Saturday, June 16, 2012

Boycott call clouds Egyptian presidential poll

CAIRO, June 16, 2012

Egypt's fatigued voters have begun to slowly trickle into polling stations, disillusioned by the rejection of their vote by the country's highest court that has dissolved an elected parliament and wary of choosing a President who could be either an Islamist or a member of the authoritarian old guard.

Most analysts do not expect a turnout beyond 30 per cent during the two-day election that is being held to pick either of the two presidential candidates who are in the fray: Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force officer, who, for many, extends the legacy of ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak, under whom he served as prime minister, and Mohamed Morsy, a non-charismatic Islamist, but who is likely to benefit from the organisational machinery of the Muslim Brotherhood, to which he belongs.

Over the last 24 hours, a growing sense of despondency after the court's ruling is mingling with outrage that seems to be persuading a large number of voters to de-legitimise the poll. No longer on the fringes, a movement to either actively boycott or invalidate the vote is fast picking up steam.

Activists who call themselves Mubteloon or "nullifiers" hope to acquire a high profile at polling stations. "We have decided to wear stickers on our clothes, or Mubteloon T-shirts, clarifying that we are here to nullify our votes. This way the media cannot portray us as being conventional voters who are queuing-up to vote for (Mr.) Shafiq or (Mr.) Morsy," the website of the daily, Egypt Independent, quoted Bahaa Awad, one of the leaders of the campaign as saying. He pointed out that the target of his movement is to convince two million voters to invalidate their vote. Ghada Shahbender, an activist from the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights, hopes to scale an even more ambitions target of 10 million invalid votes that could surpass the number of valid votes and seriously undermine the legitimacy of the poll.

At the heart of the boycott is the disillusionment with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the increasingly powerful military group which, some say, is fast turning Egypt into an unvarnished police state. A recent ruling has given the military wide latitude to carry out arbitrary arrests. Before it was taken-off, an advertisement over state-television, cautioned people not to mingle with foreigners, who could be spies — reflecting a perplexing but growing insularity of post-Mubarak state, which needs to welcome foreign tourists in order to bolster its fast depleting monetary reserves.

Questioning the intentions of ruling military top brass, Mohamed Wakked, a leading figure of yet another election-boycott campaign asks: \"Why should we participate in this farce? It\'s a farce that is being orchestrated by the SCAF.\"

But not all in the pro-democracy camp are staying away from polling — at least not yet. Abdel Moniem Abul Fotouh, a moderate Islamist and a former candidate, who had broken ranks with the Muslim Brotherhood has now become a campaigner for Mr. Morsy's candidacy. "Everyone had to choose between bad and worse," he says, pointing out that it was his top-most priority to keep away from the presidency, Ahmed Shafiq, a feloul --a derogatory reference of those who are remnants of Mr. Mubarak's regime.

The hardline Salafi Al Nour coalition is also actively supporting Mr. Morsy.

Among the Liberal youth, the April 6 Youth Movement, that pioneered the anti-Mubarak revolt has also endorsed Mr. Morsy's presidential bid. Even Hamdeen Sabbahi, a secular neo-Nasserite, who stood third in the first round of polling has said that it would a "moral crime" to support Mr. Shafiq — an expression either of tacit support for Mr. Morsy or of a poll boycott.

According the Muslim Brotherhood's own estimates, their candidate should win comfortably by securing 75 per cent of the vote. But fears are also rife about vote rigging, though a manipulation of the poll may count only in a tight race. In the end, the results of the tense runoff are bound to animate the on-going debate in Egypt on whether the "judicial coup" of Thursday, crowned with Mr. Shafiq's possible elevation to the presidency, was a plot by the establishment to capture all organs of the State or its purpose was to deny the monopolisation of power by the Muslim Brotherhood, which had dominated the dissolved parliament
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