Why do Arab governments even hold elections if the only ones to compete in the elections are the leaders themselves and their past records?
It was quite astonishing to see Egyptian intellectuals assembling in television debates, arguing whether Hosni Mubarak had outdone himself this time, while no one ran in the election except the Egyptian president himself.
Other intellectuals and political experts in Yemen credited Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh for bringing democracy to his nation after many years of authoritarianism and one-party domination. Strangely enough, none of the opposition representatives who attempted to attain parliament nominations were approved. The only competitor of Saleh's during the elections, Najeeb Qahtan al-Shaabi, who is a member of the ruling party and a close ally of the President, was clearly running merely to legitimize Saleh's guaranteed victory.
Both Presidents won by major landslides. Mubarak cultivated 93.79 percent of the vote and Saleh captured a record of 96.3 percent. Both countries celebrated these remarkable victories. Hundreds of thousands of people in both countries took to the streets, lauding and chanting the names of their leaders, asking God to grant them even more victories.
But isn't it a rational requirement to have a loser in order for a winner to claim victory? Doesn't this seem a bit odd and even insulting at a time in which a third millenium is quickly approaching? Who are these leaders trying to convince with such a performance, their people or themselves?
These questions must be answered in order for the Arab democratic experience to be perceived on a scientific scale rather than by unexplainable emotional urges.
Elections are a process in which those with different political and non-political approaches can introduce their views to the people; hence, people can decide which perspective are more fit and suitable to meet her/his needs in life.
While Mubarak was touring the streets of Cairo in a convertible, nearly 20,000 of his political opponents lay hopelessly in crowed prisons. The state of emergency, which followed Anwar Sadat's assassination in 1981 is still in effect, and has been used to silence opposition members, to try journalists, to seal activists' offices and newspapers and to justify mass arrests.
In the case of Yemen, (as if prohibiting the opposition from competing in the elections was not disturbing enough to the democratic process,) a little known politician from Saleh's own party was suddenly brought to give the election a believable twist.
While there are many doubts regarding the legitimacy of such a process, some still endorse and praise these elections, describing them as a step in the right direction for democracy. Although no disagreement is present in respect to the fact that these elections are steps on the path toward democracy, the dilemma remains, whether these steps are moves in the right direction.
It is truly disheartening to see the residents of poor Egyptian provinces lining up on the streets to greet the victorious leader, hoping that their difficult years can truly be put behind. Even though per capita income has been recorded high during Mubarak's rule, inflation has made the income increase almost useless.
According to the Yemeni opposition coalition which boycotted the elections claiming that "they were a farce put on to give a resemblance of democracy," the votes were not counted fairly, and many under-age voters where asked to cast their votes in favor of President Saleh.
Whether these were founded allegations, the fact is that Arab masses flooded the voting booths chanting the names of their leaders upon their entrance as well as their exit. Shall we attempt to understand such a phenomena once again with the same old classic theory of "strong leaders and weak nations," or there is more to it than simple analogies?
We must recognize the fact that most, if not all Arab voters have no real experience in the field of genuine democratic procedures. Therefore, the behavior of an Egyptian or a Yemeni voter, which might be viewed in puzzlement, can in fact be explained as eagerness to participate in a democratic and fair process. Therefore it is not the mistake of the voter that the system setup was originally corrupt and meaningless.
Yes, it is reasonable to ask why people even trouble themselves by following such meaningless endeavors. To answer such a question, we ought to examine the resources made available to the Arab masses so that they may achieve such a realization. If the opposition is repeatedly censored, criticism of ruling parties is tabooed and thinkers are treated like criminals for their progressive ideas, a poor farmer or a low paid governmental worker has no other path to walk but the path of silence.
In times of elections however, many come forth to cast their votes. While some are driven by the fear of the secret police's watchful eye, others chase the same mirage of untruthful democracy, hoping that somehow, someday their vote will make a difference.