As Egypt prepares to begin what activists hope will be a new era in democracy – which promises to be as confusing as it is monumental – the first democratic elections in a country with more than 6,000 years of history are starting this month. There has been a flurry of stories on issues facing candidates – charges of discrimination against female candidates, the questionable efficacy of a ban on preventing those with ties to deposed President Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party from running etc. But little is known about a list of names, a list that some say is nearly 30,000 names long, identifying people who have been prohibited from voting due to past criminal convictions.
Disenfranchising former convicts is stipulated by Egyptian law – and many other countries have similar regulations when it comes to who can and cannot vote. And In a nation of more than 80 million, disenfranchising a few thousand might not seem like a big deal. However, voters’ rights advocates take issue with two elements with the mechanism by which tens of thousands of criminal record holders are prohibited from voting in the upcoming parliamentary elections: The lack of transparency and the fact that the process relies on a database which seems to have no way of exempting former political prisoners from the list of banned voters.
“The overall lack of transparency that has typified the electoral process to date and the haste with which the structures are being implemented does not create confidence in the ability of the electoral authorities to be able to deal with those individuals who were unlawfully convicted under the previous regime, often for political offences,” said Michael Hanna, a fellow and analyst at the Century Foundation, a non-partisan think tank.