Why accept these elections?

As I write these lines, a large group of people angry with the decision of the Egyptian Presidential Election Commission's decision to dismiss allegations of (massive) fraud in favor of candidate Ahmed Shafiq have ransacked set fire to his Cairo HQ, and more are protesting in Tahrir Square and in Alexandria. Only a few thousands have come out so far, but there are calls for larger protests tomorrow and Friday.

I can't say I particularly blame them.

The question is not really anymore whether there was massive fraud, or only minor violations as the PEC stated today. Its ruling is not appealable, it has a past record of dubious decisions, and it behaved suspiciously by distributing last minute supplementary voter lists and blocking access to observers to counting rooms. The PEC had no credibility even before the vote was cast for many people who are unhappy with the results.

The real question is to what extent will the political leaders that supposedly represent the protestors will push the delegitimization of the elections, and how the Muslim Brotherhood (which has alleged fraud but not filed any complaints, perhaps afraid to lose its spot on the runoff) will position itself between the protest movement and the state.

The revolutionaries were right that no constitution should be written, and no election held, under the rule of generals who served Hosni Mubarak. They didn't care about the current interim constitution because it itself has little legitimacy, and the transition has been so mangled as to barely make sense anymore. They never received much backing from political leaders, however (including Aboul Fotouh and Sabbahi until now, since they have rejected the PEC's ruling), unless you count Mohamed ElBaradei's boycott of the election and rejection of the transition process (but he too only half-heartedly called on the generals to step down). The politicians were afraid to alienate the good part of the population that doesn't want to take that risk of confronting the state head on, as well as jeopardize their own position in the emerging order. I don't know whether they'll change their minds now, but one would think the moment is ripe  — even if this leads to no concrete gain and probably much pain, the seeds of delegitimization of the future regime will have been laid.

Aboul Fotouh and Sabbahi are mediocre candidates — the former is quite shallow and too much a product of the Brotherhood to be the transformative politician he claims to be, the latter stuck in the morass of Nasserism and has a dubious past of links to Saddam, Qadhafi, and a present position towards the Syrian civil war ("it's an international conspiracy," he says) that is classic fourth-rate Arab paranoid populism. But someone needs to rise to the occasion here and reject this electoral process outright (Aboul Fotouh and Khaled Ali have). If you're going to lose, you might as well drag others down with you — in this case, the PEC, the SCAF, and the (officially) winning candidates. It's just good politics.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.