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Egypt's empty polls

Naomi ConradOctober 20, 2015

Egypt's regime has hailed this week's legislative elections as the final step to full democracy. But, held amid repression and intimidation, the vote is nothing but a farce, Naomi Conrad writes in Cairo.

Ägypten Parlamentswahl 2015
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/K. Elfiqi

A joke was trending on social media in Egypt this week: Looking for a nice, quiet place to escape the endless hassle and chaos of the big city? Just head to one of the ballot stations.

And, indeed, at the schools serving as polls Sunday and Monday, morose-looking soldiers, guns slung from their soldiers, peered from behind sandbags across mostly deserted courtyards, while the judges overseeing the elections played with their smartphones. Few people trickled in to vote, and the vast majority of those who did declared that they would be voting for For the Love of Egypt, a coalition that fundamentally exists to support army chief-turned-president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

The dismal turnout really shouldn't have come as a surprise. The results of the elections, which, after a second phase and any runoffs, will conclude in December, are pretty much a foregone conclusion - and voting at all is a farce: There are hardly any opposition candidates to speak of, and many of those who took to the streets to demand democracy and freedom back in 2011 have decided that there's no one worth casting a ballot for in these elections. There's just no point, they'll tell you.

Conrad Naomi Kommentarbild App
DW's Naomi Conrad

Opposite of democracy

Egypt is sliding into ever worse repression. In recent months, an increasing number of activists and opposition figures have disappeared or been jailed; others have left the country. Public criticism of the government is strongly discouraged, and media, with the exception of a few brave independent outlets, have been supportive of the regime and those candidates who back it.

It is hardly the climate for the final step in Egypt's transition to full democracy, as the government claims.

In fact, it's quite the opposite: We can assume that the result will be a rubber-stamp parliament dominated by For the Love of Egypt and lawmakers more concerned with placating their constituencies than drafting bills that would tackle the myriad problems the country is facing. What is worse, members of parliament will likely have little inclination to revoke any of the many controversial bills passed by presidential decree in recent months - including the recent draconian anti-terror bill. They are also unlikely to take on the issue of disappearances of dissidents.

The elections, one observer told me, would be neither free nor fair. And, it appears, Egyptians have decided to save their votes for a day when they might be worth something.

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