CAIRO – As the initial rounds of polling in Egypt’s first undetermined presidential election continue into their second day, Egyptians seem ready for their country to get back on track and rise out of the slump of a failing economy and deteriorating security situation.
“We don’t want anymore protests, they don’t do anything,” says Salim, an Egyptian man who spent time living and working abroad in Germany, and who informs me that his wife recently passed away.
“I don’t protest, I have to subsist,” he says, waving his finger at the surrounding streets.
“It’s vacation now,” he says, referring to long weekend called by the Egyptian government in order to facilitate voting across the country. “Where is the work?”
On the other side of town, in a mostly working-class neighborhood called Sayeda Zeinab, Khaled – a Muslim preacher who says he broadcasts sermons on television – seems fine with the added days off.
“Muslims are always on vacation,” he says with a brief chuckle.
He has just voted, and flashes his inked finger proudly in order to prove it. Khaled – who sports a well-groomed beard and a spotless galabiya, a traditional Egyptian garment – openly tells me he voted for the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohamed Mursi, in order to facilitate the further synthesis of Islamic law with Egypt’s state governance.
“[The Brotherhood] has a fixed program that will govern the people, and bring freedom,” he says, referring to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Nahda (renaissance) platform, which aims to reform Egypt’s political system and bolster the domestic economy in order to diminish Egypt’s need for foreign aid.
Waving his hands towards the nearby polling station, where hundreds of men and women wait in separate lines to cast their ballots, Khaled declares "the revolution continues,” a phrase that marks the walls of buildings throughout the city.
Meanwhile, in that same neighborhood, a small group of men sit over cups of tea, puffing away at water pipes, discussing how the revolution is over.
“Because of the uprising we cannot eat,” says Nabil, who runs a car service for tourists in the city. “It’s very bad.”
“No one has money anymore, there is no work,” he adds.
Ayman, a car mechanic who is hanging exhaust pipes from jutting poles outside his shop next to where Nabil and his friends sit, complains that even though he keeps his shop open up to 18 hours a day, very few customers come anymore.
Down the street, a man selling Egyptian fabric with traditional designs agrees, adding that neither foreign customers nor local ones have been stopping in for the last year-and-a-half.
January 2012 figures by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), Egypt’s official statistical agency, puts unemployment at 12.4 percent, which is certainly higher than 9.7% unemployment rate at the same time period in 2010. The last time the jobless rate was as high as it is today was in 2001.
The wide unemployment, coupled with a security situation many Egyptians say has made the country increasingly unsafe, makes the current elections even more pressing.
While the streets of Cairo are always packed, the police presence is noticeably less than during the later years of Mubarak’s rule. Fights that sometimes involve dozens of people are breaking out in the middle of some of the city’s busiest avenues in broad daylight. Punches are thrown and insults fly, but no police are around to break up such altercations, which spill off the sidewalk and into the thick traffic.
“There can be no change until there is a new president,” Nabil continues, sitting underneath a hanging picture of Waid Mohamed Abd Al-Aziz, whom Adel, sitting to Nabil’s right, says was shot dead during the uprising to oust Mubarak.
Asked whether the slain man was a protester, the three men answer with a resounding “no,” saying he went down to Tahrir Square “to watch.”
Nabil leans in, “he was neither shot by the police nor the army,” and says today more than ever smuggled weapons have made their way into the hands of the common Egyptian.
“Just like in Palestine,” says Adel.