Turnout High in Egypt's Elections, but Questions About Transition Remain

Noticeably absent from the demonstrations was the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest and best-organized political group in Egypt. Through its Freedom and Justice Party, the group is expected to gain a large number of seats in the parliamentary elections and pushed heavily for the vote to go ahead on schedule. Their members were out in full force on Monday, clearly visible at every polling station, offering to help voters find their registration numbers and distributing campaign flyers to any passersby.

"The Muslim Brotherhood have a political interest which they are declaring now above demands of this revolution to get rid of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces," Abdulla observes. "I say shame on them."

Thousands of protesters are continuing their sit-in in Tahrir, and many of them are boycotting the elections. They have instead called for the military council to grant full authorities to a national salvation government that could lead the country through its transition. Mohamed El Baradei, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is favored by many protesters to lead the group alongside other prominent politicians and young revolutionaries.

Instead, the Supreme Council on Friday named Kamal al-Ganzouri — a 78-year-old who served as prime minister under Mubarak — to replace interim prime minister Essam Sharaf, who had resigned earlier in the week amidst the violent clashes. In response, several hundred protesters marched to the street that houses parliament and the cabinet of ministers to stage an open-ended sit-in.

On Monday, people in Tahrir stood gathered in groups, engaging in vigorous debates about the legitimacy of the parliamentary poll. "Democracy means elections, the question is do we believe in democracy or not? The elections are the only way to get rid of the Supreme Council," argues an old man with the long beard and shorn mustache favored by Islamists. As others debated with him over the authority of the incoming parliament a young man strode in the middle and faced the old man. "Where were you last week while we were here dying? The Brotherhood and the Salafis have sold out the country," he says before storming away.

The calls for a boycott are minimal, however, and the turnout across Egypt of the first day of elections has been reported to be high. A few hundred yards from Tahrir Square, hundreds of women lined up inside the Kasr El Dobara Experimental Language School, a women's-only polling station on Kasr Al Aini street. Standing in the courtyard speaking to voters was Gamila Ismail, an independent parliamentary candidate favored by many protesters in Tahrir square. The week before, she had suspended her electoral campaign in protest of the brutal police crackdown. Ismail is also the ex-wife of Ayman Nour, who ran for president against Mubarak and was subsequently jailed for four years.

"This election is flavored with Tahrir, with the revolution," Ismail says. She had a failed run for parliament in November 2010, the infamous elections that were heavily rigged by Mubarak's National Democratic Party and helped spark the revolution on January 25. "Stepping through this gate in the same place and having a completely different experience is a dream."

When asked about the call for a boycott from Tahrir square, Ismail says, "I think boycotting and staying in Tahrir and the parliament are two parallel routes to the revolution. They serve each other. Without the square you can never maintain the freedom and the free space in politics."

Standing beside Ismail in the school courtyard was 28-year-old Nazly Hussein, an activist with the No to Military Trials campaign. Hussein had been badly injured in her left leg while on the front lines during clashes with police and was walking with a crutch. She had also suffered from slightly blurred vision due to an inflamed optic nerve, the result of being exposed to excessive amounts of tear gas.

"I've never voted before under Mubarak and I see no reason to vote now, nothing has changed," Hussein says simply. "This parliament has no real authority. The Supreme Council just wants to avoid a real handover of power and I will not be a part of this sham to give them legitimacy."

Dusk fell and the Supreme Judicial Committee for Elections announced that voting would be extended for two extra hours in all constituencies to accommodate for the heavy turnout. For now, it seems, the majority of Egyptians appear willing to take part in the political process laid out by the military council. Others, in Tahrir and elsewhere around the country, are firm in their belief that real change can only come in the streets.


Tags: arab spring, cairo, egypt, elections, hosni mubarak, mubarak, revolution, supreme council of armed forces, tahrir square

    • Sharif Abdel Kouddous
    • Sharif Abdel Kouddous is an independent journalist based in Cairo. For eight years he served as a senior producer, co-host, and correspondent for Democracy Now! and he remains a frequent contributor to the program. Originally from Cairo, he returned to Egypt in 2011 to cover the Egyptian revolution. He has written for The Natio...

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