Are the Egyptian Elections Fair?

Egyptians are in a situation they have never known before: for the first time they are taking part in a presidential election without knowing in advance who the next president will be. The credit for this great step forward in the history of Egypt goes, after God, only to the revolution. We are indebted to the twenty million Egyptians who came out on the streets, risked being shot in the chest and sacrificed thousands of dead and wounded so that Egyptians could cease to be abject subjects and become sovereign citizens able to decide the fate of their country.

We are undoubtedly living in a great historic moment, but the question remains: are these elections really fair? Unfortunately the first signs of election rigging appeared when Egyptians abroad voted. Al-Watan newspaper published photographs of two Egyptian voters in Saudi Arabia tampering with the ballot boxes. Judge Bagatu, a member of the Supreme Election Commission, has said that sixty Egyptians living abroad went to vote and found that someone had already voted in their name. Many Egyptians have discovered that the names of their dead relatives are still on the electoral registers, and perhaps the best-known of those is Mrs Zahra Said, who discovered that the name of her brother Khaled Said (the Alexandria man who was killed by police and became an icon of the revolution) was still on the register.

The strange thing is that no one has started an investigation into all these incidents, in the belief that we will disregard all this troubling evidence and assume there will be no election rigging. Are these elections fair? The voting is only one step in the electoral process, so the elections may not be rigged but at the same time they might be undemocratic. There are established rules throughout the world for democratic elections, and the military council and the Supreme Election Commission have committed serious violations of those rules.

First, a lack of transparency. One of the basic rules of democracy is that the voters should know about the wealth of the presidential candidates and how they have financed their election campaigns. But the two candidates affiliated with the Mubarak regime (Ahmed Shafik and Amr Moussa) have openly refused to declare the size of their fortunes. This refusal should be enough to disqualify them from standing in any democratic system. On campaign financing, the law has set a maximum for spending on campaigns and requires the candidates to disclose the sources of their funds. But the Supreme Election Commission has not enforced this law and the streets of Egypt are full of election advertising that has cost millions of pounds, without Egyptians knowing where the money has come from. The big billboards with a picture of Ahmed Shafik on flyovers and in public squares each cost 100,000 pounds a month to rent. Who gave Ahmed Shafik these millions to spend on election advertising? Or, if Shafik is spending from his own pocket, how did he acquire all this wealth when he has always been, whether in military service or civilian life, a public servant on a fixed salary? The same question applies to the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohamed Mursi, who is spending millions of pounds on advertising without anyone knowing where the money comes from. We don't know anything about the finances of the Muslim Brotherhood itself, whose budget is not subject to any auditing whatsoever. This dubious refusal to disclose the candidates' election finances and personal wealth violates the basic principles of democracy and makes these elections non-transparent and unfair.

Second, the absence of the rule of law. After Mubarak was deposed, the military council formed a committee to draft amendments to the 1971 constitution, chaired by Tarek el-Bishri (who belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood). The committee did what it was asked and put the whole country in a big mess when, in its amendment to Article 28, it banned appeals against decisions made by the Supreme Election Commission -- an article that the administrative court has described as flawed and a legacy of despotism. During the referendum on the constitutional amendments, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists mobilized simple people to approve the amendments (to please the Military Council) and made the vote into a religious battle between Muslims and infidels, which ended in the approval of the article. The extraordinary immunity that the Supreme Election Commission enjoys is contrary to custom and law, and indeed to the constitutional declaration itself, which bans immunity for administrative decisions.

We have seen how the election commission has ignored 35 complaints submitted against Ahmed Shafik a whole year ago, alleging that he had wasted public money. The public prosecutor sent the complaints to the military judiciary, which then announced that it had not received any complaints against Ahmed Shafik. When Essam Sultan revealed one of these complaints in parliament, it was sent it to the Illegal Gains Department, where it got lost in the corridors. In a democratic country, can documented complaints of corruption and wasting public money be submitted against a presidential candidate without it affecting his legal status?

Even more surprising is what the committee did when parliament passed the lustration law. Instead of applying the law, as it was duty-bound to do, and disqualifying Ahmed Shafik as a candidate, we were surprised to find that the committee was no longer an administrative committee but had changed into a judicial committee that refused to enforce the law and referred it to the Supreme Constitutional Court. So, while thousands of Egyptians are referred to military courts and young revolutionaries are sentenced to jail on trumped-up charges, dozens of complaints against Ahmed Shafik are ignored because he has the backing of the Military Council. Add to these allegations the fact that the law bans the use of places of worship for electioneering, while a large number of mosque preachers urge people to vote for the Muslim Brotherhood candidate in their Friday sermons. The law bans buying votes, but the Muslim Brothers move through the streets giving away sugar and cooking oil to the poor in exchange for their votes, and no one enforces the law against them. In the absence of the rule of law the elections are unfair before they start.

Third, preferential treatment. The principle of equal opportunities for all the candidates has been completely ignored. The candidate's relationship with the Military Council defines the attitude of the state towards him. The current regime does not treat Ahmed Shafik in the same way it treats the revolutionary candidates. It doesn't even treat Shafik's supporters in the same way as his opponents.

I'll mention one incident as an example: Ahmed Shafik campaigned in southern Egypt and more than once he was besieged by young revolutionaries because he is Mubarak's man and they consider his candidacy to be illegal and a betrayal of the blood of the martyrs. Whenever demonstrators surrounded Shafik in southern Egypt, the security and military police attacked them immediately to make way for Shafik because he is Mubarak's disciple and a friend to the generals on the Military Council. But when people working in civil aviation tried to hold a press conference in the Journalists Syndicate to publicize the serious financial irregularities that Ahmed Shafik committed while he was minister of civil aviation, thugs linked to Shafik suddenly appeared and stormed the syndicate building, beating up all those present and preventing the press conference from taking place. This barbaric attack on the Journalists Syndicate took place within sight of the civilian and military police who did not intervene to stop the attack because it was in Shafik's interest.

In spite of the Military Council's grandiloquent statements about justice and democracy the way the law and the security forces have treated the presidential candidates has varied according to their relationship with the Military Council, which negates the principle of equal opportunities and makes the elections undemocratic.

Fourth, preventing Egyptians abroad from voting. The number of Egyptians abroad is estimated at about nine million and these people have fought hard to obtain their constitutional right to vote in their country's elections. The Mubarak regime didn't want to give them the right to vote because there were many of them and they lived beyond the regime's control, making them an influential factor in the outcome of elections. After Mubarak was deposed, the Military Council continued to prevent Egyptians abroad from voting until a final ruling came out giving them the right to vote.

At that stage the Military Council's advisers (who had been Mubarak's advisers) resorted to a bureaucratic ruse to dampen the effect of the judicial ruling. They restricted the right to vote to Egyptians who had national identity cards, although passports would be sufficient to prove the identity of the voter, as is done all over the world. This stipulation prevented most Egyptians abroad from exercising their right and only 600,000 Egyptians abroad were registered. The elections cannot reflect the will of the people when more than eight million people have been deprived of their right to vote, because such a large voting block is enough to change the result in any election.

The presidential elections that begin this week are very far from being fair elections because the Military Council has set the rules in order to obtain the result that it wants. They are not democratic elections but a decisive battle between the Egyptian revolution and the Mubarak regime. The Mubarak regime (protected and preserved by the Military Council) has fabricated numerous crises -- security breakdowns, fires, shortages of fuel and foodstuffs, all to wear down and intimidate Egyptians in preparation for a particular moment when Mubarak's candidate would be promoted as the savior who would restore order and solve the crisis.

The Mubarak regime is fighting desperately to put Ahmed Shafik into the presidency to restore the interests of the parasites and thieves and for Shafik to undo the revolution and castigate the revolutionaries, as he has said. The revolutionaries on the other hand want to see a revolutionary president elected to bring about the real change that the Military Council has obstructed for more than a year. This is a battle between the future and the past. The revolutionaries must fight this battle with all their strength to prevent election rigging and ensure that the winner is a candidate who belongs to the revolution.

I support revolutionary candidate Hamdeen Sabahi and consider him the candidate best able to achieve the objectives of the revolution, but the battle should not be between one revolutionary candidate and another. Instead it should be between revolutionary candidates and Mubarak's, between a revolution that wants to build a democratic Egypt and restore the rights and dignity of Egyptians, and the Mubarak regime, which wants to turn Egypt back and restore corruption, despotism and repression. The revolution continues. It will triumph, God willing, and give Egypt the future it deserves.