El Sisi’s ‘election’ was a dictators’ plebiscite that should have been boycotted by everyone on the left, argues John Rees
In the least surprising ‘election’ result since Jeff Davis was voted President of the Confederate States of America in 1861 self-proclaimed Field Marshall El Sisi has become President of Egypt.
The two elections have something else in common: they are both fakes.
El Sisi banned the main opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, after the military coup on 3 July last year. His armed forces shot dead over 1,400 Brotherhood supporters when the resulting protest at the Rabaa sit-in was destroyed.
The crackdown has long ago spread out, as we predicted it would, from the Brotherhood to all opposition forces. There are now over 40,000 political prisoners in Egypt, including the leading figures of the Muslim Brotherhood, now declared a terrorist organisation. But they are not alone. Al Jeezera journalists, members of the Revolutionary Socialists, democracy activists, bloggers are all in the same prisons.
Mass death sentences have seen over 500 protesters condemned in a single sitting without even their defence lawyers present.
On top of this a recently introduced ‘protest law’ makes any effective public demonstration illegal.
Of course any election held under these circumstances is a mere dictators’ plebiscite meant to cover the naked and bloody counter-revolution with the merest shreds of legitimacy.
But even this has backfired. The ‘election’ was all about turnout. If El Sisi failed to get a turnout higher than the 50 parent which elected deposed Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi his claims of a democratic mandate would ring doubly false.
So desperate was El Sisi to get above this threshold that the government ordered a full extra day of polling when the numbers were not turning out at the voting centres. Then they closed the massive City Stars shopping centre in order to force voters to go to the polls instead of going shopping. Then they suspended train fares. Then they declared the final day of voting a public holiday. Finally they threatened to enforce the 500 Egyptian pound fine for not voting.
None of it seems to have worked and early reports of turnout put it at 40-45 percent. El Sisi may announce higher figures but few will trust them. Indeed only 34 percent of Egyptians think the election has taken place without fraud.
In fact El Sisi has only one thing going for him in trying to pretend that this has been in any way a legitimate vote. And that thing is the willingness of left Nasserite Hamdeen Sabahy to run against him.
In breaking the boycott called for by the Muslim Brotherhood and the April 6th Movement, a central organisation to the original 25 January revolution, Sabahy delivered an indispensible degree of credibility to the El Sisi dictatorship.
Sabahy was the only other candidate in the race. If he had refused to stand, or withdrawn after nominations had closed, the El Sisi canditure would have stood exposed as the manourvere of a dictator. A one-candidate, 95 percent of the vote, 25 carat stitch-up.
So it’s even more astounding that the Revolutionary Socialists and some others on the far left also refused to boycott the obvious farce of a poll and called for a vote for Sabahy.
This was all justified as ‘defending the revolution’ and ‘providing a base to regroup from’. It did neither. Sabahy made it clear that he would continue the ban on the Brotherhood and to treat it as terrorist organisation. He defended the police and army murder of 1,400 people in the clearing of the Rabaa sit in. Only the grand tactical error of refusing to form a common front with the Brotherhood against the El Sisi counter-revolution can have led these left elements to back Sabahy in providing vital cover for the counter-revelation.
A spectacular failure in its own terms, as it was almost certain to be in such circumstances. He seems to have barely got less than 5 percent of the vote. This is a long fall from when Sabahy came third in the last Presidential poll that Morsi won. Indeed in that poll Sabahy actually gathered most votes in Cairo and Alexandria. His long years of opposition to Mubarak are now irrevocably stained by the service he has rendered El Sisi, and so are the reputations of those who supported him.
It is the Sabahy candidacy that has allowed the European Union observers to continue to watch over this mockery of a vote when they should have long ago declared it illegitimate. But this is part of a wider pattern of accommodation by the West to the El Sisi dictatorship. Nato’s head visited El Sisi, the first ever such to Egypt, shortly before the election.
The democratic movement, the workers movement, and the left have a long hard road ahead. A critical first step must be to reunite those opposed to El Sisi. Yes, it is true that the Brotherhood compromised with the Egyptian deep state during their year in power. Yes, it is true that they allowed the police and army to continue repression, although the level of repression is qualatively higher under El Sisi. But it is also true that the Brotherhood are not the same as the counter-revolutionary deep state itself. Indeed their mistakes and compromises made them its first and most numerous victims. And it is this that makes it possible to reforge a united opposition to El Sisi. One does not need to forget that the Brotherhood opened the door to El Sisi. But if that door is ever to be closed again it will require the masses that support the Brotherhood to help do it.
John Rees is a writer, broadcaster and activist, and is one of the organisers of the People’s Assembly. His books include ‘The Algebra of Revolution’, ‘Imperialism and Resistance’, ‘Timelines, A Political History of the Modern World’, ‘The People Demand, A Short History of the Arab Revolutions’ (with Joseph Daher), ‘A People’s History of London’ (with Lindsey German) and The Leveller Revolution. He is co-founder of the Stop the War Coalition.