A group of young activists is calling on Egyptians to boycott the parliamentary elections in honor of the martyrs of the revolution and imprisoned political dissidents. But given the boycott’s limited outreach and a general political apathy, some dismiss the campaign as an elitist folly.
As the country braces for the first round of voting on Sunday, activists are pushing their boycott drive with two fictitious electoral lists, Glory for the Martyrs and Free Egypt. The lists feature people who died or were thrown behind bars in their pursuit of freedom and justice as candidates, said Tarek Mohamed, a member of the Dostour Party’s freedom committee.
The drive was featured in the “Long Live Egypt with Justice” media campaign, whose name is a rejoinder to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s fundraising scheme, “Long Live Egypt.”
“We are telling the people why we are boycotting,” Mohamed told Mada Masr. “We’re not boycotting because we’re apathetic, but because we see no point in the political process when a crackdown on rights and freedoms is reaching a peak.”
Social media users circulated images of campaign banners bearing the names and photos of their ideal candidates, including jailed activists Alaa Abd El Fattah, Mahienour al-Massry, Esraa al-Taweel, Mahmoud Mohamed and Ashraf Shehata, who was reportedly forcibly disappeared two years ago.
A flying bird symbolizing freedom was adopted as the electoral symbol.
“When prison should be the place for parliament candidates, but the youth are the ones behind bars, then we have nothing to do but boycott,” activist Shady al-Ghazaly Harb tweeted.
When Mada Masr spoke to Twitter and Facebook users about the viability of the boycott campaign, many were skeptical.
Mohamed al-Beheiry believes the campaign is not effective as it only reaches a limited circle of activists with a strong online presence. It doesn’t reach the voters who actually need to be addressed, he said, and who don’t want to listen anyway.
“We should be more realistic and stop being emotional,” Beheiry argued. “Why don’t we all rally behind one or two candidates who can represent the opposition inside the parliament?”
Journalist Ahmed Medhat interviewed voters in Cairo’s Imbaba and Mohandiseen neighborhoods for four hours on Thursday to get a sense of the mood on the street. He explained to Mada Masr on Friday that apathy is reigning supreme among the people — not a political desire to boycott the polls to make a statement.
“Most of the people just don’t care,” he said.
Adopting a harsher tone, Mohamed Mekawy dismissed the campaign as an “online elitist boycott that has no base in the street.”
He acknowledged that it’s difficult to find alternatives to street action, but believes this type of opposition discourse needs to find another way to reach audiences that aren’t on social media.
Mohamed from the Dostour Party defended the campaign’s position, however, contending that it is not the activists’ fault they can’t reach the people.
“Calling for the rights of the martyrs and detainees is not elitist,” he argued. Mohamed said the fault lies with the government, which banned any form of peaceful protest action that could help activists get the word out.
“These elections are a show for fake democracy,” Mohamed said. “There are candidates who want to amend the Constitution to give more powers to the president. How can we call this politics?”