Vote on Facebook for the next president of Egypt

The Egyptian military is using the social networking site to poll voters

In a bizarre pandering to Egypt's social media users, the ruling military has posted a Facebook poll to gauge the popularity of nearly 20 presidential hopefuls.

Egypt is due to hold legislative elections in September this year -- the first since the toppling of Hosni Mubarak's regime by popular uprising in the Spring.

Facebook arguably played a vital role in the former president's downfall, and has recently been the platform of choice for a high-profile sparring match between secularists and Islamists.

Almost 150,000 respondents have voted online since the poll opened on Sunday. Reformist Mohamed ElBaradei currently comes top with 33 per cent of the vote, followed by Islamic scholar Mohamed Selim al-Alwa. Bothaina Kamel, the only female candidate, scores a measly 0.4 per cent with 631 votes.

The move can be seen as an attempt by the military to show their commitment to democratic transition -- or might it just be a smokescreen for further authoritarian rule?

Only 5 per cent of Egypt's population of 85 million are estimated to be on Facebook, and only 20 per cent have access to the internet. The elusive nature of social media means that anyone -- regardless of location or nationality -- can vote in the poll. Which begs the question as to why the military would launch a democratic initiative that excludes the majority of ordinary Egyptians.

The poll might also be a means for the generals to promote their favourite candidate, or to shop for which candidate to back.

Whatever the reason, a healthy degree of scepticism is needed here. Because there is every chance that the poll's cheery veneer of social media wizardry is hiding a les-than-democratic message.

Emanuelle Degli Esposti is a freelance journalist currently living and working in London. She has written for the Sunday Express, the Daily Telegraph and the Economist online.

Emanuelle Degli Esposti is the editor and founder of The Arab Review, an online journal covering arts and culture in the Arab world. She also works as a freelance journalist specialising in the politics of the Middle East.

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Beware, hard Brexiteers - Ruth Davidson is coming for you

The Scottish Conservative leader is well-positioned to fight. 

Wanted: Charismatic leader with working-class roots and a populist touch who can take on the Brexiteers, including some in the government, and do so convincingly.

Enter Ruth Davidson. 

While many Tory MPs quietly share her opposition to a hard Brexit, those who dare to be loud tend to be backbenchers like Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan. 

By contrast, the Scottish Conservative leader already has huge credibility for rebuilding her party north of the border. Her appearances in the last days of the EU referendum campaign made her a star in the south as well. And she has no qualms about making a joke at Boris Johnson’s expense

Speaking at the Institute of Directors on Monday, Davidson said Brexiteers like Nigel Farage should stop “needling” European leaders.

“I say to the Ukip politicians, when they chuckle and bray about the result in June, grow up,” she declared. “Let us show a bit more respect for these European neighbours and allies.”

Davidson is particularly concerned that Brexiteers underestimate the deeply emotional and political response of other EU nations. 

The negotiations will be 27 to 1, she pointed out: “I would suggest that macho, beer swilling, posturing at the golf club bar isn’t going to get us anywhere.”

At a time when free trade is increasingly a dirty word, Davidson is also striking in her defence of the single market. As a child, she recalls, every plate of food on the table was there because her father, a self-made businessman, had "made stuff and sold it abroad". 

She attacked the Daily Mail for its front cover branding the judges who ruled against the government’s bid to trigger Article 50 “enemies of the people”. 

When the headline was published, Theresa May and Cabinet ministers stressed the freedom of the press. By contrast, Davidson, a former journalist, said that to undermine “the guardians of our democracy” in this way was “an utter disgrace”. 

Davidson might have chosen Ukip and the Daily Mail to skewer, but her attacks could apply to certain Brexiteers in her party as well. 

When The Staggers enquired whether this included the Italy-baiting Foreign Secretary Johnson, she launched a somewhat muted defence.

Saying she was “surprised by the way Boris has taken to the job”, she added: “To be honest, when you have got such a big thing happening and when you have a team in place that has been doing the preparatory work, it doesn’t make sense to reshuffle the benches."

Nevertheless, despite her outsider role, the team matters to Davidson. Part of her electoral success in Scotland is down the way she has capitalised on the anti-independence feeling after the Scottish referendum. If the UK heads for a hard Brexit, she too will have to fend off accusations that her party is the party of division. 

Indeed, for all her jibes at the Brexiteers, Davidson has a serious message. Since the EU referendum, she is “beginning to see embryos of where Scotland has gone post-referendum”. And, she warned: “I do not think we want that division.”

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.