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Sunday, 22 April 2018

Egypt: After the elections

Now that the presidential elections are over, it is time to turn to lessons learned

Amina Khairy , Thursday 29 Mar 2018
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By the time this article is published, Egypt’s presidential elections will be over. The headlines in the newspapers about the importance of voting will have stopped.

Religious leaders who had been preaching about the necessity of going to the polls will have started preaching about other matters.

The guides to the elections and the instructions on how to find designated polling locations that have been broadcast on TV will be over.

So, too, will the arguments between those who believe that casting a vote is a responsibility no matter what and those who are opposed to doing so no matter what.

What will be interesting to watch in the aftermath of the 2018 presidential elections is what the Western and some of the regional media have to say.

Gone will be the headlines that question or even ridicule the whole process. New ones will have started appearing on the expected results and hopes for democracy in Egypt.

However, in Egypt itself during and after the 2018 elections different concerns have been at the front of people’s minds.

The Egyptian people, whether they turned up at the polling stations or not, live in a different world to that of the media.

It is so different that neither the local media, private or semi-official, nor that of the region or beyond, are able to reflect upon it genuinely and professionally.

The presidential election campaign was far from being perfect.

This was true as much of the seemingly sudden arrival of the elections, which seemed to take even those responsible by surprise, as of the recovery of the political parties and the sometimes extraordinary electoral campaigning.

But who said life was ever perfect? Perfection is an ongoing process. It is our duty to try things out and to involve ourselves fully in various actions in order to improve the situation, hoping for minimal errors and blunders.

One major blunder lies in the political scene at large. It is obvious that millions of people became politicised, or at least developed a new interest in politics, in the aftermath of the 25 January Revolution.

This was an extremely positive sign. However, what was not so positive was to confine this interest to virtual platforms where minorities can easily turn into majorities, opinions gain the status of facts, and fake news become credible news.

If I were president of Egypt, I would of course listen to what the various political parties had to say regarding the problems the country faces.

I would help to facilitate their coming back to life, and I would send out a message of hope to the millions of young men and women who may feel deprived or excluded, assuring them of the existence of a genuine and competitive political scene.

The political scene after the 2018 elections will need a lot of work and goodwill to make it work. If I were president, I would thank all those who had supported me, and I would of course stand up for my actions and decisions.

On the other hand, I would also encourage those who had opposed me and adhered to different points of view, asking them to express themselves and present alternative plans for the years ahead.

Ahead of giving the political parties and the whole political scene the kiss of life, one wonders if our media needs a similar kiss.

Kisses come in all shapes and sizes, but the media needs an autogenic kiss.

It needs to rethink and re-judge its role among the Egyptian people. Is the media playing its role as a watchdog, safeguarding the public interest against corruption and malpractice? Is it an arm of democracy, fairness, and human rights? Is it balancing its own interests with the interests of people at large? 

Is it giving in to interference from outside and attempts at dominance? Or is it doing its best to strike a realistic balance? In terms of its role in shaping public opinion, is it doing this smartly and shrewdly or recklessly and superficially? Is it presenting professional and realistic coverage that offers alternative explanations and analyses to those offered in Western media outlets?

A few weeks ago, the US magazine Foreign Policy published an article entitled “Egypt’s Undemocratic Elections” that claimed that “the March vote will in no way confirm President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s popularity among the Egyptian people.

This election campaign is merely an extension of the internal power struggle among the military and the regime’s security services, and it has nothing to do with democratic mechanisms worthy of the name.”

A few days later, the US news agency Bloomberg published an article entitled “In Egypt’s Presidential Elections, the Real Drama is on the Sidelines”.

The writer described the arrest of ex-Muslim Brotherhood figure Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, saying that “Abul-Fotouh joins a growing list of people detained in the run-up to the March race. Al-Sisi, who was elected in 2014, is seeking a second term and has made it clear that he won’t tolerate dissent that he and his officials say could derail the gains the country has made over the past four years.

His re-election, in what critics say is a hostile campaign climate, seems all but assured.”

Dozens of articles in the western media have adopted the same tone. A recent article in the mass-circulation US newspaper USA Today said that “ahead of Al-Sisi’s election, youths feel that Egypt has lost its way” and talked to angry people dreaming of a new revolution.

The article concluded by quoting one of its interviewees as saying that “I will not participate in the elections. And don’t be surprised if after a while people take to the streets in sudden protests.”

Protesting against such misrepresentations of the truth in the foreign media should not be done by boycotting these media outlets, or by expelling foreign journalists, or by questioning Egyptian correspondents working for these outlets.

The latter should not be accused of conspiring against Egypt, unless this can be proven.

The way to a better Egypt runs through a healthy political scene, a professional, balanced and informative media, and above all through people who believe in themselves, have hope for a better tomorrow based on a fair and promising today, trust in their leadership, and have the ability to make up their minds based on reliable information and transparency.

By the time this article is published, the Egyptian people will have made their choice.

Those who chose to cast their votes will have done so. And those who chose to stay at home will have done so too.

The local media will probably run stories about how well the process went, and the western media will probably run stories about how the “farce” proceeded.

The regional media antagonistic to Egypt will continue to mix hate with journalism and judge the electoral process according to its well-known agendas, despite the fact that much of this media comes from countries that have never experienced democratic elections.

What we need to do is to look forward while learning from our past and to look at ourselves in the mirror without adhering to easy justifications ranging from “bad luck” to a “difficult past”, a “horrible present” or a “bleak future”.

The writer is a journalist at Al-Hayat newspaper.

*This article was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly 

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