University of Memphis

Egypt is Desperate for High Voter Turnout by Willie Wells @ University of Memphis

It has been four years since Egyptians elected their last president. They are returning to the polls this week (Mar 26-28), to re-elect Abdel- Fattah el-Sissi, their incumbent president, to another four-year term. This election will be flawed. The other candidates opposing el-Sissi were forced off 0f the ballot. Some have been incarcerated while others have been threatened, intimidated, or exiled to other countries. Moussa Mustafa Moussa got on the ballot one day before the expiration date. He is not a well-known politician. He did campaign. He is a supporter of el-Sissi. Moussa was asked if his candidacy was serious. He replied that he wanted to give the voters a democratic choice in the election. Some critics have accused Moussa of being a puppet for el-Sissi.  Others have referred to him as a stooge for el-Sissi. Moussa has not denied that he supports el-Sissi’s re-election campaign.

Egyptians have one hundred political parties. Only two parties are represented on the ballot.

The National Election Authority (NEA), is threatening to enforce a law that allows the government to fine each eligible voter thirty dollars if they do not vote in the election. There are sixty million eligible voters on the rolls. Some eligible voters have decided not to vote in the election. Only forty seven percent voted in the twenty fourteen elections. Ninety seven percent of those who voted in the twenty fourteen election voted for el-Sissi.

Egyptians have well over thirty thousand polling places. Midway through the election on Wednesday (Mar 27), some polls were reporting only seven percent voter turnout. The polls were opened from 07:00 AM until 9: PM each day. Many voters stated that the  outcome of the election has been predetermined. One voter stated that the world is laughing at Egypt because the supposedly democratic election is a joke.

Loyal supporters and pro-government officials have asked el-Sissi to change the constitution so that he can remain their president for life. Other loyal supporters have suggested that he eliminate the two-term limit  in the constitution so that he can be elected for an indefinite amount of terms. The opposition parties would be highly opposed to  those actions. If those suggestions are taken seriously, it would grant el-Sissi an enormous amount of political power. Those actions, if they were put in place, would be a further step toward democratic erosion. Those actions would push Egyptians closer to being a competitive Authoritarian regime. Egyptians appear to be dismantling their hard won democracy.

The election is flawed because it is an election without democracy. Joseph Schumpeter defines democracy by the minimum standard as being a political system in which the principle positions of power are filled through a competitive struggle for the people’s vote. Larry Diamond have stated that more regimes than ever before are adopting the form of electoral democracy but fail to meet the substantive test. Of the one hundred political parties in Egypt. There was only one legitimate party on the ballot. there was no competition for the people’s vote. There were a few private appearances made el-Sissi but he made no public appearances. Just prior to the election, el-Sissi put up large campaign posters of himself in the most conspicuous locations. Moussa put up only a few small posters in inconspicuous locations.

Most of the local independent media were shut down. When media outlets are not accessible to the general public, it lessens the opportunity for opposing voices to be heard. Communication and media networks are essential to strong democracies. There were internet observers who reported any negative campaign rhetoric to government officials. The perpetrators were sought out and arrested. Meanwhile, pro-government local media outlets blasted patriotic songs on loud speakers just across the street from local polling stations. They were dancing and shouting “get out and  vote for el-Sissi”.

Government loyalist encouraged high voter turnout to give the world the perception that there is a strong support for democracy in Egypt. High voter turnout does not originate with a get out to vote call on a loud speaker. High voter turnout is generated by horizontal departments of government functionally properly within their various departments to keep complete autonomy out of the hands of the leader. High voter turnout is generated by highly competitive political parties competing for the people’s vote. Low voter turnout is an indication that democracy is eroding both horizontally and vertically. Low voter turnout is an indication that political parties have become week and non-competitive. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi government structure appears to have competitive authoritarian attributes.


  1. Soleyana Gebremichael

    April 25, 2018 at 1:10 pm

    It is interesting that lower voter turn out is seen in Egypt. In places like Egypt where the system is close to electoral autocracy, governments tend to pressure for turn out before voting day. for example in its last election Ethiopian’s leading party won 100% of all the seats, the turn out was close to 60% even though there have never been viable options, the state has highly been pressuring the public to go to polls in order to show the legitimacy of the election. this is also a case in many closed environments where the state uses coercive mechanisms to increase turn out to show legitimacy, it is surprising Egypt’s government did not give enough attention to artificial boost turn out to look more legitimate.

  2. Taylor Robinson

    December 5, 2018 at 6:32 pm

    Willie Wells writes about evidence of low voter participation in Egypt due to the unilateral control of Egyptian president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. Although there are over one hundred political parties in Egypt, only two are represented on the ballot. Any politician who chooses to run for presidency risks his or her life because past candidates have been threatened, intimidated, or exiled from the country. Egypt has an abundance of polling locations, yet only forty-seven percent of the eligible voting population went out to vote. The authoritarian rule has discouraged citizens from voting in the elections. Of the forty-seven percent who did vote, approximately ninety-seven percent voted for el-Sissi.
    Egypt clearly shows signs of democratic erosion. Wells describes the obvious signs of the erosion. Officials in the country have even gone as far as to present a fine for voters who do not participate in elections. This is a clear sign of authoritarian lead. Egyptian leaders have not even made an attempt to disguise the tyrannical style of ruling. El-Sissi’s opposing candidate was a named supporter of el-Sissi and did not campaign to the fullest. Furthermore, independent media was shutdown in order to block the public from hearing other opinions. This has inclined citizens to vote for the only candidate they know, which has also resulted in people asking for indefinite rule under el-Sissi. Wells presented very clear marks of democratic erosion in Egypt, and it is obvious Egypt needs to take steps to restore democracy in the country.

  3. Katrina Ramkissoon

    February 18, 2019 at 12:02 am

    Like the author said, Egypt’s current situation regarding the electorate system is a huge component in the demise of democracy. According to political scientist Robert Dahl, two of the seven procedural conditions that qualify a country as a democratic state is free, fair and frequent elections in addition to the freedom of citizens to run for office. I think the author does a great job exposing how these conditions are lacking in Egypt and the current administration is actively working to block open elections. This election corruption is a deterrent to democracy but studies show that this might have little influence over the public as democracy is not as important as a strong economy to the public.
    According to a Yale University USAID report by Ellen Lust and David Waldner, “…a large percentage of Egyptians are willing to sacrifice democracy for a better economy. These attitudes are particular prevalent among the poor: 31% favor ensuring democracy, while 66% prefer a strong economy (Pew Research Center 2014)…This suggests that citizens view democracy in instrumental terms, and their support for democracy can change more quickly than many theories of political culture would predict, depending on economic and social outcomes associated with democratic experiences.”
    Ultimately, the public depends on the well-being of the economy to prosper so evaluating the state of democracy is of less importance. As the author of the blog states says, Egypt has an eroded democracy. The NEA enforcing voting fines as a result of low voter turnout will only continue to shape a negative perception of democracy in the public eye which will only work to harm the well-being of democracy in Egypt in the long term. Ultimately, this post did a fantastic job in reviewing the different components that compose the current state of affairs in Egypt and how it attribute to the democracy crisis.

  4. Gwenyth Szabo

    March 5, 2019 at 12:32 pm

    I think your article begs the question: what’s the point of voting in a rigged election? Authoritarianism in Egypt is apparent, and I think including the political party statistic (one-hundred parties but only two represented in the elections) is very strong evidence that the playing field is unevenly tilted toward el-Sissi’s party. I also think you very clearly outline other relevant factors as to why Egypt is not a democracy. However, you refer to the propositions to amend the Egyptian constitution, which would guarantee el-Sissi’s power indefinitely, as an erosion of democracy, but I would argue that there is no democracy to erode. You cite Schumpeter and Diamond, and from both of their definitions and literature, it is clear that Egypt is already not a democracy despite holding elections. There is no democracy to erode; instead, the authoritarianism is simply becoming more transparent. Rather than holding sham elections, the constitutional changes would make the inevitable outcome of this and future elections official: el-Sissi will remain Egypt’s permanent leader.

    Egypt shifted to authoritarianism in 2012-2013 when Morsi came to power followed by el-Sissi. The only period of time when Egypt had a democracy or at least genuine democratic tendencies was in 2011. 2011 marked the beginning of the Arab Spring and Egypt’s successful protest movement, forcing long-term dictator Mubarak to step down. The first democratic elections were held in Egypt on November 23, 2011, and Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was elected. After Morsi’s win, he immediately took authoritarian measures to remove limits on his powers set by the military, beginning in June 2012. At this point, the Egyptian democracy began to erode, and when Morsi was deposed in June 2013 by the military, it was completely gone. Since el-Sissi’s ascent to power, Egypt has been under a brutal military rule with no sign of democratic opportunities. I disagree that the Egyptians are dismantling their hard-won democracy right now, but that democracy was dismantled years ago almost directly after they won the democracy in 2011.

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