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Dina Makram-Edeib: The Egyptian elections and the facade of democracy in the mainstream media

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SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

It’s been three years of tumultuous activity and protests and demonstrations in Egypt. Recently it has resulted in an election. Yet, if you were looking at the mainstream media and how it’s covered the elections, you will see that they have described it as a success story.

Here with us today we’re joined by Dina Makram-Edeib. She is an activist and a labor rights researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Germany. But today she’s joining us from Egypt.

Thanks for joining us, Dina.


PERIES: Dina, give us a take on how the media has been covering the Egyptian elections.

MAKRAM-EDEIB: Well, the media’s generally been covering the Egyptian elections as a success story, and, you know, being very happy about the 23 million workers who voted for Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and in general, you know, saying it’s a free and fair election. We have European observers who were sent to look and check that [this was a good?] election. And now that there’s a kind of outside story that completely neglects the real story behind this election–.

PERIES: So tell us the real story. How are the people experiencing what has happened in the elections?

MAKRAM-EDEIB: Yeah, I mean, in some sense, I don’t think the Egyptian people were given any choice. If you see the level of repression and manipulation of the media, there’s basically no place whatsoever for any voice other than the ones that are supporting Abdel Fattah el-Sisi since his, you know, coup in July.

And back on one side, on the level of the media, but also on the level of the street, we have an anti-protest law. I mean, it’s almost ironic that after a revolution we have an anti-protest law that’s been put forth under the rule of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s coup, which means that nobody can protest anything that is being said or basically even the policies or the economic and social structure and alliances that are in place.

Not only that, we have 41,000 political prisoners since ten months ago. And that tells you something about the story behind and our ability to kind of come out and say, well, we are really choosing [Abdel?]–it’s not really a choice.

The voter turnout rate, the official one is 44 percent. That’s significantly less than the one that was in the earlier presidential elections that we had in 2012.

But it also–a lot of people are unable to understand how lots of the polling stations were quite empty, and yet the voter turnout rate is still that high. I mean, it’s something we can never prove, but it’s your kind of observations that also collects observations of everybody out there.

So, yeah, I mean, basically the whole kind of fraud of, like, this is the most democratic and free election, [I mean?] I think it’s really a joke, because what is a free election when you can’t protest, you don’t have any other voice on the media, and basically you can’t even have a say in the kind of social or economic [incompr.] controlling his decision-making. And Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is quite known to kind of prostitute–and I’m using prostitute with all due respect to all the prostitutes, actually–basically using, trying to bypass the crisis that’s imminent, who has been imminent since the start of the revolution, the economic and social crisis out there, by trying to get as much money from the Gulf to basically finance his economic program. Now, what that only does is delay the crisis and try to, like, give it to the people who come later. You know.

And so, really, with that in mind, I don’t see this as a free and fair election. A central thing for me is that the most–for me, one of the honest, the most active, and most dedicated activist, Mahienour El-Massry, is in prison when Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is in power. This really is the truth of this election. I mean, if it was really a free and fair election, one that speaks to the progress of this nation, Mahienour would be probably somewhere supporting it. The fact that Mahienour cannot even speak from prison tells us something about what these elections are about.

PERIES: What can the people expect from this newly elected government? How will it unfold? What are your hopes and aspirations, given the situation?

MAKRAM-EDEIB: [Okay, I’ll [incompr.] both?] because our hopes and aspirations are really getting lower and lower and lower. We don’t know how low we can keep getting. But this is a personal level.

I think on an overall level, people have a lot of expectations from Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. There’s a lot of this kind of–you know, again, with the media playing a major role in that, you know, of building this idea of the pharaoh that’s going to come and save Egypt or the leader that’s going to, you know, pave the way and so on. There’s lots of expectations for [incompr.] [are going to stay?] in the economic crisis to become a bit easier on people and an expectation that some sense of safety and security will be resumed on the street.

Now, we know that safety and security can be resumed on the street in different ways. One of them is to add more repression, which is basically what’s being done there. You know, we’re back to the days of Mubarak, where you’re–you know, if you’re walking on the streets and you’re by a protest (and if there is somebody who managed to get the protest, the permit first), you know, and you’re passing by, and that you don’t look like [most?] of the policemen, they’ll pick you up again. Now, that for some people is some sense of security. But for some others, I’m not really sure that we will maintain the long-term safety that we want and that will come out of people having the feeling fulfilled. You know. I mean, violence erupts when people are unfulfilled, they’re not really sure where to look for a source of progress [incompr.] So this is on one hand.

On the other hand, I imagine what he’s going to have to do economically is or what he’s doing economically is borrow, borrow, borrow, borrow. It’s everybody who can borrow. I mean, some of the most notorious foreigners, you know, they’re [fleeing?]–the EBRD basically [are giving to such?] banks the–as I said at the beginning, the Gulf money, anybody that can, it’s going to pump money into there, into the economy, and it’s going to try and, like, ease the economic [concern?] for them, because in reality they cannot take the hard ways of really getting economic justice, which is, you know, imposing taxation on the rich. We still do not have proper taxation on the rich in this country. This needs a lot of support from the people, because, you know, the elite are going to retaliate. Now, he’s not going to do that. He’s just going to borrow, borrow, borrow, borrow, you know, ease some of the crisis, but I don’t think a lot of it, because some of it really is restructuring an economic justice and give the crisis on to the coming generation or basically, I think, not be–I mean, become broken by the crisis himself. You know.

PERIES: Dina, what are some of the economic strategies? You’re a labor rights activist. What are some of the strategies you think that this government can take up which would not require it to borrow money?

MAKRAM-EDEIB: Yeah, I mean, some of the stuff I was saying was progressive taxation. This is basic, you know? But other things are also, you know, the kind of taxation that we put on specific industries that are making a really high profit margin. Some of them are, like, the most polluting ones, like the cement industry in Egypt. You know.

Now, you can put even more kind of taxation or to–without necessarily making investment in Egypt unprofitable or whatever, you know, these neoliberal market ideologies tell us actually can remain, continue to make profit, but then pay more taxes.

So there is–I mean, on some level it’s like, where do you take the money from and where do you put it to? I would have liked to see, you know, encouraging more kind of cooperatives taking place [incompr.] if we are really not able to find the money from, you know, foreigners, there’s definitely lots of money that can be shared internally among people. And we have seen–I mean, the only–the problem is we’ve seen the kind of, you know, beginning of these examples happening and then being totally smashed by those in power, saying, you know, no, no, no, this is not profitable, this is not profitable, this is not what we want, it’s easier to privatize, and so on.

So, I mean, there are examples that are quite inspiring. We need to [take them on and to kind of try and?] replicate them. And overall, you know, the basic things that you’d see in anywhere is kind of, you know, have a bit more economic [justice?], take a bit more from the rich, and give a bit more from the poor [sic]. Now, that’s not easy. You need a lot of popular support for that. And we need mindsets that looks at economic justice.

PERIES: Speaking of popular support, and given that you’re a labor rights activist, again, what are the developments in the labor movement? What are some of the leading labor unions? And what are they proposing under the current circumstances?

MAKRAM-EDEIB: Yeah, I mean, it’s very divided, and it’s important to see that. You know, there’s a lot–as much as there is really fascinating protests and collective action by workers that are very progressive in their demands (and I’ll talk in a minute about them), there’s also, unfortunately, a really, in a sense, from the state and [incompr.] and specifically from Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s regime to kind of co-opt the labor movement. So you would have heard of this initiative that they’ve tried to promote among workers which is asking them to stop protesting, okay, as if protests were basically the source of all evil, which is really the rhetoric that has been going on since the beginning of the revolution, you know, blaming the workers for their protests for making things slow down, not blaming the rich for basically taking too much. So on that level there was a form that was signed by lots of unions, and lots of, you know, federal unions as well, that kind of supports [that?] workers are going to stop protesting for Egypt, you know, until things are–you know, a kind of security is resumed and there is an elected government and elected [president?].

Now, this is a bleak picture, and against that bleak picture we have workers that continue to fight, and they’re really fascinating in their fight. Some of them, for example, are–some really good examples that are not often known are ones where the workers had been–the plants had been privatized under Mubarak. And then, since the Revolution, the deals of this privatization were looked at again, and they were quite unfair, so they were revoked by the courts, and workers managed to take back plants and to run them back, sometimes run them back even without management, sometimes offering the states that they actually buy the plant themselves, that the workers buy the plant and run it themselves–again, always difficult to convince the state of these alternatives, but really fascinating examples of people who have stood up continuously to say that there are alternative forms of doing things. You know, some of the demands are just what we know them [sic], you know, demands to get paid decently, demands to get a, you know, stable contract, and so on. And even if when they seem, you know, just quite not radical enough, they aren’t quite radical enough in–because, you know, in the kind of bleak situation where we are in and where you can’t protest and, you know, can’t get the permit to protest, this is fascinating. It’s fascinating that they continue to do it and they continue to do it taking of the risk of just being jailed themselves and their own lives–putting, basically, their [human rights?] at risk.

So, yes, we have the two currents taking place, and we’ll see what will happen with the–whether the fascist right that we’ve seen erupting since–really since last July will continue to rise further and kill the labor movement, or whether [we continue seeing?] the resistance actually making gains [by the day?].

PERIES: Dina, thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. And I hope you come back and continue to give us some reports on the developments in Egypt.

MAKRAM-EDEIB: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Dina Makram-Edeib is a labour rights researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology.