Truth is that Egyptians are rejecting democracy

By John R Bradley, December 20, 2012
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The first round of voting in Egypt on a new Islamist constitution was extended into the late hours on Saturday because, as the Western media uniformly told us at the time, voter turnout was “extremely high”.

It subsequently turned out to be a miserable 32 per cent.

When the second round takes place this week, turnout will be even lower.

And since it is taking place in more rural areas (the Muslim Brotherhood’s stronghold) the Islamists seem destined to win, after polling about 56 per cent in the first.

What is remarkable is not that about two thirds of Egyptians are not voting in arguably the country’s most important referendum in its 5,000-year history. In no Arab country that has held elections since the Arab Spring erupted has the turnout been more than 50 per cent.

The only possible exception is Libya (a 60 per cent turnout) — if we can believe anything that passes as official news in that chaotic country.

Rather, the puzzling question is why the Western media, without exception, presented the run-up to Egypt’s constitutional referendum as though it represented a kind of Second Coming for the masses.

There are two, related reasons.

First, there is the neo-imperialist mindset of the typical Middle East
correspondent.

Despite all evidence pointing to the contrary, he is simply incapable of imagining that different peoples of different cultures who speak different languages and have different histories might not actually want to be like us; that, moreover, they are uninterested in embracing a Western-style voting system and all that comes with it.

Then there is the continuing, pernicious influence of Edward W Said’s book Orientalism (1978).

More quoted than read (and with good reason: it is for the most part unreadable), its perceived central thesis — that any depiction of Arabs as different and distinctive is demeaning and racist — still terrifies our commentators into ignoring the blatantly obvious. Namely, that they are.

What is reductive and false is to insist otherwise. The Arab Spring has set sect against sect, tribe against tribe, Arab against Arab. Ordinary people have not taken advantage of being enfranchised, but have instead taken refuge in family support, charitable networks and traditional religion.

Still, don’t hold your breath this week for the headline that reflects reality: “Most Egyptians could not be bothered to vote.”

John R Bradley’s latest book is ‘After the Arab Spring’

Last updated: 10:45pm, December 20 2012