by Kyli Powe
In democratic elections, voters have the right to voice their disapproval of the government freely and to bring different procedures as well as candidates to the forefront. When these rights are violated, voters are being robbed of their voice for democracy. Elections should be fair, honest and free of corruption. Voters should not be fearful of expressing their opinions of their government, especially when corruption and injustice are present. However, this is not the case in Cairo, Egypt. On Tuesday, April 16th, 2019, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi won approval from lawmakers to stay in office until 2030. The president’s authoritarian grasp over Egypt has resulted in the election benefiting in his favor. The fact that Egypt is under authoritarian rule conveys a clear indication that without a doubt, that the president won the election through fraud. Under authoritarian rule, individual freedom does not exist, and citizens are subjects to oppression. Power is not resting in the hands of the people but is instead being grasped by the hands of a leader or a small elite.
The vote was 531 to 22, with one non-voting person. The legislature is dominated by Sissi’s loyalists, and his regime has quieted disapproval to constitutional amendments, arresting rebels and looking to remove an online protest campaign by ending its website. The legislature has also taken procedures to limit online content that permitted the people of Egypt contact to the obstruction campaign. This is an example of a term that is described by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt in How Democracies Die, Ch.4 called “Capturing the referee”. This means that the government chooses when it wants to enforce the law. It penalizes the ones that disapprove of them but will protect the ones that are on their side. The capturing of the referee is being demonstrated by switching out unbiased administrators with loyalists. These so-called lawmakers that approved for President Sissi to remain in office, were without a doubt loyalist of his. Therefore, he was guaranteed to win the election. There was no way he was going to lose because he had the outcome of the election already in his advantage. The citizens were fearful to vote or rebel against him because they knew that they would suffer harsh consequences. Sissi’s regime has already imprisoned tens of thousands of criticizers and destroyed independent media and ended hundreds of websites that were dangerous of his term.
President Sissi basically won the election through acts of corruption and by instilling fear towards the voters. The president would be given new authorities to appoint judges and the municipal prosecutor, resulting in control of the judicial system. The anticipated alterations also include revising the constitution to declare that the role of the military which remains the power behind his presidency, is to defend “the constitution and democracy”. If his presidency is supposedly based on the constitution and democracy, then why is he using intimidation tactics to keep voters from voting against him? Why is he shutting down independent media and websites just because they are expressing their opinions about his views? If his presidency is truly based on the constitution and democracy, then why is he imprisoning thousands of citizens just because they disapprove of him? Sissi’s presidency is based less on democracy and more on what Steven Levitsky and Lucan A. Way describe as in Elections Without Democracy: The Rise of Competitive Authoritarianism, a “pseudo-democracy”. A pseudo-democracy is a system of government that considers itself to be democratic but is not.
Ayman Nour, an important opposition politician who lives in exile in Turkey stated, “We are concerned that these constitutional amendments will be the final step toward transforming Egypt into a fully autocratic state, with extreme human rights violations and failures in all aspects of life for many years to come.” This statement represents an example of a pseudo democracy because the government tries to make it seem like these revisions of the constitution are for the benefits of the citizens. People are realizing that these revisions are only for the benefit of President Sissi. His goal is to lead Egypt on a path to autocracy where all the power lies in his hands. He doesn’t want anybody to have a voice. All he wants his for the people to follow his orders without them having any input. This is also an example of a term that Levitsky and Ziblatt mention in How Democracies Die, Ch.4 called “Rewriting rules altogether.” This means that you are rewriting the rules, so the government works in your favor. Sissi wants revisions done to their constitution so it can benefit him and the people. He knows that the more revisions that are made will result in him gaining more and power, because he has the government wrapped around his finger.
Gaining power through corruption undermines what democracy stands for. Candidates should never make voters feel scared or intimidated to voice their political views. Authoritarianism and corruption do not represent democracy but threatens it. Elections should be used as a medium for ideas of reform and unity, not oppression, corruption, and injustice.