Kirkpatrick was in Egypt during the 2012 Presidential Elections and the 2012 Constitution Referendum vote. A simple comparison between what happened then and what happened in 2014 would have made Egyptians accept his criticism, but to find fault without seeing any improvement is off-putting.
The reality is the extra voting day must have brought in extra votes for both candidates, but not more than the original percentages. If it gave Sisi extra votes, it must have given Sabahi extra votes, too. The extra day did not favor one candidate against the other, but tell that to western media.
Egyptians wanted the world to see the election as a sign that it was indeed on the right path. So it asked for international observers to witness for themselves how smoothly the elections were conducted. However, the observers were expecting more than what Egypt can give today; the observers were at a different wavelength altogether.
Egypt expected the observers to vouch, with downright evidence, that there was no rigging. That’s all Egypt wanted: proof that the elections were democratically conducted. But the international observers, be they the US-based Democracy International or the European Union’s Election Observation Committee EU went further than polling stations, lineups, and judges’ conduct. Observers looked at the current political climate—freedom of speech, the Protest Law, and the death sentences that were announced earlier, and they concluded that the elections were “compromised.”
What the observers asked for is quite legitimate and should be sought after as the years go by, but if the observers looked further than the polls, they should’ve looked way further for the reasons behind where Egypt is today. Egypt is taking baby steps, and one first baby step was the way the election itself was conducted.
Now, as far as the observers are concerned, they weren’t in Egypt, as David Kirkpatrick and other western journalists were, during the previous elections to make a comparison, so they may be excused. However, we know that elections 2014, in comparison to the 2012 Presidential Election and the 2012 Constitution Referendum were ideal and very transparent. See “ It ain’t over till the fat lady sings, Egyptians can’t but continue the struggle” http://bit.ly/1p1ScK0
In spite of the critics, Egyptians are living the moment and enjoying the results.
And because of the positive vibes that seem to have emerged after the elections, Egyptians are today calling for change—dramatic change. They have a long Wish List, which they are letting Sisi know about.
Though Sisi has been saddled with an unarguably gigantic burden, he, I believe, is the only one, at this point, who can handle it. First, he has the support of most Egyptians. Second, Sisi has the support of the Arab States. The Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf States are willing to stand by Egypt in its time of need. Many Arab leaders, and international ones, too, will attend Sisi’s swearing in ceremony.
Let’s give Sisi a year or two and see where he takes Egypt. In the meantime, let Egyptians enjoy this moment of joy— Sisi is Egypt’s next president.
Update: June 3rd
The Election Committee announced today the final figures. The votes that went to Sisi were almost 97%.
Azza Radwan Sedky, retired communications professor, author of Cairo Rewind, the first two years of Egypt's revolution, 2011-2013. She posts her articles on her blog: azzasedky.typepad.com/egypt