I have a confession to make: I, a political junkie who has prodded people many times (on several occasions) to go vote, did not vote in the Egyptian presidential elections.
But before you begin to cry ‘hypocrite!’, please hear my reasons.
First, I should note that there isn’t a single candidate who has outlined a plan that resembles a possible solution to any one of Egypt’s problems. My decision to boycott was not done out of apathy, but as a way to voice my dissatisfaction with the candidates fielded this year. However, I have to admit that this is not entirely their fault because they likely don’t know what the responsibilities of the president in the new Egypt will be.
And that is the reason why I boycotted the Egyptian Elections: there is no legal or constitutional basis for this election.
As a voter, when I put my vote in a ballot box, it indicates that I, being of sound mind and having weighed the benefits and consequences of voting for each candidate, would like Candidate X to hold the office of the President and to use the constitutional powers available to him to fulfill the promises he made to me. But that’s where the problem of this election is – there is no constitution. So when I elect someone, I’m basically giving them a carte blanche to fulfill their political goals however they please, with no legal boundaries to limit the extent to which they can infringe on my rights as a citizen to achieve those goals.
An example that I think a lot of people will appreciate is the ‘national security’ issue in Egypt. With crime being so rampant these days in Egypt, one major issue that any candidate will have to tackle is enforcing security and protecting citizens. But there are many ways to do that: you could allow police to flood the streets and basically arrest anyone looking suspicious, or you could enforce a ‘state of emergency’ that allows the police to arrest suspects without consideration for their rights. Each candidate would do that differently. But when you have a constitution that says ‘citizens are guaranteed rights X, Y and Z’, this suddenly changes the strategy that each candidate would advocate for, and allows for you as a citizen to know which candidate is lying to you and which candidate has an idea of what they are doing. So when you have a constitution that defines what a president can and can’t do, you can make a more informed decision as a voter.
But the problem with the Egyptian election is that you don’t know what you’re buying into. You’re voting for a president before there’s a constitution, which is like putting the cart before the horse. This would mean one of two things: either a new election would be needed after the constitution is drafted or, the more likely thing, the constitution will be drafted around those who are already in power. We don’t even know what the constitution will look like yet, and we are already asking for someone to uphold a constitution before an Islamist-dominated parliament. If you ask me, it’s a formula that is setting up the next president to fail miserably in office because they will not know what they need to uphold, and how to uphold it.
As for those who are simply saying ‘someone is bound to win, so you might as well vote’, you’re basically going with the flow because it’s the easier thing to do, not the right thing to do. If you think that those who boycott the vote are contributing to the demise of Egypt, that argument can be applied to those who are voting if you consider the arguments above and, more importantly, you consider the consequences of giving this election any legitimacy by participating in it. The more you legitimize any one candidate’s presidency without consideration for the legal authority that they have to do the things they promised you, the more you’re contributing to the state of chaos that this country’s politics has experienced for the past three decades.
So before you even begin to talk about so-and-so’s promises or so-and-so’s appeal to you, consider the authority that a president would have to have in order to carry out the promises they made you. I ask you to consider this because when times get rough (and believe me, they will), the only thing that will stand between you and an autocratic or incompetent president is a law that protects your rights and defines what a president can’t or can’t do. DO NOT buy in to the candidate’s appeal only: think carefully about what you’re buying into before you even consider who to throw your support to.