Elections In Egypt Bring Big Crowd
Published: November 30, 2011 (Issue # 1685)
CAIRO — The head of Egypt’s election commission said turnout was “massive and unexpected” for the first elections since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, with millions participating peacefully in a spirit of hopefulness that surprised many after new protests broke out in the days leading up to the vote.
Long lines formed again Tuesday at polling centers around the capital Cairo and other cities on the second and final day of the first round of parliamentary elections. The historic election – which promises to be the country’s fairest and cleanest in living memory – will indicate whether one of America’s most important Middle East allies will turn down a more Islamic path with powerful religious parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood expected to dominate.
“I am voting for this country’s sake. We want a new beginning,” said Zeinab Saad, 50, who brought her young daughter to a polling station in Cairo. “It’s a great thing to feel like your vote matters.”
The head of the High Election Commission, Abdel-Mooaez Ibrahim, said late Monday night that the turnout on the first day was surprisingly strong. He did not give any figures.
There were numerous reports of election violations by party activists, most over campaigning close to polling sites while voting was under way.
“It is a crime punishable by law,” Ibrahim said of such violations. He also said some polling centers witnessed delays and three were closed following scuffles. He said one polling center was closed after the commission found a policeman forging ballots for a candidate in the southern city of Luxor.
The huge turnout Monday – some voters waited in line for seven hours or more – was the biggest surprise so far in these elections. On the eve of the vote, the country was in turmoil, deeply divided and confused after 10 days of new protests and clashes involving young activists demanding the country’s military rulers hand power immediately to a civilian authority. Among other problems, the unrest raised fears of violence at the polling stations, which never came to pass.
Instead, Egyptians showed a fierce determination to exercise the right to vote freely for the first time ever in their lives. Past elections had been heavily rigged and turnout was tepid, sometimes in the single digits.
This time around, some hoped their votes would help push the military from power, while others were trying to keep the rising Islamist parties in check.
A good number of Egyptians harbor deep doubts about the legitimacy and the relevance of the parliament that will emerge from an electoral process conducted entirely under military rule.
The military will sharply limit the powers of the parliament that emerges and it may only serve for several months. Remnants of Mubarak’s old regime, except the few who are in jail or on trial, were allowed to run freely in these elections, something that for the youthful activists behind Mubarak’s ouster detracts from the legitimacy of the vote.
However, others saw it as a historic turning point, if for no other reason than they were finally getting a chance to be heard. There was a glimmer of hope that this could be the beginning of a real political transformation.