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Egyptian Election Corruption

Back in November, I had the opportunity to sit down with some Egyptians and talk about elections, campaigns, politicians and the rampant corruption that characterizes them all here in Egypt.  One of the people I was speaking with told me an interesting story about his own family that I’d like to share with you all.  I’m probably a bit naive when it comes to things like this, but the extent of corruption he recounted in his story blew me away.

This young man’s uncle was a candidate for Parliament  running on the National Democratic Party’s ticket.  The NDP is the party of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the party which has controlled all of Parliament, save a small token opposition, for years.  As he told it to me when the rest of our group moved on to a new topic — in a whisper and tone that revealed both his contempt and his hesitancy to tell his story —  his uncle had paid approximately 10 million Egyptian Pounds to the NDP in order to get his name put on their list for this year’s election.  That’s somewhere between 1.5 and 2 million USD.

His money not only bought him a spot on the ballot, but also guaranteed the seat in Parliament.  As recounted to me, the uncle came home to the family house two days before the election and announced that “everything had been taken care of,” by which he meant that he had just come from the polling locations, and that the ballots had already been stuffed sufficiently to guarantee his success. 

 According to his nephew, in the last Parliamentary election in 2005 this same uncle won with nearly 95% of the possible vote.  This despite the fact that Egypt’s voting turnout was something like 30% that year.  This man’s popularity with the people, he would have you believe, brought more than three times the average number of Egyptians to the polls in his district, all of whom apparently voted for him!  According to his nephew, he was also so uncertain of his success in his first campaign that he had all of his extended family vote for him not two or three times, but 10 or 12, something which is unfortunately incredibly easy to do here.

To put the nail in the coffin, the person I was speaking with insisted that his uncle might be one of the most ignorant and uneducated people he knows.  He argued that the man has so much money and has so many aides that he  simply has his people read and process everything for him while he spends the majority of his time networking, partying and using his position to tack amendments beneficial to his family and friends onto the end of legislation.

The NDP, which this man now represents, eliminated their token opposition this year by kicking the Muslim Brotherhood, their traditional opposition, entirely out of the Parliament.  Without looking at the exact numbers, the NDP now controls something like 98% of all the seats in Parliament.  I’m not lamenting the Brotherhood’s loss of official opposition status here, I’m merely commenting that there no longer exists an official opposition.  One lesson we have definitely learned from history is that taking away public recognition often only forces opposition groups further underground.

If you follow international news sources I’m sure you heard at least mention of how bad these elections were.  If you don’t, I’m not sure whether you would have heard much of it – American foreign policy leaders had their own reasons for neglecting to comment on this past year’s elections.  I’ve also been finding more and more that our media fails to cover this region as well as news sources based in other nations.

 To wrap it up, a seat in Parliament in Egypt can only go to the extremely rich. It also offers the opportunity to multiply that wealth to an insane degree.  Bribery, ballot stuffing, voter fraud, intense incompetence and corruption are the norms, not the exceptions.  Also, given the importance of this region of the world and the diversity of American interests here in the Middle East, I would argue that the United States does not give these issues the media coverage and discussion which they deserve.

I’m still blown away when I hear stories like the one I’ve just recounted.  Coming from the US, it’s incredibly hard for me to imagine elections being decided in such a flagrantly corrupt manner but, then again, as my friends and I say here, T.I.E. — This Is Egypt — and this is just how it is.

Categories: Cairo
  1. Elizabeth Hofstedt
    January 8, 2011 at 9:29 pm

    I believe it. Ihave friends from there.

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