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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.