Some may argue that free and fair elections, if properly conducted, are fully capable of producing a government that reflects the promise of the January 25 Revolution and its partisans. Yet this line of reasoning conveniently overlooks the distortive role that electoral politics play in pushing out of the national political arena issues and agendas that concern socially marginalized classes.
The experience of the 2011/12 elections is a case in point. The failure of partisans of distributive justice, such as the Revolution Continues Alliance, to secure meaningful representation in Parliament speaks to a reality in which big money and parties of privilege — whether Islamist or secular — dominate the electoral arena, making it extremely difficult for political allies of the marginalized to really succeed in national politics.
In such a context, the liberal prescription of free and fair elections confronts an insurmountable paradox: How can elections create a national political arena capable of resolving pressing conflicts over economic and social rights if those who lack and demand these rights are constantly crowded out of this same arena by default? In this respect, the power that liberals attribute to free and fair elections to resolve the social conflicts that are tearing Egypt apart today is little more than an illusion.