The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

In Translation: Ahmed al-Sawy on the elections

Every week, we bring an article translated from the Arabic press, courtesy of Industry Arabic. As the first round of Egypt's parliamentary elections is just about to conclude, we bring an editorial by Ahmed al-Sawy which reminds readers the elections are the beginning of a long process, not its end.

This Isn’t the Final Bout

By Ahmed al-Sawy, al-Shorouk, 29 November 2011

Whatever the results of the elections are, and whether you are satisfied with them or not, they will offer a new lesson you should try to grasp quickly. The first lesson is that when you stand at the ballot box this time, you will have a great deal more faith in the process than was previously the case, and the price for this was paid by hundreds of martyrs and thousands of victims, who faced down tyranny in your stead as if it was a “fard kifaya” – a duty which if performed by some, leaves the rest exempt. However, it is time for this exemption to come to an end, and for the confrontation to become a “fard ayn” enjoined upon every Egyptian. This time the struggle is not against the tear gas and bullets of tyrants, but a struggle at the ballot box.1

Egyptian society has paid a very high cost in this period, and it expects the return to be commensurate with the investment. If this return turns out to be less than the investment, it will be a real disaster. The value of this investment does not lie in a specific outcome, but rather in the integrity of this process, which will grant more hope that the experience will be repeated and mistakes, if found, will be corrected on subsequent occasions. After everyone claims their rights at the ballot box, they won’t go back again to the “fard kifaya” mentality.

However, as we face some minor incidents even as I write this column, I fear that the lesson we will draw now will be to absolve the Mubarak regime’s figures and policies of election fraud, since some electoral districts have seen unsettling practices which only go to show that locking ballot boxes, forging ballots, bribing voters, familial and sectarian pressure, violence and thuggery have become a deeply-ingrained culture among “election professionals.” This was not just a result of Mubarak’s policies, even if his cronies planted this culture, watered it, nurtured it and helped it grow.

Nothing will be ideal, of course – you have to prepare to accept that. The most important thing, however, is to extract clear mechanisms to correct the course, and find an authority to aid you in this. Judicial oversight will continue to preside over the entire process, and the reports from the Court of Cassation which will rule on challenges filed will operate in a different way from before. It is certain that this myth that parliament is “immune to oversight” is a myth that fell with the regime that was propping it up, and this may be an important guarantee amid the climate of extreme suspicion and impatience with the obvious negatives.

Moreover, you should accept and recognize any outcome, whatever it is – even if you observe errors and infractions. You have channels by which you can expose such infractions and challenge incorrect practices, if you ascertain that these errors are isolated incidents pertaining to a candidate, family or even an entire party or list. However, if doubt still remains, then these errors are still systematic policies of the ruling authority, so don’t forget that you have the street, which proved decisive when the former regime blocked all possibility for change through the ballot box.

You’re the decision-maker: have confidence in this. The will to act has returned to you after decades of passivity. Politics will not come to an end after elections, the ladder of democracy2 won’t be tossed aside and the squares won’t be closed down. You have just begun the struggle; you haven’t finished it. You’ve finally entered the ring: so why do you think that this round is your final bout?

  1. Fard kifaya” and “fard ayn” are terms from Islamic law. A “fard kifaya” is an obligation that falls on Muslims collectively, such as jihad and performing funerals for the dead. As long as some people undertake it, everyone else is exempt. A “fard ayn” is an obligation that everyone must perform individually, such as prayer, alms, making the hajj, etc. ↩

  2. Refers to the charge leveled against Islamists by their critics that they are using democracy as a ladder to get into power, which they’ll then toss aside after they reach their goal. ↩