Egypt Elections

In Egypt, young voices remain silent through elections


As Egyptians voted for a new president last week, most young people decided to stay away from the polls, angering some older voters.

Special to the Miami Herald

Struggling against the heat of a 104-degree Monday in Cairo last week, Mohamed Gamal, a 62-year-old engineer, cast his vote in the second Egyptian presidential election since the eruption of what was internationally known as the Arab Spring in 2011.

Gamal, a father of three, succeeded in taking two neighbors with him to the polling station nearby to vote for the ex-army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. But what he couldn’t do was persuade his two sons and daughter to go to the polls. The three youths, like most of their generation, have decided to boycott the country’s elections.

“Our country needs our support to restore stability. It’s a call of duty and anyone who doesn’t take part is letting this country down,” Gamal said vigorously, pointing a finger at the younger generation, which accounts for more than a quarter of the population.

The rift between the younger generation, which led the 2011 Revolution, and their elders has widened significantly over the past couple of years and it was reflected throughout the boycott of last week’s poll.

“Where are the young people? They understand nothing! They don’t even know what is best for them, let alone what’s best for the country,” Gamal said.

The significance of last week’s election is that it came months after the Egyptian Army led by el-Sissi ousted the country’s first freely elected Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, in July 2013. Morsi’s ouster followed mass demonstrations against his administration. The move stirred heated debate locally and internationally over whether it was another public revolution or a coup.

Thus, when el-Sissi, who resigned from the Army a few months before the elections, decided to run for office, his campaigners alongside the country’s most prominent television and news presenters urged Egyptians to show their support through the ballot.

Nevertheless, the presidential race suggested a different outcome.

El-Sissi was portrayed as the candidate capable of bringing about stability and security. He was announced to have won 93.3 percent of votes cast with most ballots counted after three days of voting.

His only rival, leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi, who came third in 2012 polls that brought Morsi to power, gained 3 percent while 3.7 percent of votes were declared void.

“The boycott is a statement. To vote is to choose. But when there is no choice and the result is known already, it’s not elections; it’s a farce,” said Emad Hassaballah, 24, who recently graduated medical school and who boycotted the vote. He said el-Sissi was widely expected to win well before the voting started.

Voters aged 18 to 40 are estimated to account for 58.9 percent of the electorate in Egypt, while those above 40 account for the remaining 41.1 percent, according to Egypt’s electoral commission.

Voter turnout was officially recorded at 46 percent, largely because Hassaballah and his peers stayed away from the polls. In 2012, 52 percent of the electorate voted.

Meanwhile, Sabahi’s campaign said its representatives at polling stations had put the turnout at the end of the second day at no more than 15 percent.

The Egyptian government and media seemed to have panicked on Monday after the first of the planned two-day vote, as the turnout was shockingly low. The interim government announced the second voting day an official holiday, as well as announcing that all public transportation would be free of charge in an attempt to lure people to vote.

On Tuesday, voting was extended to a third day, with the government announcing that those who refrain from voting would be fined a sum of over 500 Egyptian pounds ($72), a move that analysts described as desperate.

U.S.-based Democracy International, which had been observing the vote, said Wednesday that the extension “raises more questions about the independence of the election commission, the impartiality of the government, and the integrity of Egypt’s electoral process.” It also added that its observer teams didn’t monitor the third day of the vote.

The presidential polls were the second step since Morsi’s ouster, after January’s constitutional referendum. They will be followed by parliamentary polls later this year.

Results of the presidential elections will be officially announced on June 5.

For over three years now, Egypt, the most populous Arab country with a population of 90 million, has been struggling with political instability and an ailing economy. Taking into account the anti-Islamists propaganda and the terror attacks that swept through the country after the ouster of the Islamist Morsi, fear took over certain segments of the Egyptian society.

The older generations seem to have been hit the hardest.

“The change that the country witnessed over the past three years exceeds anything they’ve ever seen in their entire life,” said Passant al-Amir, a 29-year-old public servant, trying to explain the hard time she’s had with her parents.

Egypt is a young country demographically with more than half of the population under the age of 40. Nevertheless, the percentage of youths in the past several governments and involved in decision-making is still lagging, with growing distrust between older and younger generations.

A month ago, amid increasing electoral propaganda, al-Amir and her 26-year-old younger brother lived a moment of this distrust when they had a heated argument with their father. The two young people argued that members of the military should not be allowed to gain political power. To allow that, they said, would be a setback for the revolution.

“He called us traitors and threw us out of ‘his house’ — which is where we live! I felt a huge rift,” al-Amir said, adding that they were eventually allowed back in after waiting at the door for an hour.

“This isn’t how politics should be handled. If the elders would settle down for security, we still want bread, freedom and justice [the most popular slogan of the 2011 Revolution],” al-Amir said. “My dad is so scared. But I am not.”

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