Democracy appears to be in action in Egypt. These past 2 days, the entire country headed to the polls to elect a new parliament, the first free election (we’ll see when the results come out) in 80 years. The turnout was much larger than expected, even in the rural areas, but among those who protested during the Revolution there was some pessimism as to whether these elections are what they seem. Some activists even staged a boycott of the vote, but only time will tell if their suspicions hold water. It would be pretty ironic if they are disproved, though, working and fighting for 11 months to make this finally happen, only to forfeit their voice in the selection of a new government. The earlier calls to postpone the elections until all candidates are equally prepared may be well founded, though, because some controversial groups like the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafis were best organized and best prepared to put forth candidates, especially as they have not been permitted to do so within any of the previous governments due to their fundamentalist ideologies. Clearly this is a major worry for secularists and liberals, some voicing concerns that Egypt could turn into another Iran. To me democracy is democracy, so as long as these elections are truly fair and free, I have no qualms supporting the choice of the Egyptian people as long as they really are the choice of the Egyptian people.
As usual, I have been following the news and most of what I’ve heard is good. It appears that there were no major conflicts between police and voters, nor was there evidence of obvious rigging or voter intimidation.
women voters in Upper Egypt
The candidates made a point to access the widest voter base possible, especially the large illiterate community. Every candidate has a symbol and a number for that reason, shown prominently on pamphlets, posters, and other advertisements. It doesn’t appear that the symbols were chosen by the candidates themselves and I have seen anything from an anchor, to an orange, to a blender on campaign posters all around the city. Some candidates went as far as to commission pop songs for their campaigns. We saw one candidate’s van pass by a week ago on the Corniche, plastered with posters, blaring the candidate’s song on loudspeakers strapped to the roof with giddy young men hanging out the windows and singing along. If nothing else, their enthusiasm is sure to win a few votes at least. The song was pretty catchy, too.
a sample ballot
Our guide told me that he waited two hours in the rain to cast his vote, but he said it as nonchalantly as if he’d just popped down to the corner store for a soda. Like him, voters persisted, braving the elements and long lines (sometimes almost a mile from end to end). Obviously it is hard to break the resolve of a people who have so long aspired to do something like this and neither rain nor a long wait would dissuade them from finally being able to do so.
Social media is again a major aspect in current events here, this time as a way of monitoring polling stations. The delight of these past 2 days has been seeing my Egyptian Facebook friends announce their participation proudly through status updates and photos like this one:
Dipping voters’ hands in ink was a safety measure to ensure no double-votes would be cast.
I am inspired, again, by what I have seen here, but I am worried that these two days might prove too good to be true. Will Mubarak’s cronies regain power or worse, will the new system assume the old norms of corruption and lies? We don’t have a precedent to judge by nor does anybody know the details of what goes on behind closed doors in Tantawi‘s interim government. Half of the optimism and inspiration comes from the fact that nothing like this has happened before here and for the sake of the spirit of the Revolution and the millions who continue to fight for it to bear fruit, I hope sincerely that all will be as it appears: a triumph of democracy for a nation getting to its feet.