Talk about déjà vu. Once again, I was at my landlady’s, known only as El-Hagga, waiting for some major presidential announcement, and it was late. The first time was February 10, 2011, and El-Hagga’s entire family had gathered for what we thought would be Hosni Mubarak’s resignation speech — except that he left the script and didn’t resign. His vice president Omar Sulaiman had to give the speech for him the next day. This time, it was just El-Hagga, her 25-year-old daughter Nanoos and I waiting for the Supreme Presidential Elections Council (SPEC) to finally announce the name of Egypt’s new president.
Give SPEC credit for building suspense. After starting 45 minutes late, Farouk Sultan had us on the edge of our seats with a blow-by-blow account of how SPEC resolved each complaint. El-Hagga and Nanoos are both supporters of Mubarak’s last prime minister Ahmed Shafik, so every deduction from the Freedom and Justice Party’s candidate Mohamed Morsy’s tally sparked giddy applause, while penalties against Shafik were met with a tsk. When Morsy was named the winner, the room was quiet — not angry, just a little sad and resigned.
The mood in my neighborhood was considerably more festive, with my street’s bawabs (building superintendents) all giving me the thumbs up to the results. My walkabout this time took me across the main market street into a warren of alleys and shops. This is not what you would call a high-rent area, there is little pavement here, and I had to dodge a couple of roosters and a handful of sheep meandering along the uneven, hard-packed dirt alleys.
Many office professionals, including Nanoos and I, had been sent home at 1pm, amid fears that there might be violence and a curfew imposed after the announcement. There was no signs of such fears amid these narrow streets, which house a full array of retail and services, be it dry goods, live poultry, carpentry or repair shops. It’s well off my — and apparently every other foreigner’s — normal path, but on this day of days, people were smiling and welcoming. In that neighborhood, everyone I spoke with was happy with the results of the election. I understand the mood was significantly different in other parts of town, and it is worth noting that Shafik’s disappointed supporters weren’t the ones out celebrating last night.
Two young men in their 20s in front of a stationary shop were all for Morsy in the second round, despite initially supporting third-place finisher Hamdeen Sabbahi. They recognized that many people are afraid of Morsy and hope is that he will be a businessman and focus on the needs of the country, not religion.
A woman at a toy store stocked with the colorful Chinese made plastic fawanees (Ramadan lantern) was patiently fending off children playing with firecrackers in the street. She was happy it’s Morsy, because if Shafik won, “people would erupt.”
Smiling, one middle-aged gentleman sitting in a nearby doorway added, “We need some peace.”
The veiled woman near a sandwich shop was a Morsy supporter all the way, and she was thrilled her candidate won. Others pointed to now-fading Mosry stickers on their walls and pins on their shirts to show their loyalty.
Tottering down the alley was a young boy almost eclipsed by the Morsy poster he was carrying. As I pulled out my camera, I was surrounded by other boys way too young to vote but thrilled to pose for me as the adults around us called out pro-Morsy encouragement.
At an electronics store draped in a Morsy banner, a salesman told me in tentative but enthusiastic English, “Today is my birthday, 32 years. In my life, we did not have a real president until now. Not Sadat, not Mubarak.” But today, he said, there was a real president picked by the people.
My wanderings took me to Ahmed Zaki Street, an artery that runs from Dar El-Salam at the lower end of the economic ladder to the edge of the upscale suburb of Maadi. In this section of town, the median is lined with trash and the sidewalks lined with ‘ahwas, the coffee shops consisting of scattered chairs filled with men smoking shisha. A quartet summoned me over and peremptorily ordered me a soda. They were yet another group who voted for Morsy, mainly because he’s not old regime. In fact, it was the first time they had ever voted, and they clearly thought their efforts made a difference. When it cooled off, they told me, they were heading to Tahrir to celebrate.
As I type this, about four hours after the announcement, the market street nearby continues to burst out in firecrackers and the staccato, celebratory honking that usually signals a wedding or a win by the favored football club. Happy as they may be, though, life goes on. I asked a 20-something girl if she was going to Tahrir. She just smiled and pointed to the rack of veils she was trying to sell: “I have to work.”
I know from other conversations in the past weeks that there are a lot of disappointed people out there (check my blogon tourism’s industry overwhelming support for Shafik
). Morsy barely squeaked by with 13.23 million votes of 51.73% of the valid votes. Many of those votes were anti-Shafik, as opposed to pro-Morsy. Only 26.42 million of 50.95 million eligible voters participated, and 843,252 votes were void either in protest or by accident.
There are people out there who are very worried about what Morsy’s Islamist outlook means for tourism and for the Christian population. There’s no telling how much power he’ll effectively have as president, now that the military holds legislative powers and substantial oversight for the Constitution being drafted. And at the street level, where I walked today at least, there are less lofty concerns about security and trash pickup. The new president’s honeymoon will be short.
But last night, there was celebration in the streets among Morsi supporters, a collective sigh of relief that the uncertainty is over and hope that better things will come of this. And there is a sense among the Morsy fans that this newfangled thing called democracy actually worked.et