Reg. No. 1084047
Editorial supervisor, Dr. Helmy Guirguis
Dr. Helmy Guirguis 71, the president of the UK Copts, passed away on the 31 of January, 2015 after a struggle with illness. UK Copts mourns its founder and leader. He is a leader that touched so many by his life and has been fighting for the coptic case till his last breath. The commemoration mass for his 40th day will be held on Sunday 15th of March, 2014 starting 8 AM in Saint Mary and Saint Mark Coptic Orthodox Centre of Birmingham (Lapworth) .For commiserations, please send us an email to

Ballot Boxes? Yes. Actual Democracy? Tough Question.

  • Print

New York Times
June 7, 2007

CAIRO, June 6 — This is election season in the Middle East. Syria just held presidential and parliamentary elections. Algeria held parliamentary elections. Egyptians will be asked to vote next week on a new upper house of Parliament. There will soon be elections in Jordan, Morocco and Oman, followed by elections in Qatar. So is democracy suddenly taking root in the strongman’s last regional stronghold?

The consensus among democracy advocates, diplomats and citizens interviewed around the Middle East is that the reverse is true. Elections, it appears, have increasingly become a tool used by authoritarian leaders to claim legitimacy.

“There is a state of depression and lack of trust, or faith, among the Arab masses in the regimes and little belief that these elections can lead to the change aspired to,” said Jaffar al-Shayeb, a member of the municipal council in Qatif, Saudi Arabia, an advisory body without legislative authority.

The problem is not just what that means for people forced to live under authoritarian rule, but what it does to the broader perception of democracy in the region. Countries like Egypt and Syria, which hold elections, also allow a ruling class to hold a monopoly on power, limit freedom of speech and assembly and deny their citizens due process.

“There isn’t any democratic regime in the whole world,” Abbas Mroue, 29, said as he sat in a coffee shop with friends in Beirut, Lebanon, one day recently chatting about politics and governance.

“Yes,” replied Hussein Jaffal, 31, “there is democracy, but there are no freedoms.”

It is that view that seems to be spreading, one that has confused the process of elections with the principles of democracy.

It is a conclusion that may well have roots in Washington, where officials have frequently pointed to elections as a barometer of progress, but it may contribute to tarnishing the concept of democracy, diplomats and democracy advocates in the region agreed.

Iraq, where a freely elected government has been paralyzed by sectarian disputes, stands as a particularly damaging example. “Democracy itself has lost credibility as a way of government,” said a Western diplomat based in Algiers, speaking on condition of anonymity, following customary diplomatic protocol. “I think the Iraqi experiment, and the purple finger, didn’t help anything. People now say this democracy is not the answer to anything.”

The purple finger had initially been a symbol of pride in what was hoped to be Iraq’s nascent democracy. Millions turned out to cast their ballots in the first post-Saddam-Hussein election, dipping a finger in ink to prevent double voting.

Rightly or wrongly, the purple finger has become a symbol of failure.

“I voted because I was so excited — finally I can pick the candidate I want,” said Hussein Marzouk, an Iraqi refugee living in Lebanon. “But then I found out that I risked my life for nothing. It turned to be a phony game the Americans brought with them that was full of fraud. So why would I vote again?”

For decades there have been less than democratic elections in the Middle East, where ruling parties control candidates’ and voters’ access to the ballot and also control the vote counting.

In Egypt’s parliamentary elections last year, witnesses reported that the police fired live ammunition at voters — killing some — to keep them from casting ballots for candidates aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood. As Egypt gears up for elections to the upper house of Parliament next week, security agents have imprisoned more than 150 members of the Brotherhood, which although officially banned is the only viable political opposition in the country.

In Syria the presidential election was a referendum on one candidate, President Bashar al-Assad, in a country that has sentenced democracy advocates to several years in prison for signing a petition asking for political reforms and recently handed down a 12-year sentence to one man for membership in the Muslim Brotherhood.

“The system is rigged to bring to power people who are already in power,” said Daoud Kuttab, director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in the West Bank city of Ramallah. “That is what explains low voter turnout and why elections are turning people away.”

With the outcome almost always certain and the manipulation so evident, why do the leaders even bother? From Syria to Bahrain, elections have helped bleed off some internal and external pressure for change without making any substantial alteration to the power structure, opposition political leaders and diplomats said.

Electing a Parliament in Bahrain, or local councils in Saudi Arabia, for example, helped satisfy the growing public desire for more accountable government. Over time, though, it became clear that the Parliament and the councils had little authority and that the election was itself the greatest achievement.

“We know that these are things that were introduced to further embolden the leader, to serve him rather than the people,” said Nabeel Rajab, a Bahraini human rights advocate in the capital, Manama.

A member of the Algerian Parliament, Said Boughadja, who is an official in the governing party, said such complaints were unfair because voter turnout was low all over the world, including in the West. An independent Algerian votemonitoring commission declared that there was widespread stuffing of ballot boxes in the recent parliamentary election, which Mr. Boughadja dismissed, saying that if his party or its supporters were to stuff ballot boxes, turnout would have appeared to be above 50 percent. Instead it was 36.5 percent, 10 points lower than the parliamentary elections in 2002.

But Mr. Boughadja also did not hide his bigger complaint about democracy: that with truly free elections there is no guarantee who will win. In the early 1990s, Algeria’s military canceled elections when a moderate Islamic party appeared poised to take control of Parliament. That decision touched off a nearly decade-long civil war that claimed at least 100,000 lives.

“The Islamist trend,” he said, “emerged through the democratic process.”

That is a reality that has also become evident to democracy promoters in Washington, which may provide one explanation for why there is little discussion these days of pushing for full-blown free elections around the Middle East. But political and social scientists here say that view misses the point, emphasizing process over substance.

“We should insist on wider concepts of democracy, on democratic values,” said Abdel Nasser Djabi, a professor of sociology at the University of Algiers who said elections were increasingly viewed as a technique for misleading people. “There is a real danger this may lead to the rejection of concepts of democracy.”


You can Make a Difference
Join Us Become a member in the organization.



Previous Next
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
U.S. International Religious Freedom Report for 2013 – Egypt

Respect for religious freedom remained poor during the year under both former President Mohamed Morsy’s administration and the current interim government. On July 3, Mohamed Morsy was removed and Adly Mansour was named interim president.

FCO Annual Human Rights and Democracy Report 2013

Foreign Secretary William Hague launched the 2013 Foreign & Commonwealth Office Report on Human Rights and Democracy. The report is a comprehensive assessment of the global human rights situation in 2013. It sets out what the Government is doing through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to promote human rights and democratic values around the world in three principal ways.

75 Percent of Persecution is Against Christians: Report

The 2013 Persecuted and Forgotten? Report provides in-depth analysis of the situation Christians face in 30 countries where believers, to one degree or another, are not fully free to practice their faith. In the past two years violence and intimidation targeting Christians have increased in a number of nations.