While going to vote, I had mixed feelings about these elections. I was, and still am, outraged by the casualties and violence that occurred in the last weeks of November in Tahrir Square and elsewhere. But while many of us know that the parliament that we are electing right now might not bring an end to the oppressive regime, without those martyrs and the masses gathering throughout the year to demand a change, we would have been nowhere near this day.
Just as if studying for a test, the night before the big day I reviewed my choice and candidates one last time; I wrote down their names, numbers and symbols — and felt bliss. I had never before taken part in the course of Egyptian politics on paper.
Having been born and raised in France, I’ve always felt I was never a true Egyptian — especially when jokes are cracked about popular culture and I don’t get the references. But while heading to the polls with my ID card in hand, my finger ready to be inked, I was like everybody else, choosing a member of parliament to represent me as an Egyptian citizen.
My polling station was at a school in a calm neighborhood far from the symbolic and often chaotic downtown area of Tahrir Square. Still, I had decided to ask my fiancé (who voted in the Giza round) to accompany me since previous parliamentary elections had always been marred by violence and NDP thugs notoriously intimidating voters.
I felt a little silly when I arrived and realized there was clearly no need for him to have come with me. Soldiers and police officers were standing near the station, watching the very long queue of women chatting, smiling, sipping coffee or talking into their cell phones. Everyone’s mood was great. People talked about how long the queue was — some women had been standing since 8am and finished around noon — but were overall still happy. All around me were smiles and obvious feelings of pride and excitement.
Granted, there were some who adopted the tried-and-true Egyptian style of pushing and shoving to avoid standing in line, but the women standing around me firmly put them in their place.
What I found really interesting was that nobody in my line was talking politics. This understanding that you are not supposed to influence others with your political choice made the experience much better for me. I didn’t want to argue with anyone.
As I neared the door, a man came up to tell us to look closely at the names and symbols of our candidates, warning us that the numbers had changed. Just inside the entrance another man was sitting on a chair, praising Egyptian citizens and voicing how amazed he was with the patience we were exhibiting, standing in line for hours to take part in the future of our country. Such solidarity and excitement was the cherry on top of my first voting experience.
After two hours in the queue I finally entered the school to cast my vote, overcome with a strange feeling of stage fright. The scene was almost comic, with all the women voters practically running into the school asking where their classroom was. Like schoolgirls late for an exam, they were shouting the numbers of their lagna (polling station) so someone could direct them. Smiling administrative staff welcomed us in the classroom, their hamburgers and cheese sandwiches on the table. I showed my ID, signed and took my ballot.
Many women had no qualms with filling in their ballots at the table in front of everyone, but I didn’t want to. I had the right to vote secretly, and I felt a little joy while making my way to the curtained area to cast my ballot. In the space of five minutes, I had voted and put my finger in the ink — the process was fast and easy.
Again, as if I had finished an important exam, I came out of the school smiling and shouting to my fiancé, “I’m done, I voted!” I had to call all my friends and ask them about their experience and of course tell them about mine. I heard many stories: some of my friends were offered tea from nearby shops, while others spied a parliamentary hopeful surrounded by a crowd of women all shouting his name and babbling about how he looked different in reality than on TV. One of my friends told me she shouted at a woman who tried to distribute leaflets promoting her party. So many interesting stories that all deserve to be shared on how Egyptians took their first steps toward political changes.
I came out of the voting experience feeling like a true citizen. Later in the evening before the polls closed, I saw two men distributing leaflets and urging people in their cars to vote for certain candidates. When they came to me, I stood up for the rules of the elections, telling them that what they were doing was wrong — campaigning time had passed, and they could be reported for violations. One blatantly lied to me and told me that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) had issued a decree allowing last-minute campaigning (he obviously didn’t know I was a journalist quite aware of what the SCAF says), while the other smiled and told me, “Leave it to God.”
My bubble of voting happiness burst, and I was outraged to find the manipulation game still being played — and people were still willing to be manipulated.
In these uncertain times, we can adopt one of two attitudes: We can be truly pessimistic, considering the authoritarian rule still in place despite the countless martyrs who have fallen in protest of this rule. Or, we can choose to let events take their course and hope for life to get back to normal, for stability.
After weighing my cheerful and uneventful day at the poll against my experience with the two annoying campaigners, I think it’s best to be realistic about the outcome of these elections and what they can accomplish. Most important, we can’t forget that the revolution is not over and that for the martyrs that died for a better Egypt, we will keep fighting for change. et