|Editor’s Note: Although this reported editorial was sent to us by Rasha Mohamed, our reader, last month, we felt this was a good timing to publish it. Given the state of pessimism sweeping the country over the political situation, there couldn’t be better timing than this to relay a more optimistic take on our political situation. Even if the political turmoil of January 25 brings a lot of disappointments, it’s still good to remind ourselves of what this change brought about in our attitudes, it’s good to see the shimmering light in the political chaos.
In 2008, when Barack Obama became the first African-American to run for president, as an Egyptian-American and a minority, I thought it couldn’t get better than this. I was proud to be an American and part of this historic moment.
Only in America, I thought, is it possible to defy the state of affairs. Only in America could we exercise our right to vote for a minority, for reform and for positive change. Only in America can there be such hope for tomorrow.
I thought nothing could top this — but four years later, I discovered I was wrong.
What happened in Egypt on May 25 confirmed that hope is a constant ingredient for all human survival. That day, as an Egyptian, I stood in line for more than two hours in the first free presidential elections in Egypt’s over 5000-year long history.
Although I was taking little footsteps in the polling line, it felt like miles to democracy.
But it took a revolution to bring us to the starting line of democracy. Egyptians united when gunshots of oppression targeted peaceful protesters in the renowned Tahrir Square last year.
In a democracy, elections are nothing to fuss about. But for Egyptians, choosing your own president was something they couldn’t even define before this day.
“I didn’t even know what voting really meant,” said 37-year-old Jihan Mohamed, while standing in the female line at the polling station in Cairo. “I would hear about it on TV under the old regime, but no one participated because we always knew [the votes] were rigged [as] 99 percent of the votes always go to the same person. So why would I take part in a fake election?”
Egyptians felt previous presidential elections had no validity, and so didn’t bother to participate in a sham. But things are different now.
“I had no choice,” said Mohamed, mother of three. “Today, I have a choice. I have hope that the new president will fear God and develop our country.”
For other Egyptians, the excitement of the elections contributed to sleep deprivation.
“I didn’t sleep for two days waiting for the elections. Today, I woke up at 4am waiting for the polling station to open,” said 31-year-old Rania El Sayed, standing with her five-year-old daughter.
For El Sayed, this not only marked the first day her voice were heard, but the first day she discovered a new love. “After 30 years, I realized I love Egypt,” said El Sayed.
For other Egyptians, it wasn’t as easy to associate their feelings with this historic moment.
“It’s a new feeling. I’ve never experienced anything like this before,” said 25-year-old Nada Ahmed. “This is actually the first election that we don’t know who the winner is before it’s announced.”
The three women stood in line within inches of each other, but each had a different view of the issues that should top the new president’s agenda.
“I want justice,” said El Sayed. “When I have a problem, I want to be able to go to the police station and get treated fairly and with justice.”
As for whom they voted for, they respected voting day etiquette, promoted in the media, and did not discuss their preferred candidates at the polling stations.
However, when asked whom she will vote for, Mohamed had bread on her mind.
“I will vote for the candidate who knows how much a loaf of bread is. If he knows, it means he’s one of us, one of the people.”
For these women, just being able to vote is enough for a celebration, regardless of who ends up having the directive of executive order.
“Even if [the candidate] I elect doesn’t win, I will support the one that the majority voted for and hope that he can make a change,” Ahmed said.
Mohamed agrees, “People shouldn’t run to Tahrir Square and protest about [the election outcome] because we had free elections.”
As we approached our turn, I was again reminded of the polling stations in the US and pictures of Obama raced through my head. While he is preparing for the 57 free presidential election, we have just completed our first.
So while Americans are debating whether President Obama will win his second term, Egyptians are debating who will be our first elected president. America has come a long way — Egypt has leaped quite a distance.
From slavery to Obama’s presidency, Americans have shown the world that dreams are achievable. From oppression to freedom, Egyptians have shown the world that hope is powerful.
As an Egyptian, I’m hopeful for tomorrow.