As Libyans fight, Egyptians revel in first free vote for decades
Amid the exuberance, however, election monitors reported significant irregularities and violations, a reminder that the road to democratic governance is not as easy as Egyptians might hope.
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Women and men stood in separate lines, but all waited for hours in the hot sun for the chance to mark a “yes” or “no” on the proposed amendments. The lines seemed to be a cross section of Egyptian society: young people stood next to elderly people leaning on canes, women wearing crosses next to women in hijabs, and men in traditional dress beside men wearing business suits.Skip to next paragraph
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Stability vs. change
Some debated their votes as they waited to cast ballots. Mrs. Maraghy said she would vote in favor of the amendments because she wants to see a quick return to stability and normality in Egypt. Egypt’s military has been ruling the nation since Mubarak was forced from power, and many Egyptians have expressed a desire to quickly exit the transition period.
Amir Yassa says he had never voted before, but came Saturday to vote "no."
“I don't want the Muslim Brotherhood to take over Egypt. I don't want the blood of the martyrs to be wasted,” he says. “I will vote no so we can give new parties the chance to evolve and rise.”
Next to him in line, two young university students had come together. Ahmed Sayed said he opposed the amendments, because he wanted an entirely new constitution. His friend Mohamed Bakr said he would vote yes. “This is good for Egypt,” says Mr. Bakr of their differing opinions. “This is the new Egypt.”
Inside the polling station, one judge sat in each of the three rooms where voters marked their ballots and put them into transparent boxes before dipping their fingers into bright pink ink.
One young woman came out of the voting room, holding her ink-stained finger up to her mother and grinning widely. The runny ink dripped onto the floor, leaving fuchsia smears throughout the building.
But the ink was just one of the problems election monitors reported Saturday. Meant to be long-lasting to prevent people from voting more than once, the ink was easily rubbed off, said Sherif Abdul Azim of the Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement, one of the civil society organizations monitoring the elections.
Other problems reported by monitors included many ballots that lacked the official validating stamp, which could make them easy to discard later; and widespread campaigning in and around polling stations by Muslim Brotherhood members and religious conservatives urging people to vote for the amendments.
“In all governorates we received complaints that this occurred widely even inside polling stations, with people telling others to vote yes for God, to protect the Islamic state, and so a Christian does not become president,” said Hafez Abu Saeda, head of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights.
In some polling stations, judges were not present to monitor the vote, while in others, the polls didn’t open on time. Some monitors with official permits were kicked out by police or military officers. And at one polling station, the military arrested a lawyer who has worked to free protesters arbitrarily detained by the Army and tried military courts without civilian representation or the opportunity for appeal.
Particularly troubling, says Mr. Abdul Azim, was the fact that many monitors were not allowed to observe the vote counting. “This is very fishy,” he says. “If you are going to do it with integrity and fairness, then why do this? So there are a lot of irregularities.”
Mr. Abu Saeda says his organization will not challenge the result of the vote, but says the problems and irregularities must be addressed before the next parliamentary elections are held. “We have to talk about this, the future, the next election, what's the guarantee for it to be fair and free, how we can discuss political participation,” he says. “This is the issue we have to put on the political agenda now.”