Reed Lindsay reports from Egypt: Opposition united in denouncing runoff elections as a sham
REED LINDSAY, TRNN: It’s election day in Egypt, the second round of parliamentary balloting. But in this working-class suburb of Cairo, few people seem to care.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): There are no free and fair elections. All the opposition parties withdrew. A lot of us are unemployed. So why should we vote?
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): All we are seeing is corruption, corruption, and more corruption in the elections. Why should I vote for someone who buys my vote?
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): Nobody solves my neighborhood’s problems. Nobody is providing services to me. My vote is useless.
LINDSAY: Enthusiasm for elections is negligible in a country where one man has ruled for three decades. The government party won 95 percent of the seats in first-round elections marred by accusations of fraud and intimidation. The opposition decided to boycott the second-round runoffs.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And secondly, on Egypt, there’s reports of massive fraud in the parliamentary elections. And I don’t know, it doesn’t even sound like the opposition has won any seats. How much–.
P.J. CROWLEY, US STATE DEPT.: Which country are we talking about?
CROWLEY: You know, we have serious concerns about what occurred.
LINDSAY: But the Obama administration is not concerned enough to touch the nearly $2 billion of foreign aid the US government gives Egypt to ensure it remains a pliant ally.
BARACK OBAMA, US PRESIDENT: The United States and Egypt have worked together closely for many years, and for many of those years President Mubarak has been a leader and a counselor and a friend to the United States.
LINDSAY: Twenty-nine years, to be exact. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has outlasted four US presidents, Democrats and Republicans. But the United States has begun hedging its bets, funding opposition groups and N.G.O.’s critical of the government, like this electoral monitoring organization.
BASEM FATHY, EGYPTIAN DEMOCRATIC ACADEMY: A lot of groups, they are–whether funded or supported by the USAID, technically supported by IRI (the International Republican Institute), the NDI [National Democratic Institute for International Affairs]–.
LINDSAY: But the amount the US invests in so-called democracy promotion is a fraction of the money it funnels into Egypt’s military. It’s not hard to see why few policymakers in Washington want to see Mubarak go. The only opposition group with significant popular support boasts the motto “Islam is the solution”. The Muslim Brotherhood is arguably the world’s most influential Islamic movement, an ally and supporter of Palestine’s Hamas, and a fierce critic of US policy in the region. A week ago Mohamed Beltagy was campaigning for a seat in Parliament for the Muslim Brotherhood. Now, he’s telling people not to vote.
DR. MOHAMED BELTAGY, POLITICIAN, MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): There was a blatant forgery that the whole world has seen and you have witnessed last Sunday. We are protesting that. We’re boycotting the elections and won’t participate in the second round, including those candidates who are eligible.
LINDSAY: Not a single Muslim Brotherhood candidate won in the first round elections, and Beltagy was among the losers. But you’d never know it this night.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): May God be with you and give you success.
LINDSAY: This is /Sogr@/, a massive area of narrow dirt streets, alleyways, and brick apartment blocks, home to an estimated 5 million people and a stronghold of the Muslim Brotherhood. People here complain of unemployment, stagnant wages, rising food prices, decaying infrastructure, and an unresponsive and corrupt government. Beltagy and the Brotherhood have filled the void, quietly and methodically winning popular support among the poor by providing health care, medicine, education, and food. The government has banned the Muslim Brotherhood, and its candidates are forced to run as independents. Even still, five years ago Beltagy was one of 88 Muslim Brotherhood members to win a seat in Parliament. It was the most significant opposition victory in an election since Hosni Mubarak came to power three decades ago. But the group has paid a price. The government arrested more than 1,200 brotherhood members in the weeks before this year’s elections, blocked their candidates from running, broke up campaign rallies, and barred their delegates from monitoring the voting. The Muslim Brotherhood usually campaigns at night to avoid repression by security forces. During the day, Hosni Mubarak and his National Democratic Party rule /Sogr@/.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): The government? The government is good.
OFF CAMERA (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): Really?
UNIDENTIFIED: Their people are good. Can anybody criticize the government?
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): The elections are very fair and free. Egypt has the best elections. Egypt has proper elections.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): The government is good. It’s the best. I will vote for Megahed Nassar.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): Because he’s someone who does a lot of work in this country.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): He’s a very righteous man. His pictures are all over the walls.
LINDSAY: This is the local headquarters for the ruling party’s candidate in /Sogr@/, Megahed Nassar. With the Muslim Brotherhood’s withdrawal, his seat in Parliament is all but assured.
MEGAHED NASSAR, NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY CANDIDATE (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): I publicized myself throughout the entire district for four years, until every home knew the name Megahed Nassar. And that’s why the people made me run for Parliament.
LINDSAY: Beltagy’s headquarters look shabby in comparison. Political activities are held here, but the space doubles as a sort of social services center.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): Is Dr. Mohamed there?
OFF CAMERA (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): No. Come after the Isha prayer.
UNIDENTIFIED: Will he be there?
OFF CAMERA: God willing.
UNIDENTIFIED: Thank you.
LINDSAY: /Sogr@/ residents come here to get free medicine from the pharmacy for a checkup from Beltagy himself, an ear, nose, and throat doctor. The Muslim Brotherhood has existed since the 1920’s and has faced far worse repression in the past. Beltagy says the social and religious movement is ready to wait for change indefinitely, while continuing to strengthen its base of support.
BELTAGY: At the Muslim Brotherhood, we’re optimistic. We have hope and trust in our ability and the ability of other people to change things for the better, even if it takes a while. The nature of the Muslim Brotherhood is that we work in an incremental way. We’re not in a hurry.
LINDSAY: A US diplomatic cable released last month by WikiLeaks suggests that Hosni Mubarak considers the Muslim Brotherhood his most dangerous political threat. But Beltagy insists the Brotherhood is a nonviolent movement that has stated its commitment to democracy, political pluralism, and religious tolerance.
BELTAGY: The Egyptian administration, since around 2005 or a little before that, has been trying to maintain its own survival, along with support from the West, by warning that the Muslim Brotherhood is coming, and if the elections in Egypt were free and fair, the Muslim Brotherhood would take control of Egypt the next day. They’re trying to induce public panic in the West, to scare the non-Muslim communities in Egypt, to ensure their stay in power throughout the coming years.
LINDSAY: The day before the second-round runoff, Beltagy joined with other opposition leaders to denounce the elections. Many members of Egypt’s secular political parties and left-leaning opposition groups expressed concern about how a Muslim Brotherhood-led government would apply Sharia law. But everyone here seems to agree the Egyptian people should be given a chance to decide for themselves in elections recognized as free and fair. It doesn’t appear that that will happen anytime soon. On Sunday, with the results all but decided before the polls opened, security guards and election officials outnumbered voters.
ASHRAF FAROUK ISKANDER, ELECTION MONITOR (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): The number of people going to the poll centers right now is approximately 0.5 to 1 percent of those who went last Sunday.
LINDSAY: One thousand people were registered to vote in this polling station, but only a dozen had cast their ballots by the early afternoon. Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party could secure more than 90 percent of the seats in Parliament, which will authorize candidates eligible for next year’s presidential election. Many Egyptians assume Mubarak will either run for reelection or endorse his son, Gamal. Hosni Mubarak’s ruling party dominated these elections, but whether or not it can be considered a victory is another matter. The opposition had been divided on the question of whether to boycott the vote or participate in a process that some critics characterize as an elaborate political theater, staged to appease the international community and especially the United States. Now, the opposition is united in denouncing elections that were even less credible than expected, and the plot for next year’s presidential contest is more predictable than ever. For The Real News in Cairo, Egypt, this is Reed Lindsay.
End of Transcript
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.