Why the 2012 Egyptian Presidential Elections Make Me Want to Barf

Egyptian elections are the day after tomorrow. This will be the first time in the history of Egypt that Egyptians will have a real say in who will be their president. This should be a time for rejoicing. For some Egyptians, it is. I am not one of those Egyptians.

As the elections near, more and more I have a feeling of foreboding. I have only two days left and I still do not know who I want to vote for. And I don’t know because I feel that all the choices are bad. Very bad. Not that the presidential candidates are bad people. There is no doubt in my mind that most of the candidates really do have good intentions. But no matter how many times I run the scenarios through my head of what if x wins, or what if y wins, we’re fucked. Seriously fucked. In my opinion, not one of them has the leadership skills necessary to navigate Egypt through a very very delicate process of deciding on what kind of a country we want to have. We’ve already had a sneak peak – more properly called a sneak freak – at what that process will look like. The Egyptian parliament, who we all hoped would guide us through the process of choosing a committee to put together a draft constitution, failed us in the most miserable way possible.

I’ve been asking myself: what is my fear about choosing one presidential candidate over another? It’s a mix of things. One is that we’re creating a new dictator. Another is that the military council, SCAF, has fucked up the political situation in Egypt so much that no one can get us out of this in the next few years.

I worry about the people who will be leading the process of creating a new Egypt. I’m worried about what New Egypt will look like. Will the people leading this process turn New Egypt into an Islamic Republic? I swear to you, there are lots of people in Egypt who would be happy to see us turn into an Islamic caliphate. I’m not one of them. And it’s not because I don’t love my religion. I do. And it’s not because I do not believe Islam as a religion has within its systems what is needed to develop a strong, open, democratic, liberal, righteous state. Because I do. But I do not in any way trust a single Muslim living today to implement an Islamic state the way it could be done. I think there are way too many twisted versions and understandings of Islam out there (and way too many twisted minds) that it’s impossible to entrust someone to find a modern day interpretation of an Islamic state. As a result, I’d much rather just leave religion out of the governance of my country, thank you very much. Because once religion gets into it, someone in a place of power will have the ability to enforce his/her twisted understanding of religion that does not fit in with my own twisted understanding. (*Mentally preparing myself for a deluge of accusations that I am no longer a true believer*).

So, why not just avoid choosing the small number of candidates who come from an Islamist background?

First of all, they appear to be the candidates with the strongest popular backing so far, especially if the results of voting of Egyptians abroad is any indication of what we can expect here at home. I may have to just live with being under their rule whether I like it or not.

Second, I worry that the non-Islamist candidates are ill-equipped to democratically govern a populace, and a parliament, that seems to have very strong Islamist tendencies right now. Not only would they need to govern them, they’d need to have a proper understanding of the Egyptian population and its leanings to navigate us safely – back to this again – through an extremely fucked up field of landmines laid down by the previous regime and that continues to be laid down by the remnants of that regime.

Ahhh…the remnants, or what we here in Egypt refer to as the foloul. This is a term that someone came up with in the early post-revolution days while referring to mysterious activities happening on the ground in the country and who might be directing them.  Being called foloul in Egyptian politics is the equivalent of being called kafir – or infidel – in religion. It is the worst, most vile label that can be given to a person in this country. Most revolutionaries will tell you that we have two foloul candidates running for presidency. They were both ministers under deposed president Hosni Mubarak. One was foreign minister under Mubarak for many years until differences – some say concerns by Mubarak that he was gaining too much support among normal Egyptians and thus formed a threat to his rule – caused Mubarak to remove him as minister and “exile” him into heading an almost dead Arab League.  The other was minister of aviation up until Mubarak’s last moment as president and took over as prime minister in the interim period after he was deposed. How this last person, by some evil twist of fate or conniving, was even allowed to run for president I do not understand. But the fact remains, he is. And oddly enough, he has substantial backing among the Egyptian population. So does the former prime minister. The main reason for this is that many people see that those two candidates are the only two who actually have any sort of experience in the business of running governments. Of course, no one else would because the previous regime did not provide an environment that allowed for anyone from outside the National Democratic Party to gain this sort of experience. After more than a year of political instability and poor security on the ground, many Egyptians just want to go back to living a normal life. Of course, they may be playing into the plans of the foloul. But the reality is they have substantial backing.

But now if you are one of the many Egyptians who support one or the other candidate you will more than likely be labeled foloul yourself. I’m telling you, it’s getting ugly. I have friends who support one candidate or another who spent several months obsessing over the positive qualities of their preferred (non-foloul) candidate. Many of them began using techniques to manipulate undecideds into choosing their candidate that involved convincing them that if they don’t vote for that candidate, who already has lots of popular support, then one of the foloul might win. And then the revolution will have been for naught. And then the martyrs will have died for naught. And then you have their blood on your shoulders for the rest of your fucking existence! Never mind that Egyptians died in order to bring democracy to our country. Never mind that if one of the two above-mentioned candidates won it would be through a democratic process and it would be the democratic choice of the majority. If you fucking choose one of those two foloul then you yourself are a fucking foloul and we will bring this country down on your fucking heads!

All the candidates, the Islamists, the foloul, and all the others are riding the Islamic wave in one way or another. Among the key words now used by all candidates are Islam and Al-Azhar. Give any candidate five minutes to talk to the media and those two words will be said at least once each minute. Again, whether the candidate is an Islamist or not, they are using religion to gain support from the general Egyptian population. A few of them are trying to use the fear of an Islamist uprising to gain support while still using Islam and Al-Azhar as their two main key words.

I’m not liking many of my now politicized friends these days. I don’t like what politics has done to them. Some of my friends have taken it upon themselves to convert (and I do not use this term lightly) their fellow Egyptians into supporting their preferred candidate. They use tools I’m very familiar with that have been used for decades by the Muslim Brotherhood to convert “normal” Egyptians into more religious Egyptians. The number of “I convinced a taxi driver” or “I convinced my doorman” success stories I’ve heard is ridiculous. My friends have turned into political missionaries. I have a friend who spends her evenings after work driving around Cairo in her car removing foloul posters. Many others have very self-righteous undertones in the way they communicate. They have it all figured out. They know what’s best for this country. They know who’s best for this country. They have put time, sweat, and energy into supporting their candidate. They are better than the rest of us who have no fucking idea what to do in the midst of the chaos that is now Egypt. They are the ones who are building while the rest of us are the couch potatoes. Fuck them.

My Western friends, when I complain, tell me: welcome to democracy. That’s how elections are every time in our countries. Do you think we ever have any decent candidates to choose from? Do you think presidential candidate supporters in the West are any less zealous than the ones in Egypt? And then I must admit that I’ll never understand how the great people of a country like the United States of America elected an idiot like George W. Bush into presidency not once but twice. No matter how bad our presidential candidates are, not one of them is that bad. But then I explain that true, we do have these things in common. But what we don’t have in common is the fact that we are creating our country now from scratch. Or rather, we’re trying to find “scratch” from amidst the ruins of our country so that we can then start building up our country from scratch. What happens during this next term, the first democratic term in our country ever, will dictate how our country will be run for a very long time.

What did I expect when we started our revolution? This. This is exactly what I expected. It doesn’t mean I like it. I certainly don’t want to go back to where we were. But I’m dreading the next few years. I’m dreading the choices of my people. I’m wondering if I’ll be able to get along with the choices of my people. My hope is that we can all drudge through the next few years with a minimal amount of damage to the country, to our economy and to our psyches, and that maybe five or ten years from now we’ll have better candidates to choose from because the general political environment will have allowed them to grow and mature. I don’t know that that will happen. But I have to give it a chance to happen.

I still don’t know who to choose for president. I think that each of them is as bad as the other. I’m not even sure I want to go and vote at the end of this week. When I vote, I want to know why I’m voting for x, y, or z. I don’t want to vote for the sake of voting. If I can’t decide who to vote for by Thursday, I’ll wait to see the results of the first round of elections. Maybe when the results come out I’ll have some sort of a revelation as to whom I must go vote for when the selection is only between two.

All I can tell you right now is that my current sentiment towards the Egyptian presidential elections is: BARF.

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7 comments

  1. As usual you’ve pretty much found what I have been thinking and pinned words onto it. It’s scary, it’s confusing and God knows I am sick of people trying to convert me when I truly believe not one of those men can do the job. That as with any election whoever is chosen will leave alot of people unhappy but unlike in the UK or USA where people grumble and are unhappy and maybe maybe pray for coalitions to collapse and a new General Election be called, here it is so much worse.

    Here ‘unhappy’ could mean anything from rounding dissenters up and throwing them away to angry self righteous suicide bombs to a never ending Abbassyia/ situation. Then there are the endless conspiracy theories, the SCAF, the Parliament and all these other people.

    The one conclusion I have come to (though I have believed this all along) is that Omar Soliman had it right, we aren’t ready for Democracy, but then again was any nation EVER ready for it?

  2. I love your post.. I think everybody I’ve spoken to regardless of their background / socioeconomic segment feel the same. I guess this confusion and disgust by the elections might prove to be a very healthy thing in its own way. It might – if we’re lucky – give birth to our collective sense of “choice”. It might actually make us decide that in the future we want better choices. Like you said, it might take 5 or 10 years and yes.. that’s long enough to make us want to barf.

  3. The unusual strength in language shows the desperation that goes with “creating the country from scratch” and the troubles you describe so clearly are shared by many in Egypt. Yet – the building of a future for a country coming out of dictatorship is always a pain for those who have to pave the road. The post-apartheid South Africa struggled for over a decade, East-Germans were lost after the wall came down, battling for years with depression (and now enjoying a stable democracy) and the people of Burma will still have to go through the emotional roller coaster rides you are currently experiencing and rob you off your sleep. In the end however it will be your children who profit from the courage to pull this through, grit teeth and stick to the goals. Setbacks? Anytime. Disappointments? Comes with the show. Irritation over friends suddenly politicizing? In abundance. But freedom to shape the future never comes for free. Democracy has its pains, demanding to accept (at least for the legislative term chosen) decisions by the majority that trouble, irritate, disturb. The good is – there is never a final decision. A new election will come, the time until then can be used to voice opinions, build movements, form parties, shape the future anew. The beginning to such a process, as you describe so very well, can be hell. But it is a beginning on a long road ahead. Remember that after Bush came Obama. There’s always a surprise twist to the tale.

    Therefore, believe in the future you already helped to shape so impressively in the last 15 months, make use of your opportunity to vote for someone who at least you feel you need not be afraid of – and wait for better candidates to come. It is for everyone to see to it that such candidates will have the environment to emerge. But at least now there is the possibility for candidates to emerge. That is a triumph indeed.

    And – on a lighter note – had you decided to run for President, the peoples pains would have been lessened. They could have chosen pancakes for all over Islamists or foloul. But you chickened out. Better luck next time. There’s a new election coming up in five years. Go bake those pancakes, get your followers on the streets – this democracy with Nadia could still turn out to be fun!

    1. LOL, Jonathan! Pancakes aside, your words are very well put and much appreciated. As I said, I knew this is what would happen. I don’t like it. But I have to – as you say – grit my teeth and bear it. We have a long road ahead. May be paved in a lot of barf too. But we’ll have to just roll up our pants legs and deal. :-)

  4. I swear to god I feel exactly the same way about the upcoming U.S. elections. But you’re right: Egypt is at a much more fragile place, and the consequences of an Islamist or a secular dictator could be way worse than Romney or Obama winning a second term here (although I really do think things are way, way worse in the U.S. right now than most people think).

    What about the possibility that the Islamists will moderate if they win and are forced to actually govern? Maybe the more secular candidates from the old Mubarak regime can be kept from consolidating power like Mubarak did and destroying any pretense of “democracy” in Egypt. I think at bottom, in Egypt, as in all democracies, everything depends on the willingness of “the people” to remain sharp, vigilant, intellectually honest, and vigilant – at all times – and to never become apathetic or blinded by too strong an identification with any one “tribe” (i.e. party or religion). Sadly, this has not happened in the U.S., and I really have no faith in people doing this in Egypt, or anywhere, at least in the long-term. In the short term, maybe though.

    I feel for you and for all liberal Egyptians (really, all Egyptians, but I personally identify most with the liberals). Life, like democracy, is one giant set of imperfect choices, based on imperfect information, carried out by imperfect people. The people who handle either best are probably the ones who are able to cope with the constant imperfection and chaos best; the ones who continue to participate to the best of their abilities given the constraints. Me, I wouldn’t know anything about this. My current plan is to not vote for anyone in the U.S. elections in ’12. My conscience won’t allow me to vote for either major party candidate (at least at the moment). So I understand that point of view too.

    P.S. I thought this was an interesting opinion piece from the New York Times about a week ago. It correctly points out what many Americans (surprisingly) don’t get — that democracy does not necessarily equal liberalism. It is titled, “Can Islamists Be Liberals.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/14/opinion/can-islamists-be-liberals.html

  5. If it helps at all, maybe you need to stop looking for the individual candidate and look for the team behind him and what it has to offer. If this revolution is any success, and if we’re really taking the right step in paving the way for a true institutional democracy then perhaps the choice should fall on the most efficient team that will help establish the rule of law through a clear insitutionalized system of checks and balances. A good team behind a presidential candidate would only mean less emphasis on the person and more on the “instituion,” which I think should be the key word here. I need to know that I will be able to vote that president out, and that my opposition to his policies will be taken into consideration. And that that president will be willing to apologize or even be forced to step down when he breaks the law. I don’t think the mess Egypt is in right now can be solved by one superman, but by a whole team of experts who are free of the sickening beauraucratic approaches of the past, who have some fresh blood that’s willing to take power risks vis a vis SCAF, and probably some luck that we have to pray for.

    There’s absolutely no guarantee that that team would actually succeed amidst all the “landmines” you mention (which I think is an excellent way to put it) but at least, to me, this thinking has helped me get a clearer view of where I need to put my feet. And it helped me ignore some personal concerns I had over my chosen candidate (not the silly stuff often repeated by phobes) because when I weighed things, they just didn’t seem all that important in this specific phase. Maybe a few years on, but not right now.

    Either case, like I told you, it’s not the end of the world. So just relax and take a warm bath and hope for the best.

    xxxx

  6. I think most of us feel the same, our candidates also didn’t help us to choose as they don’t present us a real programs to manage the next rough years we have ahead, all they are giving us dreams of miraculously solving Egypt’s problems without telling us how, like they are living in the LALA land, hello… people…Now in Egypt (and it has been for many years) we don’t ask “what is the problems in our country” instead we say’ tell me what is right”
    Anyway I concur with your western friends, I mean if I were an American citizen I won’t be very happy with the choices I have for the elections but still I’d have gone to vote. After all the beauty about democracy that we can correct our choices, so let’s not panic as long as no one can hijack our freedom to choose it’ll be o.k.

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