Jeffrey Black | Middle East Diaries

The Ballot Box and the Wormhole: Cairo, 1st April 2008
April 1, 2008, 8:47 am
Filed under: Egypt


Next week, there’s going to be an election in Egypt. It will be another opportunity for the Great Egyptian Public to voice their freely-held preferences, in a vote that will fairly elect 52,000 local councillors around the country.

The only difficulty will be finding someone to mind your place in the bread-queue whilst you go off to get your thumb inked at the local school.

Or, perhaps, in some other reality.

It has occurred to me that Egypt’s elections ought to be studied for the funny things it does to the space-time continuum. Maybe nobody else has noticed this, but I’m convinced that the whole affair of an Egyptian election takes place in another dimension, although we can actually feel what’s going on over there as if it were in our own dimension. Does Egypt have some kind of privileged access to a wormhole between different bits of the multiverse?

Maybe somebody should ask Zahi Hawass.

I’ll get to the inter-dimensional double-penetration in a moment, but first, here’s how it works:

Election day dawns bright in the Delta. A dusty elementary-school opens for polling forty-five minutes after it was supposed to. No matter. Peace and calm reigns, because the (bad, evil, wicked) Muslim Bothergood candidates were already dragged off to jail by the beard a week ago. No judge arrives to monitor the activities at the polling booth, because he is in the pool at the Gezira Club smoking an imported cigar and speaking French. His day in the dust at the school was handily removed from constitutional necessity – which is why the whole election itself is two years late in the first place.

The police arrive. Six fat men in acrylic shirts dangle their walkie talkies about the place, and then sit on tiny little chairs meant for tiny little undernourished primary school kids, and settle down to drink tea for the rest of the morning. A small, odorous phalanx of central security troops lurks in a green truck around the corner, just like the Greeks in the Trojan horse. Some local election monitors arrive, in freshly printed caps and t-shirts paid for by an endowment for democracy from “abroad” that isn’t allowed to pay for caps and T-shirts. They’re not allowed in. They settle down on tiny chairs to monitor the front door.

No voters turn up.

11am arrives and some voters with beards turn up, including a figure in a niqab, who, we know, is wearing a beard under all that black acrylic. They’re not allowed in.

A busload of nice people from the local biscuit factory arrives, some of them covered in crumbs. They have that joyous look of people who are coming to exercise their democratic right under threat of losing their 19-hour a day, 300 Pounds-a-month job unless they vote for el-Basha. El-Basha that owns the biscuit factory, that is. They go in.

One man with a beard walks past on the way to the bread queue. The police fire tear-gas at him. And then go round to his house and drag his cousin out by the toes and take him off to jail. No-one knows why.

At the end of the day, turnout is 26% of the electoral roll, most of whom died in 1974 anyway. A government press attaché starts working the phones from his lair at the glutinous end of the gene pool, and calls the foreign journalists to announce the excellent turnout of 53.2%, a firm mandate. The election monitors start working the phones to call the journalists to tell them about the tear-gas riot that took place at the polling station, and the pitched battles between Islamic fundamentalists and army that of course happens when civil society is so irreparably weak and women’s rights aren’t respected. A grant proposal for some new caps and t-shirts is drafted. The polling station is closed, and the ballots are taken off to the administrative block in the biscuit factory to be counted. Peace reigns, all is calm, all is stable.

So, back to our multi-dimensional mix-up. In a far off finger of the multiverse (let’s call it Universe A), this system works. Under the immutable laws of politics in this dimension, it works because everyone more or less accepts the Great Leader (if only because we are not sure that his predecessor wasn’t Ramses II), and despite the process flaws, things are moving forward.

Everybody sort of swallows the propaganda, because it’s in everyone’s interest that not to have the undeniable chaos that would ensue from a change of government. The present system is strong, and in favour of foreign investment. People can afford new cars. Why worry about the electoral rights of a few fundies and lefty malcontents?

But here, in our own slice of multiverse (let’s call it the Gyptoverse) where people don’t believe the bullshit that issues from the mealy mouths of government press attaches, the present system does not work.

Here, the undeniable chaos that results from a change of government is the government’s fault, and it’s going to happen in an even worse way, when the Great Leader dies.

And we’re not moving forward. The army, just to keep them from plotting a coup, have been pressed into baking bread, in an effort to hide the painful subsidies necessary to feed the people from the investment banks. Some people aren’t getting enough to eat, while pleasant new cafes seem to be opening daily in Heliopolis and Mohandiseen. But still, Egypt gets the elections that ought only to happen in Universe A.

Something is not right.

This has got to be a wormhole, and it will be opening to its fullest extent on April 8th.


1 Comment so far
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I’m sure that this isn’t the first time Zahi’s been consulted about double penetration, but be that as it may, any chance of an update?

Comment by MC

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