Monday, November 28, 2011

Letters from Egypt: Tales from Voting Precincts

Camera is dead, so this was taken via my mobile outside Victoria College in Maadi
As I was walking to Costa coffee this morning near the Grand Mall, I saw a line composed of all females wrapped around the corner from Victoria College with military personnel standing guard. Women lined up along the front, while men were kept in a different area in case tensions escalated and to combat harassment.

Voting stations are open from 8 am until 7 pm, but have been extended to 9 pm.  At the polling station off of Road 9 in Maadi, one voter told me he stayed for seven hours (his choices varied, but he did say he picked the party symbol, eye). He said, “It’s the first time for me to vote so it’s quite an experience for me.” The ballots are brought to each voting area via a judge, but the judge at this precinct was late. “We waited for the judge for three hours because he has all the documents and is in charge of opening the documents.” He continued to say that when he first arrived, shortly after 7 am, no staff was present eventually all arriving alongside the tardy judge. “Everyone had [the chance] to say his vote and it was really nice, but maybe this is only Maadi.” Please note that Maadi is considered one of the best areas in Cairo, and has the highest concentration of foreigners in addition to a more liberal viewpoint from locals residing in the area

One voter told me he had stood in line from 7:00 am to 9:30 am to mark his ballot (he picked the parties that were represented by the banana, eye and toothbrush). He noted that this time around was better than the referendum voting which took place in March. The referendum in March had many discrepancies, including one source telling me that while her illiterate mother with only a grammar school education had people in line telling her that a vote for no was a vote for the Christians. She voted yes to the referendum to avoid the 'Christian' outcome.

Today’s vote was more organized, but inside the polling stations suffered. However, it is important to note that in a country with a large population like Egypt that has been under dictator rule for over 30 years, complete organization is going to be a long way off. Standing in line took awhile so once inside, there are different lines for voting which were ambiguous according to my source. Many people would wait in the line they thought was correct only to be told they must relocate.

There have been rumors that voters were solicited with cash to cast their ballots in favor of a certain party. I cannot confirm this so I refuse to mention the party associated with this rumor, but I will say that this is to be expected: allegations toward certain political parties that continue to unnecessarily flood the rumor mill. If you can’t confirm it, no need in spreading it.

Another source of mine said he woke up late and is waiting to place his vote tomorrow at a precinct outside of Maadi. He will vote for the Free Egyptian party (Al-Masriyeen al-Ahrrar) which also seems to be a favorite based on its leader, Naguib Sawiris. Sawiris, a Coptic Christian, is a telecommunications mogul that has expressed that his party is open to everyone despite religious orientation. The party believes in a separation between religion and government, women's rights and overall equality. The party supports competitive bidding for government contracts, minimum wage and the expansion of microfinancing programs and implementing tax credits for Zakat and tithe to reward social cooperation (which I believe is similar to the US: allowing religious institutions to be exempt from paying taxes).

I will update this as I speak with others about their experiences from outside of Maadi, so make sure to check back periodically.

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