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Electoral Symbols in Egypt Hold Political Significance

Electoral Symbols in Egypt Hold Political Significance

Friday, 23 February, 2018 - 07:00
A voter holds an electoral ballot during the 2014 presidential polls. (Reuters)
Cairo – Issam Fadel
Egyptian presidential elections candidates, President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi and his competitor Moussa Mustafa, have chosen their electoral symbols ahead of next months polls.

The announcement of the symbols helps shed light on the importance of these emblems in the electoral process.

Sisi opted for a star, while Moussa opted for an airplane.

The images will remain in the people’s memory long after elections are over. Symbols were initially introduced to help illiterate people distinguish between candidates.

Experts said however that while electoral platforms speak to the voters’ mind, the symbols speak to their hearts.

Dr. Jamal Salameh, a political science professor at Suez University, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the symbols were originally introduced to help illiterate people.

“They however persisted after that because they are an easy method for all voters,” he added.

This method also exists in the majority of countries, not just in ones with high illiteracy rates, he explained.

The United States, for example, places a symbol next to each electoral candidate, which makes the voters’ job easier, especially if the candidate list is long, he went on to say.

Symbols are usually linked to historic eras, some may even spark ridicule among voters. The symbol, said Salameh does influence the voters, so it is important that candidates adopt pictures that carry positive connotations, as opposed to ones that can spark derision.

In addition, social factors must also be taken into consideration when choosing a symbol because an emblem that is accepted in one environment may be rejected in another.

Dr. Samia Khodr, a sociology professor at the Ain Shams University, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the symbols act as a communication link between the candidate and the voter.

A symbol therefore holds social and cultural significance. For example, a gun may be accepted in violent societies, but in Egypt, such an emblem may give people the impression of violence.

The people are usually influenced by the symbols that represent their environment. A boat, for example, may have more of an impact on coastal societies. Older voters may remember the palm tree as the symbol of the Al-Wafd Party. The tree can also resonate with agricultural societies.

“In general, a candidate usually chooses a positive symbol that gives a sense of hope among the voters,” said Khodr.

A 2015 Egyptian report said that the use of of symbols was linked to hieroglyphics, which were adopted during the age of the Pharaohs in Ancient Egypt.

Egyptologist Issam Satani told Asharq Al-Awsat that symbols were an important part of hieroglyphic language, whose letters were based on nature.

Symbols helped express several deep thoughts, especially those of humanitarian and existential values, he added.

The balance, he said, still represents justice, the Eye of Horus still stands for security and the sun stands for joy and hope.

The ancient Egyptians used symbols in their daily life, and as human civilization developed, the symbols transformed into a universal language that is used in the modern age, he explained.

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