Egypt votes on final day, with all eyes on turnout

A voter's finger is marked with ink at a polling station during the second day of the presidential election in Cairo, Egypt, March 27, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 28 March 2018

Egypt votes on final day, with all eyes on turnout

CAIRO: Egyptian voters said they had received payments, food and other incentives to go to the polls as authorities sought on Wednesday to achieve the high turnout President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi wants to legitimize his all but guaranteed victory.
As voting went into the third and final day, turnout was seen as the critical factor in an election where any contest was eliminated through the arrest or intimidation of the former military commander’s most serious challengers.
El-Sisi said he wanted more opponents to stand, but instead faced just one who has been dismissed as a dummy candidate.
The election commission has said the vote is free and fair.
El-Sisi, who led the military overthrow of freely-elected Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in 2013, has promised security and stability and to revive the economy after unrest that followed a 2011 popular uprising.
El-Sisi’s key allies include the United States and the powerful Gulf monarchies of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
In the first two days of voting, turnout was estimated at well below the 47 percent of the electorate who backed El-Sisi for the first time in 2014. By Wednesday, authorities appeared desperate to garner a higher percentage.
Voters interviewed by Reuters in the first two days of polling said they had been offered money, boxes of basic food and services to cast their ballots, or to at least ink their fingers to make it look as if they had.
“I’ve never voted before, and I didn’t intend to this time either,” a woman in Cairo’s working-class Ward estate said.
“I just went and dipped my finger in the paint and took the 50 pounds ($3),” she said. The woman declined to give her name for fear of reprisals by authorities.
Other women, who also declined to be named, said they had been promised bags of food containing rice and vegetable oil in exchange for votes.
“They told me that if I voted and showed them (the ink on) my finger I will get a bag,” said one, who also declined to be named.
The women did not say who exactly had given them money or bags of goods.
Managers at a government financial institution gave employees half of Monday off and ordered them to vote, one employee told Reuters. Employees were told to “not come back without ink on their fingers” and had their hands inspected the next day, the employee said.
Asked for comment, the presidency spokesman said this was not a matter for the presidency to address and referred Reuters to the National Election Commission and spokespeople for the presidential campaigns. Officials at the election commission and the government’s foreign press center did not immediately respond to calls and Whatsapp messages requesting comment.
Some people needed no inducement to vote. Noha Al-Nemr, voting in Cairo’s middle-class Mohandiseen district, said: “I voted for El-Sisi of course, because it’s enough that because of him, my family and I live in safety — even if there’s hardship.”
Incentives for voting were made more public in other areas.
In Beheira province, governor Nadia Abdou told Mehwar private TV channel on Monday: “Whichever municipality has the most votes, we will fix their water, sewage and electricity ... We will reward those people who came out in large numbers.”
Pro-government media, meanwhile, portrayed failure to vote as a betrayal of Egypt, the most populous Arab country.
“Betraying the martyrs“
Hosts of state-run radio programs told listeners that if they did not vote, they would be “betraying the blood of the martyrs in Sinai,” a reference to a military campaign against Islamist militants in the northern Sinai Peninsula.
An elderly woman in the Mohandiseen neighborhood of Cairo said she decided to vote after listening to the radio shows.
The vote virtually guarantees El-Sisi a win. His only opponent is an obscure politician loyal to the incumbent. More serious challengers were forced to step down and several opposition politicians called earlier this year for an election boycott.
El-Sisi has said he had nothing to do with opposition candidates pulling out, and has repeatedly urged the electorate to vote in great numbers.
Two sources monitoring the election, including one from the National Election Commission, said about 13.5 percent of 59 million eligible voters had cast ballots on Monday.

From tourism to terrorism: How the revolution changed Iran

Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi with his third wife Farah and their son Reza (left). Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (right). (AFP)
Updated 16 January 2019

From tourism to terrorism: How the revolution changed Iran

  • Forty years ago on Wednesday, the shah went into exile and less than a month later, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini assumed power
  • His departure paved the way for the establishment of an Islamic republic hostile to Arab Gulf states

DUBAI: Forty years ago today, Iran’s then-shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, fled the country after a 37-year reign, in the first stage of a revolution that would replace 2,500 years of monarchy with an Islamic republic.

Prior to the revolution, Iran very much resembled Western countries, with a flourishing economy and tourists flocking to the country for its breath-taking landscapes, beaches and various activities, including hiking and skiing. 

The shah’s departure, prompted by mass protests, paved the way for Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to return from exile in France, assuming power on Feb. 11, 1979. 

It was “a genuine social revolution against tyranny, domestic and foreign — the first represented by the shah and the second by… the US,” said Dr. Albadr Al-Shateri, politics professor at the National Defence College in Abu Dhabi.

“The revolution went awry when religious leaders dominated the government, imposed its version of Islam and eliminated their partners in the revolution, including Iranian nationalists.”

Not long after Khomeini took over, the world got a taste of the new regime. Fifty-two American diplomats and citizens were taken hostage on Nov. 4, 1979, and were held for 444 days, after a group of Iranian students who supported the revolution took over the US Embassy in Tehran. 

The Iran-Iraq war, which began in 1980 and lasted for eight years, contributed to the deterioration of Iran’s situation. 

“Fear of the new regime’s attempt to export the revolution to a Shiite-majority neighbor led Iraq to initiate the war,” Al-Shateri said. 

“However, Iran’s insistence on continuing the war until the toppling of the regime of Saddam Hussein exacted a heavy cost on both countries in human and economic terms,” he added. 

“Iran had legitimate grievances against the US, but the way it tried to redress these gripes was counterproductive.”

The shah was considered one of the best customers of the US defense industry. But his Western-inspired reforms sparked turbulent social change that aggravated the clergy, while his consolidation of power and the secret police gave him the reputation of a dictator.

Opposition to his reign and corruption among Tehran’s elite created an influential alliance of radical Islamists. 

Although Pahlavi tried to modernize Iran, driving up oil prices in the early 1970s and implementing reforms in education and health care, he became alienated among Iranians and angered the conservative clergy, who helped drive his exile. 

“Iran changed significantly from before the revolution to after, from a more civil, open and decent Iran to a closed, aggressive and sectarian one,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, former chairman of the Arab Council for Social Sciences. 

“Post-1979 Iran is deeply sectarian, and is not only responsible for sharpening the Sunni-Shiite divide, but also wholly responsible for politicizing and militarizing it,” he added.

Iran “has funded and armed Shiite militias, and has done everything possible to strengthen them so they can challenge the nation-state, Lebanon being a clear example.” 

Post-1979 Iran does not “play by the rules of the game,” Abdulla added. “It became radical, revolutionary and sectarian, and was about to become nuclear, which is deeply destabilizing.”

He said: “Gulf states have lived with Iran for thousands of years, and they knew how to deal with it all along. They had the best possible neighborly relationship, but it has always been a difficult Iran, whether under the shah or Khomeini.”

Abdulla added: “We’ve never seen an Iran that has become the number-one terrorist country in the world except in the last 40 years.”

Mark Katz, professor of government and politics at the Schar School of Police and Government at George Mason University in the US, said: “Unlike the shah’s Iran, the Islamic Republic of Iran sought to export its revolution to other Muslim countries, especially the Arab Gulf ones.” He added: “Still, it must be remembered that the shah’s Iran was also fairly aggressive. It seized Abu Musa and the Tunbs (islands) right when the British were leaving the Trucial States and the UAE was being formed. It had also laid claim to Bahrain.” 

Furthermore, while the shah’s troops helped defend Oman against a South Yemeni-backed Marxist insurgency in the 1970s, Katz said the presence of those Iranian troops in Oman was unsettling to Saudi Arabia in particular. 

“The shah had also got the best of Iraq in their border rivalry — something that Saddam Hussein sought to reverse after the Iranian revolution,” he added. 

Before the revolution, the shah’s Iran often behaved “aggressively toward its Arab neighbors, but its close cooperation with the US against the Soviet Union, which Iran bordered and the Gulf Arab states didn’t, meant that Washington wasn’t willing to act against the shah for doing so,” Katz said. By contrast, the rise of an anti-American government after the revolution led to the US working with Arab Gulf states against Iran. 

“Because the Islamic Republic behaved in such a hostile manner, both toward the Gulf Arabs as well as the US, the 1979 revolution led to the isolation and containment of Iran for many years,” Katz said. 

“Although it may seem counterintuitive, Iran may have posed a far greater problem for the Gulf Arabs if the… revolution hadn’t taken place, because if it hadn’t and Western investment in Iran continued or even grew, there would’ve been a tendency for Tehran to assert — and the US to value — an Iranian effort to be the leader in the Gulf in collaboration with the US.”