Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Muslim Brotherhood Democracy of Disenfranchisement

The term gerrymandering was coined out of the undemocratic actions of a governor of my home state; Governor Gerry of Massachusetts. Governor Gerry redrew the electoral district boundaries in a manner that helped his party win the largest possible number of seats. The resulting map of the districts was so absurd, resembling the imaginary salamander and hence the term was invented. Over the years, gerrymandering has continued in many American states, where the party dominating the state legislators could redraw maps to serve their own purposes. Gerrymandering is a fundamentally undemocratic concept; one can look at it as disenfranchisement of those voters, who are being removed from a district where their votes would make a difference to another where their votes are unlikely to affect the outcome of a race. A good example is the carving out of a majority African American area out of a district, where the democratic leaning African Americans are likely to tip the balance of a close race, and adding it to a geographically illogical district that has a large and safe majority of republicans. So instead of the African American votes helping the democratic candidate win, they are wasted. This is dirty politics, no one defends as democratic and some states in the US have made it illegal.

Yet gerrymandering is a relatively benign compared to Ikhwanmandering. This method of disenfranchisement was used in Egypt’s so called parliamentary elections in late 2011 and the early part of 2012. Before we get into what happened in Egypt, let’s just remember what many would know about different election systems; I offer this as not as a political science specialist, but merely as an interested observer.

First Past The Post, Run-offs and Proportional Representation:
Nations have addressed methods of achieving representative democracy in different ways in their constitutions and laws. In the UK and the USA, the First Past The Post is the norm for electing legislators; so whichever candidate gets the most votes in any particular district gets elected; an imperfect system in many ways, but very simple and clear. The French attempted to improve this by creating a system of run-offs or second rounds; whereas the top two vote getters, would have a run off, and whoever gets the most votes is elected. Other nations such as Germany, Italy and Israel adopt a system of Proportional Representation or PR. Different varieties of PR exist, some where voters would vote for a single list, others where voters would rank first, second and third choice off of party lists or candidates. The basic concept of PR is to allow smaller parties to attain representation. We see countries with First Past The Post essentially limited in their choice between Republican and Democrats or Labour and Conservatives whereas with PR, we see far more fragmentation, as in Germany with Social Democrats, Greens, Left, Christian Democrats and Liberals and similar examples of fragmentation in Italy, Israel and other countries.

In Egypt, there is a good argument for PR, where Coptic Christians, who virtually never actually get elected, may be able to have members of parliament, elected by the people and not appointed by a president. Similarly the many different strands, emerging in Egyptian political life could be represented. There is also an argument for the Run-Off system to allow strong parties to emerge. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood or Ikhwan worked with then governing Junta SCAF to concoct an amazingly complex system for the parliamentary elections. Their cooperation was possible through, what many assume, an implicit pact designed to marginalize and limit the influence of the original proponents of the January 25 Revolution of 2011. While many legal experts opined that some elements of this system would prove to be unconstitutional, the Ikhwan insisted on this system and were able to intimidate SCAF sufficiently into accepting it. Let’s now review the absurdly complex system that was used in Egypt:

Combo system: The Ikhwanmandering system combines all three systems discussed above together; so we have the PR system and a direct candidate system as well as a run-off. This basically results in enlarging the electoral districts sufficiently to make it harder for those candidates without sufficient organization to compete. The run-offs makes the campaigns more expensive and difficult and afford the better established forces a second chance to bring their national organization power into a district. Sadly, the PR districts while larger than the individual districts, they are not national and therefore still fail to offer representation for minority currents, be it Copts, socialists or other voices. Egypt has no local or regionally elected provincial, regional or locally elected bodies, so it was truly absurd to have PR on a district level, not the country as a whole. 

The Quote System: Another tactics of Ikhwanmandering is to further enlarge the districts by introducing a system of dedicated quota for laborers and peasants. With the definition being loosened enough to allow for wealthy self employed people to run for laborer and peasant seats. So an individual in any big Egyptian City casted votes for an individual candidate, a laborer candidate and a list in his or her own large districts. The quota system served to make it more difficult for emerging political forces to compete against the established Ikhwan or NDP or Mubarak's disbanded party. Oftentimes people simply voted against the NDP in the second round, much as has occurred in the presidential elections. Again, absurdly, while the so called laborer and peasant quota was preserved, the quota for women was dropped.

The Six Week National Ballots: The parliamentary elections of 2011 were carried out over six weeks, with the country divided into three regions, first region had its elections over two days and two weeks later the run offs. The results were announced and then two weeks later, the next region's elections and run offs and results and finally the last region. This clearly was designed to allow for nationally organized forces to be able to support each region in order. While many also argue that it allowed for fraud, for the purpose of discussing Ikhwanmandering, I will not address this topic. The choice of which region goes first needs further research, but it was by no means random. We have seen Ikhwan typically gather their support or protest demonstrations in one or two areas, similarly with elections, it was the use of concentrated national resources to help defeat local candidates who were already spread thin over large districts and financially exhausted with runoffs. 

Shura Council Too: As if six weeks of elections were not enough, SCAF and Ikhwan agreed that there would be a vote for an upper house which would then require six further weeks. The upper house or Shura had virtually no assigned duties and the vote for it was held before any constitution was written and it was unclear if it would actually exist at all under a new constitution. Naturally less than 7% of those eligible to vote bothered to go to the Shura polls.

Many in the west would argue that there are democratic means to overcome gerrymandering; this is indeed true. But let’s not forget that all of these elections were not really for normal legislative bodies, they turned out to be, much to our surprise, the electorate, for the power to form a committeeto write the Constitution. The Supreme Court never had the chance to rule over the legitimacy of this, as the supporters of Ikhwan laid siege to the court for several weeks, before President Morsi declared himself above the Supreme Court and issued a Constitutional Declaration that the Constituent Assembly chosen by the Ikhwanmandered process would be immune from dissolution.  The Ikhwan and their Salafi allies proceeded at breakneck speed to force a Constitution that was mainly focused on the limitations of freedom, limiting religious freedoms to approved religions and limiting equality and citizenship rights to the whim of religious interpretations.

Some Muslim Brotherhood apologists would argue in defense of various aspects of Ikhwanmandering such as the staging of the elections in regions being required to comply with judicial oversight of the elections and no enough judges are available to supervise all the polling stations, yet most judges refused to oversee the referendum over the Ikhwan Constitution and that did not prevent the very same Ikhwan apologists from declaring that defective vote democratic.

The Muslim Brotherhood feared democracy and sought to immunize themselves against it. Their efforts were ultimately about disenfranchisement of their opponents and counter democratic. They had choices and at every juncture they opted disenfranchisement.

July 27, 2013

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