A Voter’s Lament – By Mohamed El Dahshan

Egypt’s ruling generals may claimthe ballot has been a success, but the revolutionaries of Tahrir Square know different.


Egypt’selections weren’t supposed to be this way.

Our first “post-revolution” (sigh…) elections were supposed to be free. Theoverwhelmingly young people who led the January and February uprising wouldlead the nation into a future of freedom and justice, a nation for all itscitizens, equal before the law. People would work together to eradicatecorruption, poverty, sexual harassment, discrimination, petty crime — traffic,even. The sky seemed to be the limit. Today is the Icarian crash landing.

I wasn’t supposed to hear a candidate talk about “courting the Christian lobby’svote” or some acquaintances talk about voting for the Muslim Brotherhoodbecause they want someone “who can stand up to the Christians who want to takeover the country.”

These elections weren’t supposed to occur as we suffer under the military boot– one that even the most committed revolutionaries among us have no clear ideahow to remove. One that has handpicked a 78-year old former Mubarak-era primeminister who, as I write, is reported to be mulling the re-appointment of anumber of ministers who were in office when the January 25th revolution began.

They shouldn’t be taking place as families bury children who died overthe course of the past week, when clashes with the army-backed police forceskilled over 40 and injured more than 1,000 protesters who have demanded the endof the military rule and an immediate transfer of power to a civiliangovernment.

They shouldn’t occur while bloggers like Alaa Abdel Fattah, Maikel Nabil, andscores of other civilian prisoners unjustly languish in military jails ontrumped-up charges. On Sunday, the day before the elections, Alaa’s case wasreferred to an ad hoc “emergency” court and his detention was extended by afurther 15 days, while Maikel, on his 99th day of a hunger strike, saw hisretrial further postponed to Dec. 4. He currently survives on milk and juice.

Debates among activists who led the revolutionary movement aboutwhether the election would legitimize military rule and whether to boycott hadbeen raging for days before polls opened Monday. (My take: it might, yes; andno, I am not boycotting, though I hesitated long and hard.)

I did not want to vote, but felt I had to. After a sleepless night, I went tovote Monday morning, and stood in line for three hours, during which Iwitnessed a series of violations.

Many candidates were distributing flyersoutside my polling station in Heliopolis,a quaint, middle-class and relatively politically liberal neighborhood in theeast of Cairo. Some volunteer “popular committee for election security,” withthe army and police’s explicit approval, were organizing the lines while handingout flyers for the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). The FJP had setup a full-fledged booth 10 meters away from the station, despite rulesforbidding any campaigning within 100 meters of the polls. (When I asked boththe army general in charge of security outside and the judge supervising thevote inside the station, both told me a variant of: “It makes littledifference, people here know what they’re voting for anyway.” That might betrue for my educated neighborhood, but is it the case everywhere?)

Inside the polling station, where two well-meaning polling officials insistedthat I stand and fill my ballots on the window sill “to save time,” I insisted ondoing it behind the metal curtain set up for this purpose, but saw (and photographed)many people who agreed to the window sill. I cast my vote as instructed for twoindividual candidates, one of whom had to be a “farmer” or a “laborer” due to anarchaic but impossible to abrogate system, and for one party list. After dippingmy finger in the purple ink, I sat in the station for a while to observe (withthe permission of the judge), then made my way out with a heavy heart.

Although many are hailing Egypt’s first free and fair parliamentary electionsas a triumph for democracy, we have little to celebrate. Sure, the process wasprocedurally sound, and an election without the autocratic National DemocraticParty that once dominated all political life here is worth taking part in. Butrather than being about selecting a strong legislative body, these electionswere an exercise in damage control. Many of us simply chose the least badcandidate, and sought to ensure that no dogmatic and divisive party dominatesan assembly that will have little authority but will be tasked, through designatinga 100-member committee, with drafting the country’s new constitution.

These were not the elections we dreamed of, or for which we fought, bled, andlost hundreds of noble souls for — most recently, people like 19-year-old AhmedSorour, who died under the wheels of a police armored vehicle during a sit-in onSaturday, or Rania Fouad, a volunteer doctor who was tending to patientsin a makeshift “field hospital” in Tahrir Square on Wednesday when it sustaineda teargas attack. Fouad went into a coma and died after the police preventedher colleagues from evacuating her.

A few hundred meters from Tahrir Square, where dozens of tents remain, a sit-incontinues by the prime minister’s office. The few stalwart revolutionariesthere are challenging the legitimacy of an army appointmented government,demanding an end to military rule.

For those of us who reluctantly tookpart in this electoral exercise, we did so not to legitimize continued militaryrule or that of its favored civilian appointees: warmed-over bureaucrats fromthe Mubarak era. We voted because these are our elections, not the generals’, northe upstart politicians’, nor the religious parties’. We voted because our lovefor Egypt means that we will make our voices heard, come what may.

Now, with inkedfingers, it’s back to the streets to protest. Minutes ago, a case broughtagainst the Egyptian military by 25-year old Samira Ibrahim, who in the spring wassubjected to the infamous and barbaric “virginitytests,” was postponed until late December. A march in her support isplanned for this afternoon.

The celebration will have to wait.


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