Sunday, May 20, 2012

Letters from Egypt: Election Inconsistencies

All the campaign posters ahead of the microbus
It is a rarity, particularly in Africa, not to see a leader emerging in election polls most often based on a lack of transparency; however, in Egypt, it is currently anyone’s guess. In the US, polls are continuously updated with analysis on who is garnering which state and other statistics (minorities, women, etc). There is absolutely no way that any political analyst, Egyptian or foreign, can aptly describe the likely hopefuls in Egypt (and if you hear anyone doing so, take it with a grain of salt).

As this is the first “democratically-held” elections to take place in the country, it was also momentous for a presidential debate to be televised on May 9. What I bet you didn’t know nor was it reported was that the presidential debate didn’t even use Egyptian Arabic, but instead fos7a (fusha/fosha) or better known as classical Arabic. I asked a friend if she watched the debates and she said, “I began watching and about 10-15 minutes into it, I realized it was in fos7a and I can’t understand fos7a.”

While many Egyptians can understand the basics in fos7a, the majority’s knowledge base is mostly based on fos7a as used in the Q’aran (meaning technical knowledge is not widespread). Egyptian Arabic is the most widely spoken and understood dialect (particularly Cairene) throughout the Arab world mainly as a result of Egyptian media dominating Arab cinema. So question: WHY WOULD PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES BE HELD IN A DIALECT THAT ISN’T COMMONLY SPOKEN IN THE COUNTRY OF SAID PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS??? Why wouldn’t presidential candidates want the majority of voters to hear their platforms?

The BBC had an article on May 18, “Opinion polls give few clues to Egypt presidential election” which brought up some valid points that those of us on the ground already know. The elections are coming up in three days, and yet it seems like everyone is changing their minds daily (forget daily, it could even be hourly). I’ve seen repeated posts on Facebook that say, “Who is everyone voting for?” Noha Ali told me, “I want to know who the majority is going for because I want my vote to count.”

The Baseera Center has been collecting samples detailing recent opinion polls. The fifth poll, taken May 12, showed that former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq was in the lead, just ahead of former foreign minister and Arab League chief Amr Moussa. The survey said, “Results are based on telephone (both landline and mobile) interviews conducted entirely in one day, May 12, 2012, with a random sample of 2,294 Egyptian adults [over the age of 18].” What confuses me about this poll is how the random sample is collected, which the report fails to acknowledge.

The BBC also noted that perhaps Moussa and Fotouh suffered because of “lackluster television performances.” Was it really lackluster or did people just not thoroughly understand the commentary given that it was in fos7a and again, not even in Egyptian Arabic! I will continue to reiterate this as I am just flabbergasted, it would be the equivalent of watching Obama vs Romney with voice overs in Cockney or Afrikaan English.

Showing support for Fotouh
Independent candidate and Islamist, Aboul Fotouh is said to be in third place, Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Mursi is in fourth place. Yet previously, government-owned media outlet al-Ahram placed Moussa in the lead with Fotouh, Mursi and Hamdeen Sabbahi following respectively.

While organizations are just now trying to understand polling (it isn’t as though it’s ever been allowed), Baseera Center head Magued Osman noted that the phone samplings could be skewed depending on different variables like during the day, more housewives are answering the phone. Women working in Egypt currently occupy about 24% of the overall job force according to figures from Unicef. Osman also said that a high percentage of undecided voters (37.4% according to the organization) were women and “some of the candidates have recently picked up on the need to win the female vote.”

And while there are some liberal, independent AND intelligent Egyptian women out there, I want to also state that the majority residing within the country depend on their male family members – mostly husbands – to influence (cough cough, rather MAKE) their decisions. And let’s be real, it’s not like we’re going to see a feminist/bra-burning revolution any time in the near future in this male-dominated society.

Below is a Facebook excerpt from an Egyptian friend of mine who is liberal and his reasons for supporting Sabbahi.

I know I don't talk much about politics on Facebook but I felt the urge to share how I think and feel concerning this matter because I know in my heart and mind this could actually change someone's mind or get us a little closer to our ultimate goal "better Egypt"
  • Why should everyone vote for this man?
  • Is he really "one of us" and by "us" I mean the majority of Egyptian people, the hardworking, struggling to live (middle class B- all the way to poverty line and beyond) ? And if so, is this the kind of leader we need at this critical stage?
  • Is social justice really the key to social security and harmony?
  • Is this why the new president should be concerned more with poor people and their needs?
  • Why did France choose a socialist as a new president? Wasn't that enough to make us see the world is changing and if France had problems in this area, we should be really worried.
  • Does he have a clear political and economical strategy to move us forward?
  • Does he have a deep sense of Arab nationalism and what it used to be Egypt's major role in the Arab region and the world?
  • What about a real democratic system where it’s political and social ideologies or overviews are founded on ideas of liberty and equality between human beings (Regardless of Anything)?
  • What about political diversity? Or Egyptians killed "el 7ezb al watany" to start a new one but with a beard?

This man is really decent, noble and honorable with a long history of patriotism. This is why I'm voting for Hamdeen Sabbahi.


  1. Was talking to some of the men installing my ACs this week and they told me that they wanted to vote but that the government is now requiring all voters to return to their villages/cities/towns in order to do so. As they can not take time off from work, and most have homes very far from Sharm, they are unable to vote. Another friend in the same bind thought it was funny the government was making it easy for overseas Egyptians to vote but making it very difficult for people in the country to vote.

    1. The government made it easier (although that's somewhat debatable) for expat Egyptians to vote because they knew very few would register (likewise, the new IDs are required and many overseas Egyptians do not have the ID and therefore cannot register). Unfortunately the story that you just shared was also true for parliamentary elections. I'm still shocked that Egyptian Arabic was not used in the presidential debates, but then again, should I really be so shocked?