By Sara Ghali
The Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research (Baseera,) carried out a public opinion poll in late November 2014 to measure their political participation, connecting the level of political engagement with a government’s legitimacy; it was released May 8.
The survey aims to identify citizens’ definition of political formal and informal participation and classify their engagement before and after the January 25 Revolution in 2011, according to gender, age, education, socio-economic level and residence.
Formal and informal political participation
Baseera defined the formal political participation as voting in elections, running for political positions and joining a political party, while informal political participation as partaking in demonstrations, sit-ins, civil disobedience or violent activities against state.
By surveying, it was found that 65 percent believe that voting is effective in influencing government policies and decisions in Egypt, while 80 percent believe that violent activities do and 61 percent believe demonstrations and protests do.
“A total of 59 percent of Egyptians have never voted before the 2011 revolution, but this rate shifted over the past four years to drop to 16 percent after the revolution,” Baseera said.
Generally, the level of Egyptians’ formal participation through voting in elections and referendums is considered very high compared to their informal participation through demonstrations and protests, as 83 percent of Egyptians voted at least once or twice.
“A well-established democracy should not only respect the basic rights of political participation, but should ideally provide channels for such means and encourage citizen involvement in the political process,” Baseera said.
Political participation based on gender, age and residence
Before January 2011 revolution, men were more likely to utilize their voting rights compared to women at 49 percent and 25 percent respectively. However, after the revolution, male and female voting rates were very close; 86 percent and 81 percent respectively, which reflects a substantial increase in women’s political participation, according to Baseera.
Similarly, as for youth participation, it increased from 23 percent voting before January 2011 to 75 percent thereafter.
Surprisingly, rural residents participated in elections at a higher rate than urban residents; 42 percent and 30 percent respectively. But this difference has disappeared over the past four years and the participation stands at 81 percent in rural areas and 85 percent in urban areas.
Reasons for not participating in the voting process were as follows: 19 percent do not have IDs, 6 percent believe voting is ineffective and 1 percent decided to boycott.
Informal political participation: pros and cons
The 28 percent of Egyptians who have never participated in demonstrations or protests are against all forms of protesting and demonstrations.
Some 29 percent of women do not participate for security and safety issues. A number of them were subjected to sexual violence and harassment in several protests and demonstrations, and their assaulters enjoyed impunity.
“Sexual assaults have become a weapon used in Egypt to silence women and discourage them from participating,” Baseera said in the report.
Since the election of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in June 2014, 93 percent of Egyptians have not participated in any demonstrations or protests.
Parliamentary elections participation
When asked about the parliamentary elections and whether they intend to participate in the upcoming poll, 70 percent among those 50 years and above are likely to participate than youth under 30 years of age, with a result of 60 percent.
During former President Hosni Mubarak’s rule, participation of male voters was practically double that of female voters; this difference has diminished over the last four years, as numbers now stand at 86 percent males and 80 percent females.
Interestingly, the gap is set to widen again in the upcoming parliamentary elections to be 70 percent for men and 57 percent or women.
Finally, the survey found that only 6 percent of citizens intend to boycott the next elections.
Political participation, a necessity for democratization
Whether political participation is necessary for democratization or not, the survey finds that 80 percent believe it is, 56 percent see the current participation in Egypt can influence government policies and decisions and 23 percent believe it has no influence.
“Of [those surveyed] 70 percent believe they enjoy freedom of expression under Sisi[‘s rule,]” said Baseera.
A percentage of 75 believe that citizens should enjoy equal rights to participate in the political arena without any kind of discrimination, while only 5 percent are against the concept of equality in participation.
On the other hand, 12 percent of Egyptians find it justifiable to exempt certain groups, 7 percent specified the Muslim Brotherhood and 3 percent excluded Salafi groups.
Woman participation in political life
A total of 83 percent of Egyptians agree that women should have the same rights as men to run for parliamentary positions.
Quota policy is the shelter to which many governments to demolish gender discrimination and give women their share of political influence. It refers to a new concept of equality which is “equality of results” instead of “equal opportunities” or “competitive equality,” as they have not lead to significant equal opportunities in the country.
For the upcoming parliamentary elections, the elections law states that women should occupy 56 seats, besides 14 other seats selected by the president for women out of the parliament’s 600 seats.
Therefore, women’s representation in the next parliament is expected to be around 11 percent, which is high compared to the 2 percent elected in the 2011 parliament that did not apply any quota policy for women.
Based on the results of Baseera’s survey, it can be concluded that Egyptians are more likely to engage with formal means of political participation than informal ones. This study also concludes that Egyptians overwhelmingly believe in political inclusiveness, regardless of gender, political affiliation, or religion.
Baseera survey was carried out on randomly selected 2,027 respondents, aged 18 and above, and weighted to represent national demographics and population distribution across governorates in Egypt, as well as gender proportion. The response rate was 44.2 percent and the margin of error is calculated at around 3 percent.