Voters in Egypt thronged the country’s ballot boxes Monday during its first
election in decades and its first major democratic exercise since the popular
protests that ousted president Hosni Mubarak in February.
swarmed to the polls in a generally peaceful atmosphere despite the unrest that
marred the election run-up, where 42 people were killed in protests demanding an
immediate transition from military to civilian rule.
are to be announced Wednesday, but many contests will go to a run-off vote on
Official list results will not be declared until after the
election ends January 11.
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There were signs the election was being held
under less than ideal circumstances.
The Egypt Center for Human Rights
said Monday it had found 400 electoral violations on just the first day of
voting. The organization singled out the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and
Justice Party as responsible for many of the offenses, including offers of
financial incentives to voters, the website Bikya Masr reported.
Al-Youm, Egypt’s largest independent newspaper, reported it had obtained
completed ballots leaked a day before the elections.
Some of the ballots,
which were from the Red Sea and Fayoum governorates, contained the names of
voters who were no longer alive.
The ruling army council, which has
already extended polling to a second day, kept voting stations open an extra two
hours until 9 p.m. “to accommodate the high voter turnout.” The Muslim
Brotherhood’s party and other Islamists expect to do well in the parliamentary
election staggered over the next six weeks, but much remains uncertain in
Egypt’s complex and unfamiliar voting system of party lists and
“We want to make a difference, although we are depressed by
what the country has come to,” said Maha Amin, a 46-year-old pharmacy lecturer,
before she voted in an upscale Cairo suburb.
Parliament’s lower house
will be Egypt’s first nationally elected body since Mubarak’s fall, and those
credentials alone may enable it to dilute the military’s monopoly on
A high turnout throughout the election would give it
Despite a host of reported electoral violations and lax
supervision exploited by some groups, election monitors reported no systematic
Mubarak-style campaign to rig the polls.
“We are very happy to be part of
the election,” said first-time Cairo voter Wafa Zaklama, 55. “What was the point
before?” In Alexandria, 34-year-old engineer Walid Atta rejoiced over the
occasion. “This is the first real election in 30 years. Egyptians are making
Oppressed under Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood and other
Islamist parties have stood aloof from those challenging army-rule, unwilling to
let anything obstruct a vote that may bring them closer to power.
Brotherhood has conducted a savvy media campaign, assuring skeptics it has the
best interests of all Egyptians at heart and will not seek to impose an
authoritarian theocratic agenda.
In an interview Sunday, the secretary-
general of the Brotherhood’s party told Al Jazeera English his movement’s
philosophy was congruent with the existing Egyptian constitution, the second
article of which refers to Islamic law as the “main source of
“If you want to know what principles guide our party, let
me tell you – the principles of the Islamic Shari’a law, and they are included
in the Egyptian constitution,” Mohamed Saad Katatni said. “Our party is not a
religious party but it’s a civil party... that seeks a modern and democratic
state but with an ‘Islamic reference.’” The Brotherhood has formidable
advantages, which include disciplined organization, name recognition among a
welter of littleknown parties and years of opposing Mubarak.
organizers stood near many voting stations with laptops, offering to guide
confused voters, printing out a paper identifying the correct polling booth and
showing their party candidate’s name and symbol on the back.
engaged in lively political debate as they waited patiently in long
“Aren’t the army officers the ones who protected us during the
revolution?” one woman asked loudly at a polling station in Cairo’s Nasr City,
referring to the army’s role in easing Mubarak from power. “What do those
slumdogs in Tahrir want?” One man replied: “Those in Tahrir are young men and
women who are the reason why a 61-yearold man like me voted in a parliamentary
election for the first time in his life today.”
Washington and its
European allies have urged the generals to step aside swiftly and make way for
civilian rule. The US ambassador to Cairo, Anne Patterson, congratulated
Egyptians “on what appeared to be a very large turnout on this very historic
occasion,” and British ambassador James Watt told Reuters the election was “an
important milestone in Egypt’s democratic transition” that seemed to have gone
smoothly so far.
Men and women voted in separate lines, a reminder of the
conservative religious fabric of Egypt’s mainly Muslim society, and where Coptic
Christians comprise 10 percent of a population of more than 80
Myriad parties have emerged since the fall of Mubarak, who fixed
elections to ensure his nowdefunct National Democratic Party dominated
parliament. The NDP’s headquarters, torched in the popular revolt, still stand
like a tombstone by the Nile.
About 17 million Egyptians are eligible to
vote in the first two-day phase of three rounds of polling for the lower
Egyptians seemed enthused by the novelty of a vote where the
outcome was, for a change, not a foregone conclusion.
The army council
has promised civilian rule by July after the parliamentary vote and a
presidential poll, now expected in June – much sooner than previously
But one of its members said Sunday the new parliament could
not remove a cabinet appointed by the army.
Kamal Ganzouri, named by the
army on Friday to form a new government, said he had met the ruling army council
on Monday to discuss setting up a “civilian advisory committee” to work with his
new cabinet, which he said could be unveiled by Thursday.