Calls to boycott get louder on eve of Egypt vote

Court ruling on Shafiq, parliament stokes frustration; some angry voters say they'll boycott, others to void their ballots.

Egyptian walks past 'SCAF Control' graffiti 370 (R) (photo credit: Amr Dalsh / Reuters)
Egyptian walks past 'SCAF Control' graffiti 370 (R)
(photo credit: Amr Dalsh / Reuters)
CAIRO - Ahmed Ali, a 44-year-old janitor, plans to mark a red "X" across the names of both candidates in Egypt's presidential run-off when he goes to vote this week.
He is part of a broader political trend planning either to boycott the election or spoil ballots to protest against a first-round result that produced a run-off between ousted president Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister and a Muslim Brotherhood candidate. Together, the pair obtained less than half the votes cast.
The movement's strength suggests the political turmoil since Mubarak was toppled 16 months ago may continue in post-election Egypt, whether the winner is former air force commander Ahmed Shafiq or the Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsy.
"I am angry," said Ali. "Many Egyptians died in the uprising last year and in the end we are being forced to choose between the old corrupt regime we overthrew and a movement that has its own Islamist agenda. I will spoil my ballot."
That anger has only grown after a ruling on Thursday by the Supreme Constitutional Court to let Shafiq stay in the race. The Islamist-led parliament had passed a law that would have blocked election bids by top Mubarak-era officials. That law was overturned.
"The way this transition has been managed all along by (the ruling military council) shows no true intention of a power handover to a truly elected civilian government," said Mohsen Sehrawy, 37, a marketing consultant, after the court decided to allow Shafiq's candidacy but also ruled to dissolve the Islamist-led parliament.
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"This has strengthened my resolve to void my vote," he said.
The constitutional court said the rules that governed the parliamentary vote that ended earlier this year were flawed, so the assembly should be dissolved and new elections held.
Although some questioned the timing of the court's decision, legal experts had expected the two verdicts before the rulings.
'Polar extremes'
Less than half of Egypt's 50 million eligible voters turned out for the first round vote in May presidential vote.
Morsy and Shafiq each won less than a quarter of votes cast, while two centrist candidates who came third and fourth together won 40 percent. That leaves many with an agonizing choice between polar extremes of the political spectrum.
"The majority of Egyptians want neither candidate," said analyst Hassan Nafaa, who said some may spoil their ballots and many more will not vote at all.
The revolutionaries and others who oppose both army and Islamist rule, and whose demands are still far from being met, would likely continue to agitate for change, Nafaa said.
"I refuse to be a pawn in the military council's game against the Brotherhood," said Hala Said, a 31-year-old marketing manager, who plans to go to the polling station in a t-shirt bearing the word "Void".
A council of military generals has ruled since Mubarak was ousted on Feb. 11, 2011. Many see Shafiq as the army's preferred candidate, although the military say it does not back any candidate and Shafiq denies he has the army's support.
The first-round results have polarized the country and triggered a series of street protests against the idea of a former Mubarak associate returning to run the country.
Yet for some, the fear of Shafiq, who looks to his opponents like a carbon-copy of Mubarak, trumps their concerns about Morsy, who liberals worry will slap Islamic strictures on Egypt.
"The elections are going to happen anyway," said Gamal Guemeih, a 29-year-old investment banker.
"Unless boycotting has a direct effect on the outcome, then it is better for the revolutionaries to back a candidate who can provide them with the most political concessions," he said.
'Boycotters and voiders'
After Thursday's court ruling, the army said the presidential poll would go ahead on time. But now the president will be elected without a parliament or a constitution in place.
Debate over who draws up the constitution was deadlocked for weeks until a deal was brokered by the army last week.
Yet a second attempt by the parliament to appoint members of 100-strong assembly to write the constitution has faced criticism from liberals, just as the first failed attempt did. It was not clear what would happen after parliament was dissolved.
The protesters are divided into two camps, with one calling for voters to stay away from polling stations and the other urging them to go to the polls to void their voting papers, lest they be used by others to stuff the boxes.
The "boycotters" or "mokate'oon" in Arabic said they did not vote in the first round and would not vote in the run-off.
They labelled the election a "farcical charade" on one of their websites, which warned that the ruling military council could direct some 6 million employees in state administrative bodies to elect its preferred candidate.
The army council insists it will ensure a fair vote.
The "voiders" or "mobteloon" in Arabic whose slogan is "No to military fascism and no to religious fascism" hope to convince at least 10 million people to void their votes as a political statement.
A number of politicians and activists have supported both, but others say it would be better at least to make a choice.
Nafaa said it was hard to determine which of the two candidates would benefit most from the boycott.
"Mursi will get the entire Islamist current, and Shafiq will get the entire network linked to the former regime," he said, adding that the centrist voters would probably split between the two camps or not vote at all.