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Egypt Presidential Elections 2024: Why did the Egyptians Sell Their Votes?

“Smile for the camera” was the name of an Egyptian movie that was made in 1998, and it has been embodied throughout the ongoing elections in Egypt from 10 December to 12 December.

“Let’s all take a picture”. This was a scene in front of a poll centre in Giza near the capital. The main character was a member of the Future of a Nation Party, calling on dozens of women to gather around him to take a picture to suggest there was a large election turnout. This took place on the first day of the presidential race, which current President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi is trying to win, to obtain a third term extending until 2030.

In addition to 68 year old El-Sisi, three other candidates are running in the elections: Farid Zahran, head of the Egyptian Democratic Party, Abdel-Sanad Yamama, head of the Wafd Party and Hazem Omar, head of the Republican People’s Party.

Filming with cameras and mobile phones was the main concern of members of the Majority Party, who mobilised the elderly, pensioners, beneficiaries of the Solidarity and Dignity governmental fund for the needy and widows and divorcees who benefit from charitable societies. These are groups that are easy to direct and mobilise during elections, in exchange for food commodities or through intimidation of cutting off their in-kind aid.

Another scene involved loudspeakers that were placed next to the poll stations in all governorates, to broadcast patriotic songs, most notably a song that was produced by the Egyptian army right after the success of the military coup against late President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

Cost of votes 

A number of voters, mostly poor, were talking about what compensations they would receive at the end of the Election Day.

Another scene revolved about means of mobilisation used for the elections. Some said it was a meal and a phone charging card worth 100 pounds (about $3); another said they would receive a food parcel, and a third said they were getting a blanket provided by Abu Al-Enein Charitable Association, which is headed by member of the House of Representatives and well-known Egyptian and businessman close to the ruling regime, Mohamed Abu Al-Enein.

A fifty-year-old man spoke to Middle East Monitor, confirming that El-Sisi would inevitably win, saying: he will definitely win, no matter what, indicating that the elections’ results have already been decided before they even begin and, at the same time, justifying his efforts to get something in return for his vote, adding: “let’s get anything”.

But a street vendor passed by the poll centre offering his goods for sale, not caring about the electoral process. He said: “What can my vote do? It has no value. They will give me a food parcel, but then will take it back from me in millions.” He was criticising increased prices of all goods and services including electricity, water, gas and transportation bills.

Abu Hussein, a carpenter, had the same opinion. He said: “I am bored of the elections. What will they change?” He pointed out that prices are so high, and Egyptians are slowly dying because of the collapse of the value of the Egyptian pound and the deterioration of living and economic conditions.

Meanwhile, a sixty-year-old pollster in the Red Zone arear of Cairo Governorate went the opposite way, saying: “we want stability, meaning that El-Sisi’s staying in office while being supported by the army, enhances security and stability in the country.

A pollster is entrusted with the task of gathering a number of voters from the area in which he resides, along with providing copies of their ID cards. He then mobilises them during the election days, giving each voter a card with the number of the centre in which he will cast his vote, and then making sure they have voted, indicated through traces of ink on their hands.

Pollsters coordinate with the security services and the Future of the Nation party to create crowding in front of the poll stations, in exchange for giving each voter a sum of money that ranges from 100 pounds ($3) to 200 pounds (about $6). Meanwhile, pollsters expect to receive generous rewards from businessmen and representatives loyal to the ruling regime.

Mada Masr, an independent media site, reported that a pollster standing in front of Al-Mustaqbal Preparatory School for Girls in the Matareya area, east of Cairo, said: “El-Sisi is winning the elections, either way. We are helping the poor and 200 pounds is not bad”.

The price was higher among students of public and private universities and has reached 300 pounds (about 10 dollars) and a meal, in exchange for casting a vote and being present before the committees, as a sign of youth interest, according to a student at the Canadian University in Cairo, speaking to us on the condition of anonymity.

New tactic 

Another scene took place in front of an electoral committee in the Imbaba neighbourhood, west of the capital. A housewife complained that she and others were asked to stay for nearly 6 hours near the poll centre. It is a new tactic that aims at creating a state of crowding in front of the elections stations in a bid to mimic the long lines of voters stretching for hundreds of meters that were witnessed in the 2012 elections that followed the January revolution of 2011.

The General Elections Authority applied yet another tactic, which was to reduce the number of poll centres from 14,000 in the 2018 elections, to 12,000 in the current elections, despite the increase in the number of voters to 67 million voters, thus creating an artificial state of crowding in front of the polling stations.

Another new tactic that was reported by an eyewitness in Al-Ahram Gardens area, west of Cairo, was hiding the bribes and compensation and avoiding offering them in front of the polls. They were, rather, offering voters vouchers worth 200 pounds (about $6) to redeem for food at local markets after they vote.

Absence of young voters 

The most striking thing witnessed over the three days of the elections, was the absence of young voters, who apparently boycotted the elections. Perhaps, they did so to protest the high levels of unemployment and poor economic conditions, or perhaps in protest against security and political repression, and the overthrow of the young candidate, Ahmed Tantawi, and denying him the right to run for presidency, which shows lack of integrity standards in the entire elections process; or perhaps they boycotted for all those reasons together.

Lack of participation from young voters was evident in the streets of Greater Cairo and neighbourhoods of the capital, making it hard to tell that there were elections in a county with a population of more than100 million people. The fact that elections took place during official working days and there was direct government mobilisation and pressure exerted on government employees to vote did not help.

An informed government source told Middle East Monitor that affidavits were taken from teachers by their areas’ pollsters, instructing them that they must vote. This was repeated with other government bodies, universities and institutions.

In exchange for the absence of young people, the Coptic crowd came with instructions from the Orthodox Church, with the presence of priests before the poll centres. They were especially present in villages, cities and governorates of Upper Egypt in the south, where their presence is concentrated. Coptic voters were divided into two shifts: morning and evening, to suggest a steady electoral flow throughout the day.

Dancing and singing

As usual, singing, dancing and raising the national flag in front of the poll stations were there, along with popular bands that paraded around with flutes and drums to create a folkloric scene of joy and happiness at what the Egyptian media is calling a democratic wedding. This democratic wedding is apparently taking place amid the boycott of 9 liberal and leftist parties in the country.

Dancing was one of the common things shared between low scale and upscale neighbourhoods in Cairo. There was a heavy influx of cars and buses carrying factory and company workers, government employees and beneficiaries of humanitarian aid provided by the National Alliance for Civil Action, which includes 34 charitable associations and institutions.

A former leader of the dissolved National Party spoke to Middle East Monitor, on the condition of anonymity, saying that all the authority wants is to get those pictures. He said that the ruling regime does not want people to participate and practice politics in the true sense, because this will be a source of concern for it in any future elections. Rather, the regime is looking to see electoral rallies and gatherings that will give it public and legitimate cover in front of the media.

But the dancing and singing did not last long. Rather, they turned into quarrels and an exchange of curses and insults, after a pollster announced before a poll station in the Boulaq Al-Dakrour neighbourhood, Giza Governorate, that she ran out of money. Dozens of women had been waiting to receive 100 pounds ($3), in exchange for their votes and for staying in front of the poll centres for hours into the night.

One of the young men commented sarcastically, saying: “The country was sold for two kilos of sugar” (a kilo of sugar costs 50 pounds, equivalent to a dollar and a half). He criticised people’s selling of their votes and the loss of any hopes in a political reform, leading them to give up on the country’s future until the year 2030.

Official data shows that El-Sisi won the elections in 2014 and 2018, with 96.91 per cent and 97.08 per cent, with a participation rate of 47.45 per cent and 41.5 per cent, respectively, of the total voters registered in the voter lists.

Source : MEMO