Thursday, December 1, 2011
Observations from Egypt
November 28, 2011, was a momentous day in Egypt’s history, because Egyptians got to vote freely in national elections. It was also a historic day in my voting history: for the very first time in my life I got to vote in an Egyptian parliamentary election. This was the first of three planned stages of parliamentary elections; and it included 9 governorates, including the areas of Cairo, Alexandria, Assuit and Fayoum. (Officially, the parliamentary elections will be completed in January 2012.)
My voting station was the same station I got to vote back in March during the constitutional referendum. It was at El Kawmeyya School in the 6th district of Kasr El Neel, in the neighborhood of Zamalek, Cairo. This time I did not only go as a voter, but I got to participate as an observer. What is most interesting about my voting station is that it was characterized as having one of the longest lines in Cairo and having mostly women voters.
Inside the voting station, the process begins in manner pretty similar to the U.S., in that voters get their names checked off a list after showing their Egyptian national ID as a proof of identity. Voters are then given two voting cards, a pink card for the party list and a huge white voting card for the individual candidates. For the party list, voters got to select from a mixture of 10 parties or political blocks. While for the individual list, one got to pick 2 out of 67 individual candidates. Interestingly, each of the individual candidates or political parties was represented by different symbol, such as a pyramid, motorcycle, apple or soccer ball, and a number. The symbols and numbers help the illiterate as well as those who don't remember the names of their favored parties or candidates.
The voter then goes behind a curtain to select the candidates. The pink and white voting cards are then folded and placed in two separate boxes. Lastly, voters must dip one finger in purple ink (as opposed to pink ink during the referendum vote). The ink is very hard to get rid of and that is a guarantee that voters do not vote more than once. I still have the ink stuck to my pinky since Monday!
As an observer, the voting process at Al Kawmeyya School went very smoothly and peacefully. I did not notice any major violations. Violence was absent due to a plan that was set up by the Egyptian armed forces, in coordination with the Egyptian security forces, that protected my voting station and other voting stations around Cairo and other governorates. In addition, the neighborhood committee that protected Zamalek during the revolution was present outside the school to control the voter lines and assist/guide the elderly to their appropriate voting booths inside the school.
I was truly impressed to see so much enthusiasm and excitement in the voting process. One of my friends was in tears telling me it was a great feeling for her to vote and she felt that Egypt is moving in the right direction. I also believe this voting experience was a milestone and another step towards democracy in Egypt, despite fears of the Islamists winning a majority in the parliament.
First round voters, including those in my 6th district of Kasr El Neel, will get to cast their ballots again on the short list for the individual candidates during the first week in December. The repeat is most likely to happen for more than 120 candidates in each district. In my district, re-runs will be on December 5 and 6 between Mohamed Abu Hamed (From the Kotla El Masreyya Coalition, a liberal grouping) and Kheidr (Adala & Horreyya party, which is aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood). Of course, I plan to cast my vote again in hopes that my choice for my district, who is also the choice of the majority of the people I know, wins during the repeat.