Egypt’s journalists continue to live in fear of the regime as parliamentary elections commence

By Kit Roberts

EGYPT’S press are still living in fear of the Sisi regime as the first round of parliamentary elections approach, outlets have told Redaction Politics.

The aggressive response – which has seen thousands imprisoned – leaves many critical voices with severe doubts about how representative the upcoming elections, held this weekend, will be of Egypt’s people.

After seven years of government by former military leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, faith in the democratic process in Egypt appears almost non-existent.

A former Egyptian journalist, who now works in the UK, told Redaction Politics: “The revolution for democracy destroyed the country, and brought an Islamic president, then a military president who is way worse than Mubarak. 

“We have lost a lot, and people are not willing to fight the fight. They want to live, and bring up their children.

“I so wish for democracy and for people to have their voice heard, but I realise that this is not attainable in the near or far future at the moment for Egypt.”

Several individuals in Egypt were also contacted for this piece for comment and, tellingly, every single one explicitly stated that they do not speak to the media.

President Sisi has been in office since 2013, when he took power from Muslim Brotherhood affiliated Mohammad Mursi in a coup d’etat. Mursi himself was elected after the iconic protests toppled long time dictator Hosni Mubarak, an event seen by many as a catalyst for the Arab Spring. 

For many, the coup was seen as the end of the optimism and hope for a brighter future that was manifested by popular demonstrations in Tahrir Square. 

Voting will commence on the 24th of October, as Egyptians turn out to elect MPs to the country’s lower house. The Egyptian Senate is made up of 596 seats, of which 568 are being contested. The remaining 28 will be appointed the president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

The parliament is currently made up of 350 independents, mostly loyal to the president. The current biggest parties are the liberal Free Egyptians Party, with 65 seats, and the nationalist Nation’s Future Party, with 53 seats. The ultra-conservative Islamist party Al-Nour also stood, but only gained 11 seats.

Despite this being the first parliamentary election in Egypt for five years, a vote for the upper house earlier this year saw an abysmal turnout of just over 14 per cent. Some believe this was due to voters’ unfamiliarity with the newly formed chamber and the ever-lengthening shadow of Covid-19. 

Some also believe that there simply isn’t the engagement anymore. Exhaustion from years of political upheaval combined with a lack of belief in the democratic process has created a high level of voter apathy and cynicism.

Al-Sisi’s tenure has seen increasing crackdowns on civil liberties in Egypt. Amnesty International even claimed that journalism has effectively become a crime. 

A spokesperson from the Committee to Protect Journalists told Redaction Politics: “This is the worst time ever to be a journalist in Egypt. The government controls all the media landscape.”

Disturbingly, a referendum held in 2019 made it constitutionally possible for al-Sisi to remain in office until 2030. Combined with an increasingly aggressive approach towards any form of criticism, this has set alarm bells ringing for many. 

Speaking to the Guardian earlier this year, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa Director Philip Luther said: “The Egyptian authorities have made it very clear that anyone who challenges the official narrative will be severely punished”. 

Coverage of the election so far has been somewhat sketchy in large part owing to the openly hostile environment towards media in Egypt. Reports from May of this year suggest that journalism is now effectively illegal in the country. In 2019, the offices of independent media outlet Mada Masr were raided by police, laptops were seized and journalists detained.

Human rights groups currently estimate that there are approximately 60,000 political prisoners being held in Egypt. The country currently ranks 166 out of 180 on the world press freedom index.

Egypt’s election will begin on 24th and 25th October, and the final result will be announced on the 14th of December following another round of voting in November. 

Egypt uses a parallel voting system, a mixed electoral system which combines party lists with a high proportion of independent candidates.

Campaigning for the election officially started on the 5th October. Spending is capped at the equivalent of just under $27,000 per individual candidate, just under $135,000 in 42 candidate constituencies, and approximately $269,500 in 100 candidate constituencies.

Egyptian election law also states that 25 per cent of the seats must be reserved for female candidates. Members will occupy their seats for a five year term. 

The media black hole in the country, combined with the referendum that allows al-Sisi to remain in power until 2030, detention of journalists and lawyers, and the increasing militarisation of the police cast a long shadow over this election.

Is it unclear how reflective this election will be of the desires of Egypt’s people, or even if this can be called a free and fair election at all. 

Featured Image: Pixabay

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