“No to the last pharaoh”

Egypt voted today in what some have hailed to be a breakthrough for democracy in the Middle East. It is the first time during Hosni Mubarak’s 24-year authoritarian rule that candidates from opposition parties were allowed.

But of course, the elections today hardly single the opening for democracy in Egypt. The so-called “free and fair” elections were anything but as the government banned protests hours before voting began.

Then there was the fact that the government tried to keep international monitors and human rights groups from the polling stations – a decision that was backed yesterday by Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court. The Court in fact went so far as to rule that the voting process was free from any judicial review.

Then there is the actual constitutional amendment that set the elections into place – Article 76 – an anti-democratic reform designed to preserve the status quo. Besides allowing for multi-party elections, Article 76 also outlawed the largest opposition party, the Muslim Brotherhood, and made it virtually impossible for independent candidates to run at all.

And what of Kefaya – the group whose name in Arabic means “enough”? The affiliation of leftist intellectuals, Islamists, and progressive secular activists who have organized protests and demonstrations in opposition to the Mubarak regime have been thwarted with government violence and intimidation at every turn. Over the past weeks riot police have beaten and arrested protesters, just as they did back in May. While some demonstrators held posters that read “No to the last pharaoh” and chanting “Poverty – kefaya! Torture – kefaya!” any effective opposition has been all but prohibited.

While this election is anything but legitimate, Bush and his crew will attempt to sanction it with the blessing of the United States, because the White House so desperately needs a positive democratic election in the Middle East in order to promote its foreign policy as a success. Unfortunately, if Bush praises this election, he will be sending the absolute wrong message. In effect, Bush will be telling those who long for democracy in the Middle East and elsewhere abroad that it doesn’t matter of elections come with government suppression and violence and intimidation and it doesn’t matter of elections are decided by legislation in advance of the vote as long the charade of freedom is maintained.