Geopolitics

Why Egypt's Presidential Election Is Not Really About Change

Op-Ed: Elections can be both democratic in appearance, and anti-revolutionary in substance. Egypt's post-Mubarak presidential election does mark a moment of transition, though it is likely to be followed by a not-so-subtle return to the past.

Women at a Cairo polling station on May 23, 2012 (Sonia Dridi)
Women at a Cairo polling station on May 23, 2012 (Sonia Dridi)
Khaled Al Khamissi

CAIRO - Before going to bed, I decided I was going to write an article on the presidential election first thing in the morning. I closed my eyes and before falling into a deep sleep I wondered if there was any use to add to the unbearably noisy pool of voices debating the elections.

Many of those belonging to the revolutionary and civilian forces feel that the upcoming presidential election is nothing more than an unavoidable dark nightmare. The revolutionary camps oscillate between positive and negative boycott, the former through invalidating their votes in the polling station. Other pro-revolution groups support the idea of ​​voting for one of the candidates vowing to establish a country that upholds the law and safeguards human rights, freedom and social justice for its citizens — in other words, one of those candidates who has no chance of winning in this elections.

The reasoning behind these choices is influenced by the sad reality that everything leading up to these elections was characterized by stupidity, cruelty, corruption, illegitimacy and the domination of capital, as well as the fact that the results will be influenced by illegal financing of the electoral campaigns. Elections are usually an anti-revolutionary measure, a process that aborts revolutions by imposing a system — under the pretext of democracy — based on the domination of capital.

Who can succeed in this farce called elections without pumping tens of millions of Egyptian pounds into them? No one knows the exact amount of money being spent on the electoral campaigns or the sources of these funds. Who really has the money to provide these astronomical figures?

The answer is the conservative forces that are opposed to any change and, in the case of Egypt, these could be divided into two groups: the businessmen loyal to the Mubarak regime, who benefited from his economic policies and who are opposed to any "revolutionary" change that could damage their financial and economic interests and the backward businessmen involved in the petrodollar system who support a seriously reactionary political power.

Egyptian roulette

For the secularists, these elections are like a game of Russian roulette. In the Egyptian presidential elections the pistol will contain four bullets, namely Mohamed Morsy, Ahmed Shafiq, Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh and Amr Moussa. These are the presidential candidates who have received funding for their campaigns, and whose posters can be found everywhere. Their chances of reaching the Egyptians wishing to play Russian roulette the voters are reinforced by the sugar, flour, potato and liquefied petroleum gas cylinder handouts that serve as bribes.

The bullets — aka candidates — are different, but they all belong to a conservative camp opposed to change. Mohamed Morsy and Abouel Fotouh are opposed to the civil camp that advocates human rights, while Shafiq and Moussa belong to a camp opposed to the values of social justice.

Oddly enough, two of those candidates have been able to penetrate the civil front. Abouel Fotouh, for one, presents an ambiguous platform. He has also been able to spread the idea that he belongs to the revolutionary camp and everyone has started echoing this, despite the fact that his regressive project goes against any revolution in history. In addition, Abouel Fotouh has not given a single statement that upholds his defense of citizenship and equality as understood by the civil groups.

The second candidate who has the support of some civil groups is Amr Moussa, who is a typical Egyptian civil servant. Nurtured to become an Egyptian technocrat, Moussa is like water — colorless, tasteless and odorless. He too was able to penetrate the civil camp. Some liberal powers support his candidacy because he is an old man who would not want to run for a second presidential term and who is believed to have no financial or political ambitions. He is thought to be the perfect pick for the transitional period.

Shafiq and Morsy, meanwhile, are blatant opponents to revolutionary and civil powers. The first belongs to the army, while the other to the Brotherhood. The first promotes a police state and the second a religious one. The first belongs to the era of the Mamluks, while the other belongs to the time of the collapse of the Abbasid State.

Hundreds of millions were spent on these electoral campaigns, and the media machine has been working to make the Egyptians feel that they are going through a historic experience. They promoted the idea that this presidential election is the outstanding result of the Egyptian revolution and that the people now have a say.

The truth is, this election is worthless, for it is being conducted in a society that lacks a healthy political life, one that lacks genuine parties and political powers. This election will bring a useless president who will be unable to change the structure of the old regime.

Hope lies in the revolutionary and social mobility. Change will come from the bottom, at the hands of the hundreds of movements, coalitions and blocs that emit hope. It is this that will change the face of Egypt.

Read the full article in Al-Masry Al-Youm

Translated by Dina Zafer

Photo - Sonia Dridi

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ