Egypt’s Elections: Owning the Revolution

Egyptians young and old, educated or illiterate—and unprecedented numbers of women—were early to rise and quick to line outside polling stations to participate in the first free elections in 30 years, nine months after the ousting of Hosni Mubarak.

Women voters outside a polling station in Alexandria. Photo by Evan Hill/AlJazeera

News and analysis of Egypt’s elections have been largely about looming dangers and uncertainties facing the country, the violence and divisions of recent weeks, and the worries and skepticism of the International Community.

But for Egyptians, Tunisians, and anyone who has ever experienced life under a dictatorship, the site of people lining up to vote is cause for jubilation and the most reassuring sign that the revolution is working.

Some Egyptian activists chose to boycott the election, partly because they feel the same old guard is in charge of the process—“a circus,” one Egyptian blogger and activist called it (Al Jazeera). A complicated and staggered election system (Reuters), hundreds of parliamentary seats to fill, thousands of unknown candidates, and even the predictability of results (CFR), are all less than ideal circumstances. But Egyptian voters deserve their day of pride and jubilation. Considering voter turnout, and the remarkable engagement of youth and women voters, they also deserve to be hopeful and be trusted with their future.

The New Arab Revolt, an e-book published by the Council of Foreign Relations in May of this year, begins with a reference toPortugal’s 1974 “carnation revolution,” a bloodless military coup that ended 48 years of fascist ruling. I remember walking to the market after school that day in April and wondering about the cheers in the distance. Soldiers stood on armored cars circling the market, while vendors and shoppers clapped, cheered, and threw flowers. In those days, the country had but two state-run TV channels which aired only in the afternoon and evening. It was mostly word-of-mouth that spread news of the revolution, and with such limited means of speech, it’s hard to imagine how the people, instead of the military, could have overthrown the regime. Tumultuous years of political and social upheaval would follow, but the democratic process was nonetheless established.

Nearly a year ago, one young Tunisian man—Mohamed Bouazizi—could not have imagined the revolutions his tragic protest would spark across the Middle East(see this interactive timeline at The Guardian). The human cost of these movements must be present to individual countries and the International Community, as they choose their place in this new world order. But youth, their aspirations and demands, have been at heart and helm of these bold revolutions. Media and technology have played a powerful role in mobilizing protesters and exposing authoritarian rulers and regimes. Political consciousness and solidarity have given shape and strength to civil societies, making it increasingly difficult for recalcitrant establishments to go unchallenged.

And that’s enough to feel hopeful for Egyptians as they go to the polls.

[Note: This post appeared in the Huffington Post]

Tunisians in Charge

Democratic nations ought to commend Tunisians for holding free and fair elections–just 9 months after street demonstrations ushered in a contagious revolution and the ousting of the authoritarian and corrupt regime of Ben Ali.

The reverberations of Tunisia’s civil resistance continue to be felt across the Middle East. For a visual sense of events set in motion in Tunisia in December of 2010, play with this interactive timeline of the events of the Arab Spring kept by The Guardian (last updated on October 20).

While foreign affairs’ experts analyze and debate the meaning of Tunisia’s election results, we can draw reassurance and inspiration from this video depicting Tunisians’ reactions to a clever voter-mobilization initiative. Watch the changes in the reactions of unsuspected citizens to the hanging of a giant portrait of their former dictator on the side of a building, before and after they realize that it’s meant as an important reminder.

“The strength of the argument” NOT “the status of the speaker”

Tracing the networked “global public sphere” exemplified in Occupy-Wall-Street to the Greek agora–where male citizens gathered to debate ideas– Faizullah Jan, American University doctoral student, looks at the evolution of public opinion expression and the interaction between state and society.

“Without a functioning public sphere the state’s interaction with the public is reduced to the relatively brief periods surrounding elections.  Though election participation is a a hallmark of representative democracy, without a functioning public sphere, the government, corporations, and interest groups remain unaccountable to the people.”

Full article: “Understanding Public Sphere in a Networked Society,” guest post on Matthew Nisbet’s “Age of Engagement” at Big Think