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Sunday, September 11, 2005

I was blind, but now I see

Moved on! Check TheCairoCalls

I have a confession to make: I’m totally brainwashed. I am as fixated on western culture as your next video clip diva. I believe in their superiority, their authority, their seniority, and even their sorority (-ies, but come on I was on a roll here).

But this is changing. As it turns out, I am beginning to like Egyptians also. Or do I?

Ok, now I need to explain.

My first contact with this whole blogs thing was nearly 2 years ago. I was fascinated. For the very first time in the course of human civilization, private citizens were able (no, not to elect their president in a multi-candidate elections, but) to be their own broadcasters. You can literally speak out your mind, and millions of people would read link and refer. The high point of my admiration was during the 2004 US presidential elections. I read Daily Kos, and the New Republic, like there was no tomorrow. For a period of nearly two months, I was a die-hard democrat. I thought John Edwards’ nomination as a VP was a smart move, I raged about the whole swift boat fiasco, and picked on righties after Kerry kicked Bush’s ass through out the debates. (I didn’t witness the actual elections nevertheless, but there is a whole blog entry right there). In short I really lived the experience, and as I said earlier, being a believer in western superiority, I attributed my attachment to the whole thing as another proof of how western style democracy was such an involving and participative process that we here in Egypt would never be able to match, because, after all, we have got no blogs!

And then I saw the light. Days before September 7th elections, I logged on Technorati, and in a desperate attempt typed “mubarak” and “Egypt elections”. I was swamped. In a matter of a few days, I was savoring the writing of such names as the Big Pharaoh, Manal and Alaa, The Sandmonkey, Nora Younis, Ritzy, and Bahyaa. And to add extra credibility to the whole phenomena, I watched with my jaws dropped Heikal mentioning how he eagerly anticipate Bahyaa’s blog entries. And I was thinking, what are the chances?

And at this time, I was at my “Egyptians are OK after all” point.

And then, the results came out. And I had my doubts once again.

Now, before getting into why I had any doubts, and what exactly are those doubts, let me tell you my analysis for whatever happened on September the 7th. It goes like this:

1. First and foremost, numbers should be put into perspective. The “NDP candidate” got 88% of 23% of a registered voter base of around 50% of the population. Doing the math, it turns out that Mubarak got the mandate of 10.12% of the population. So much for the Ahram-claimed “first elected president in Egypt’s history”

2. Again perspective people, perspective. The “biggest winner” (according to September 10th Al-Masry Al-Youm) Ayman Nour got, as a percentage of the total population, 0.8%!

3. I don’t believe the polls were rigged. People were confused, harassed, left standing in queues for hours, but compared to past elections that was nothing. I am not saying that the government decided out of the blues that it will allow fair and transparent elections just for the sake of good karma. No, it didn’t, but again if you look at the numbers you’d understand that it doesn’t make sense:

a. After 50 years in power, the NDP (the successor of Ithad Eshtraki) should be able to get the endorsement of 10% of the population (with a well balanced work schedule, some extra free time, a couple of hundreds of thousands of pounds, I CAN get 10% of the popular vote). So really there is nothing magnificent about the result that would suggest undeniable foul play. It’s really not worth it.

b. Even if it is humanly possible to forge 1 or 2 million votes (especially in such a closely watched elections), it wouldn’t be enough to sway the elections. So really, it’s again not worth it.

c. Putting the president’s number at 88%, only 5% short of his last referendum’s number, doesn’t at all help the democratic awakening claims of the NDP. If anything, I think NDPians would have hoped for a better turnout, than a better number for their candidate.

4. What really happened is that the NDP was pragmatic about the way it approached the elections. In American campaigns’ terms: they were exceptionally successful at mobilizing their bases, and at getting-out-the-vote efforts. They approached the elections as the massive logistical operation it is. Anybody who has been to any polling station would tell you about the huge numbers of NDP volunteers who would guide you, help you find your name in the lists, and even help you cut through the queue in order to be able vote quickly. I have been in elections before (there is a blog entry right here also) and, believe me on this, this makes all the difference.

5. Opposition parties are in no position whatsoever to claim anything. They’re unknown, unpopular, unorganized, and untrustworthy. This elections showed that while the government isn’t particularly popular, opposition parties are (and I think that is an even more serious political sin) irrelevant. Not a single candidate was able to present a clear case for why he should be elected, and more importantly package and sell his program to the masses, which takes us to the apparent phenomena of the complete disappearance of any sort of visionary leadership (or any other type for that matter) among the different parties’ ranks, which appeared to me to be ran by the same opportunistic mentality that mars government organizations.

To confuse those observations with a justification for the predominance of the ruling regime, or even as a sign of consent to the status quo, would be an utter misinterpretation.

What I am trying to say plainly is that dismissing the elections results on the basis of fraud or vote rigging would be much more comforting than to admit that the real problem is that we’re living in a country where 90% of the population just don’t give a damn. And looking at it from this point it is a completely different ball game.

What is this game all about? That would be the topic of the following entry. But let me leave you with this: I recently read a book called Freakonomics. If you’re in anyway interested in statistics, economics, or sociology, by all means try to read it. The central theme of the book is that people simply respond to incentives. If a system of incentives is set correctly you can be rest assured that people would follow it, or go around it, depending on how the incentives are set and how they’re perceived.

Think about this, and try to figure out where our whole understanding of the political process in action around us fails.

More, soon

Moved on!

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