OPED: Freedom & Justice Party’s modern electoral machine trumps “old-school felool.”
Tonight I celebrated my 44th birthday glued to Twitter watching election returns in Egypt’s presidential campaign (I know, my life is so exciting). As I watched the tweets flash by my eyes, my mind wandered back to my early days in politics when a thermal fax machine was a technological wonder.
Back then – before the Internet – when you squared off electorally against an opponent who you feared would cheat or rig the results, you would execute a “Protect-the-Vote” operation. Essentially you had to get the truth, e.g., the “real” election numbers, out before your opponent could disappear into the back rooms with crooked election judges and “craft” a result in their favor.
If you could physically watch the counting process, you would assign a person to every polling location to observe the count and immediately find a pay phone (pre-cell phone days too), deposit enough coins (no calling cards), and call the counts into headquarters (and if you were late calling in, someone would contact you on something called a “beeper”).
HQ would then write the numbers with a magic marker onto butcher paper taped to the wall and you’d allow reporters to see the actual numbers. You would also distribute the real numbers via that technologically advanced thermal fax machine, by dialing one phone number at a time (with your fingers) and patiently waiting for the paper to feed through the machine.
The idea was to develop a fast narrative with journalists and supporters that you won, based on truth (actual vote counts), before your opponent could “craft” alternative results in that smokey back room.
That was how “Protect-the-Vote” operations worked 25 years ago. Very. Very. Slowly.
Today we have cell phones, smart phones, WiFi, Facebook and Twitter. And tonight the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) used those modern tools to execute the perfect technology-driven “Protect-the-Vote” operation.
It is no secret in Egyptian politics that the FJP’s opponent was supported by members of the former ruling party – the NDP, or “felool”. These old-school operatives are widely known to be experts in “crafting” results in their favor. Their craftsmanship kept them in power for 30 years.
To counter this fear of fraud, the FJP modernized their legions of party operatives in the streets and ran a lightning-fast “Protect-the-Vote” operation. Within seconds of the polls closing, Twitter came alive with real-time election results from the FJP. Their Twitter account @Ikhwanweb began churning tweet-after-tweet like this:
@Ikhwanweb Behira: PS61 #Morsi 1645, Shafiq 216 PS38 #Morsi 724, Shafiq 294 Qena:PS62#Morsi 777, Shafiq 19 Kafr el Shikh: PS1#Morsi 514, Shafiq 252
Within minutes of witnessing this, I fired off my own tweet:
@rbecker51 Modern ballot protection: #Morsi @Ikhwanweb camp tweeting precinct results in real-time. Excellent use of technology to protect vote by #FJP
Here’s how this most likely worked:
- FJP had party reps in all 13,000 polling locations
- These reps observed the counting and instantly SMS’ed the results to FJP HQ
- Multiple typers/tweeters transferred that incoming data onto the timelines of 26,952 Muslim Brotherhood Twitter followers (including every journalist in Egypt)
Within 45 minutes it became abundantly clear their candidate Mohamed Morsi was winning, and winning big. In record time FJP created a fact-based narrative based on real-time election results showing their candidate dominating the race.
And within 45 minutes their opponent, Ahmed Shafik, responded by releasing multiple statements alleging the FJP committed voter fraud throughout the country. There is scientific term for the Shafik campaign’s response: they pooped themselves.
The psychological impact of FJP’s fact-based, Twitter barrage was tremendous and demoralizing. Before the “Felool” operatives could even think about lighting their cigarettes in the proverbial back-room, the election narrative was lost.
Say what you want about Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party, but know this: they are a world-class political operation.
Some of my colleagues roundly criticized the FJP for not immediately taking to the streets to protest the recent dissolution of the Parliament. Well, this is what they did instead. They did what disciplined political parties are supposed to do: focus on winning.
The smart, savvy use of modern technology, combined with a disciplined organization prevailed.