My belated take on Egypt's elections

I have been incredibly busy in the last month, and then traveling and taking a break over the last week away from all the electoral folly, hence this blog has provided scant coverage of Egypt’s presidential election thus far. I hope to correct this in the next few days — and in any case there’s plenty of commentary elsewhere — and provide some opinion about the way this election might go.

But first, a few words about the big picture — what this election means and how to situate it in the post-Mubarak era. At a very simple level, this election is the beginning of the end of the transition period (if defined as return to civilian government). Its outcome will be a new president for Egypt, and — apart from the writing of a new constitution — the bizarre interregnum launched by the referendum on constitutional amendments that took place in March 2011, a little over a month after Mubarak stepped down. The electoral process is attracting a lot of media frenzy inside and outside Egypt, and a not inconsiderable (if often mixed) level of enthusiasm among Egyptians, since it is the first election in which the outcome is not obvious to all. No doubt turnout will be high, and hopefully the voting process itself not too flawed since one would think the military regime now in charge can’t afford to blatantly rig the poll. But, globally, we’ll see Egyptians excited about having a real choice before them rather than an obvious outcome, and a real sense of uncertainty about who might win.

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Dispatch: The Algerian exception?

Election posters in Algiers (credit: Abu Ray)

Our friend Abu Ray, a journalist covering North Africa, sent in this dispatch from Algeria where he was to cover the recent parliamentary elections, in which the ruling FLN won against expectations that Islamist parties would do well, as they have done in neighboring Tunisia and Morocco. The Islamists and many others have decried widespread fraud and the turnout was very low.

For some of us journalists, the Arab Spring meant discovering French colonial architecture, or at least that of Tunis. I mean no one went toTunisia before the revolution: it was a journalistic dead zone. And then came the uprising, the confused aftermath and then the October elections, and each time, we would wander around the tree-lined Bourguiba avenue, with its never-ending outdoor cafés and beautiful peeling old buildings and think, wow, now THIS is a capital city.

Up until this point, if what you’ve seen of Arab capitals is the slow motion urban train wreck of Cairo, the bland concrete and glass of the Gulf and the soul destroying beige ugliness of Baghdad, Tunis was amazing.

Until I saw Algiers. The white city on the sea has just block after block of achingly beautifully filigreed white buildings with delicate blue balconies arrayed around a perfect semicircular bay, climbing up a steep mountain like an amphitheater.

There are drawbacks. Everything built from the 1950s on is hideous and unlike Alexandria’s lovely bay, the Algiers port is, well, smack dab in the center of the bay, so once you got close to the water, you are dealing with warehouses, train tracks, highways and chainlink fences guarding customs buildings.

But climb the hill and and there you were in winding streets connected by steep staircases, working your way through old neighborhoods. So Algiers was a rare enough site to visit, but this time around, the government wanted to invite the world for their elections, their “spring.”

It was time to throw a party, show off the city and tell the world how Spring-like Algeria was feeling. It was the regularly scheduled parliamentary elections, elections the country has been holding regularly every five years like a train schedule, and with about as much literary merit. But since everyone was looking around the region saying, “where’s your spring Algeria?,” the aging regime of old revolutionaries felt they had to put on a show. So the observers were invited in, the journalists suddenly got visas, and a fairly closed place was suddenly thrown open — much to the joy of those who love old colonial cities.

As it turns out, asking Algeria experts why there was no “Arab Spring” in Algeria, could possibly be the equivalent of asking the inane post 9/11 query of “why do they hate us?” They do get tired of that. One answer is that Algeria had its spring in 1988 when angry riots over a failed system broke out around the country necessitating a massive army crackdown that killed 500 people — roughly proportional to the numbers that died in Tunisia and Egypt’s 2011 revolutions.

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More violence in Egypt

On Monday, I went to Alexandria for a rally by presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, and wrote this piece about it for The Daily Beast. I noted that:

Egyptians are excited, but there is also great confusion and anxiety. The upcoming elections are the final, fraught act of a muddled transition process that still threatens to unravel.

Now there are 12 dead in clashes between protesters and "thugs" in Abbaseya, near the Ministry of Defense; most presidential candidates have put their campaigns on hold; and two have visited the scene.

The conflict -- which escalated today -- started out as a sit-in by supporters of disqualified candidate Hazem Salah Abu Ismail; the protest was attacked by the usual difficult-to-define groups of "concerned citizens" (supported by army and police and incited by state media) and was then joined by revolutionary youth out of solidarity. 

Supporters take photos in front of Abul Fotouh's bus. Will they make it to the polls? (courtesy Tara Todras-Whitehill)

It's hard to overstate how fraught and chaotic this transitions process has become. Now we are seeing the same kind of destabilizing violence (warning: this is graphic) we witnessed ahead of the parliamentary elections last fall. 

More transition by lawfare in Egypt

This is an interesting development:

The Supreme Constitutional Court decided Saturday it will not review a request by the ruling military council to review a draft amendment to the political rights law that would isolate regime figures.

The People’s Assembly approved the draft amendment earlier this month, and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces referred it to the court on Thursday.

The proposed amendment originally targeted presidential hopeful Omar Suleiman, who served as spy chief and vice president under ex-President Hosni Mubarak. But after the Presidential Elections Commission disqualified him from the race, it would now target Ahmed Shafiq, who served as Mubarak’s prime minister and is also running for president in the May election.

The court said Article 28 of the Constitutional Declaration, enacted in March 2011, states that the Supreme Constitutional Court should only review the amendment that organizes the presidential election, so extending its tasks to reviewing amendments without a clear text violates the article.

More clearly, the SCC says it cannot review the constitutionality of the law before it is passed, i.e. that it has no jurisdiction over bills. Most Egyptian experts think the law is probably unconstitutional (because it discriminates against specific individuals), but the SCC can't even give an opinion on it. It has thrown the ball back in SCAF's court to avoid further charges of a politicized judiciary, which are mounting after the judicial decision to allow the American defendants in the NGOs case leave the country and the attacks made on the Presidential Election Commission (composed of judges) to disqualify 10 candidates at last Friday's Tahrir Square protests (which featured banners against the members of the PEC).

The bottom line in all this is that the judiciary is turning to be an extremely powerful, and controversial, branch of the state in the new Egypt — one that has had a largely positive image but is starting to be seen, even if it is difficult to attack, as having made pro-SCAF decisions. As more "lawfare" is used during this transition by court filings for injunctions (such as against the formation constitutional assembly), the more judges will be on the front lines. Is that really where they want to be?

Final results for Egypt's parliamentary elections

From the Beltone newsletter:

Freedom and Justice Party wins 47.2% of lower house parliamentary seats, followed by Al Nour party winning 24.7% of seats

Freedom and Justice Party wins 47.2% of lower house parliamentary seats, followed by Al Nour party winning 24.7% of seats, Al Ahram reported citing the Head of Egypt’s Higher Elections Council, who announced yesterday the final results for the lower house parliamentary elections

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Carter, SCAF and the Egyptian elections

I attended the press conference organized by the Carter Center this morning, featuring Jimmy Carter. The full press release is below, but the basic takeaway word to describer the Center's estimate of the conduct of the first post-Mubarak elections is "acceptable".

President Carter used the word several times, and if you drill down in the details of their report you can tell they have major reservations about the conduct of the elections, particularly the vote-counting (some of this has already been taken on board by the Egyptian authorities, for instance the idea of counting votes inside of polling stations rather than in "chaotic" (the Carter Center's word) polling stations. My impression, talking on background with several people there, is that there were some serious problems with the elections, most of which were due to disorganization rather than malice, and that in any case since most of the Egyptian political class is accepting the results, there is no reason to make a bigger deal of it. Perhaps the biggest note of disappointment comes with the very few seats won by women and the fact that there was minimal effort to secure a better chance for female candidates.

The other amusing thing is that much of the press conference was not about the elections, but rather the post-elections battle between parliament (i.e. the Muslim Brothers, mostly) and the military, and to a lesser extent Camp David. Carter stressed that all of the party leaders he spoke to were in favor of maintaining the treaty, and again chose to stress that the Camp David agreement had two parts: one on Egyptian-Israeli peace, which has been implemented, and another that he described as "a guarantee of Palestinian rights," which he had already said recently both Israel and Egypt had fallen short on (I posted on that yesterday). 

On the relationship between the military and civilians, Carter said that he was given the impression (noted in an interview with the NYT two days ago), in his meeting with SCAF, that they intended to retain some power after the transfer of power to a new president. Here's David Kirkpatrick's Times story from Wednesday:

 

CAIRO — Former President Jimmy Carter said Wednesday that after meeting with Egypt’s military rulers he doubted they would fully submit to the authority of the civilian democracy they had promised to install.

“ ‘Full civilian control’ is a little excessive, I think,” Mr. Carter said, after describing a meeting he had Tuesday with Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, leader of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF. “I don’t think the SCAF is going to turn over full responsibility to the civilian government. There are going to be some privileges of the military that would probably be protected.”

Mr. Carter’s assessments of Egypt’s political transition are significant in part because his role in the Camp David accords made him a revered figure here, with singular access at all levels of the Egyptian government and society. He was here Wednesday with a team from his human rights organization, the Carter Center, to help monitor the end of the last day of the final round of the first parliamentary elections since the ouster last February of President Hosni Mubarak.

 

However, SCAF issued a statement denying that it intends to retain some power after the transfer of power to civilians, as it has in the past. Carter gracefully accepted their correction, did not appear convinced, and seemed eager to discuss this "misunderstanding."

More coverage of this here: WaPo | AFP | Ahram | Jazeera | Reuters

The full press release from the Carter Center is after the jump, and contains detailed recommendations.

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Egypt's elections: 2nd round results, 3rd round starts

The beginning of the third and last (at last!) round of Egypt's elections started today, in the context of the post-election debate — notably what will govern parliament-SCAF relations in the coming period — already more important than the poll. A fundamental mistake of many analysts in looking at the Egyptian results is to focus on their results (i.e. over 70% Islamist control of parliament) rather than the elections themselves. In doing so they have glossed over the many flaws with these elections, from their poor planning to their many irregularies, fraud and the role the military and the judiciary has played at times in favor of some parties. Such an analytical error is most evident in the kind of op-ed written by Jon Alterman who claims that the elections were Egypt's real revolution (never mind his call for a "compromise" on Egyptian democracy, ably critiqued here and here). There are hundreds of lawsuits and claims in these shoddily run elections, the decent thing would be to at least wait for their outcome. To me, the recent elections are much better than last year's, but in some respects comparable to the 2005 ones or even elections in the 1980s.

Anyway, the chances are that the elections will be swallowed because the international community wants to see stability in Egypt, because the SCAF (or at least parts of it) wants them to stand and use their shoddiness as a negotiating card, and because the Muslim Brothers prefer to accept a bad election that brought them to power (hence they complain about irregularities, but sotto voce).

The first two rounds left us with the MB's Freedom and Justice Party with over 48% of seats, and they may very well make over 50% by the end of the third round. Which might be cleaner for all concerned, allowing the MB to be a narrow majority in parliament rather than the plurality. In many respects, the debate has already moved on to other issues, such as:

  • What deal will be hammered out between the FJP and the SCAF over parliament's powers?
  • What deal will be hammered out between the FJP and the SCAF over the constituent assembly?
  • Will the FJP enter into any alliances?

The first two questions are the main focus at the moment, because the need for the third is contingent on them. It's hard to prejudge the results ahead of the coming negotiations, but it's both clear that the MB is ready to negotiate (for instance it is ready to promise the SCAF immunity from prosecution for the violence it ordered during the transition) but that it is not ready to give away everything to the generals. Unfortunately, the twin urgency of striking this deal and getting a constitution approved before the presidential elections is likely to produce a pretty bad document. In other words, yet again the need for real transitional justice and the building of a better foundation for Egyptian politics is being sacrified to the political considerations of the moment.

I will leave you will everything you might want to know about the elections' results so far in this handy PDF prepared by Jacopo Carbonari. Enjoy.

Provisional Results Round 1 & 2

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Electoral dirty tricks

Egypt's elections: Dirty tricks | The Economist:

FIRST came unsigned leaflets claiming that the candidate for the Egyptian Bloc, a secularist group, was a communist atheist. Then pamphlets accusing him of being a capitalist crony of the disgraced former regime appeared. Other rumours swirled around the parliamentary district in rural Upper Egypt where he was standing. Some said the Egyptian Bloc was backed by Freemasons and Jews. Others fingered the Coptic Church. On the morning of the vote, pick-up trucks mounted with megaphones fanned out to deliver a coup de grace. Congratulations to the Egyptian Bloc, they blared. Its candidate has been appointed a cabinet minister in Cairo and has withdrawn from the race.

Politics is a rough game everywhere. As it happens the Egyptian Bloc won that seat anyway. But one might have expected a gentler touch from the Islamist parties contesting Egypt's first free parliamentary elections in decades, which enter the second of three regional rounds of voting this week. The Islamists claim the high moral ground, saying they want a return to the principles and values of the pure faith. Yet Egypt's two main Islamist political forces, the Muslim Brotherhood and the puritan Salafists, which together look set to capture as many as two thirds of parliamentary seats, are playing electoral hardball not only against their secular opponents, but against each other too.

What strikes me is that not more dirty tricks have been used against Islamists. The former regime use to be pretty good at it, and they are vulnerable to charges of working for foreign interests (Saudi, Iran...) as well as (perversely) accusations of religious heresy: Salafis as against traditional Islam (the Sufi line) or crypto-al-Qaeda, Muslim Brothers as being a secret society with a bizarre worship of Hassan al-Banna (a frequent Salafi line of attack), use their morality against them by staging sting operations, alleging affairs, etc. Granted some of this has been done by secularists complaining about the Salafis being Saudi-funded, but that's pretty minor compared to the Salafis' (illegal) use of mosques for electioneering, etc.

Round two of Egypt's elections

The second round of Egypt's interminable elections for the People's Assembly, the lower house of parliament, began this morning with little trouble. Here's a few things to look out for, since the extended process means lessons are being learned from earlier rounds:

  • The SCAF has promised to be more vigilant about campaign violations, since hundreds of complaints (including about a dozen lawsuits to have the whole elections cancelled) have been filed. Let's see if they enforce things more stringently this time around — personally, I doubt it. But at least they will have had more time to prepare and get things right inside the polling stations.
  • Last round, there were long queues on the first day of voting and few people out the second. This time around, expect some voters to skip the first day expecting the second to be faster.
  • Attempts by secular forces to coordinate their strategies and pick winners in certain districts will be tried in some places, even if coalitions such as Revolution Continues haev expressed unwillingness to deal with Egyptian Bloc candidates with ties to the old regime. I expect very limited success for this strategy because it was too late to take candidates off the ballot, and no one has the reach to marshall voters into casting their ballot more strategically.
  • That being said, voters will take their own initiative. I suspect the Egyptian Bloc, being the big winner among the secular parties in the first round, will be the logical choice for tactical voting.
  • Expect the FJP-Nour battle to intensify, particularly for IC seats. Nour lost most of those in the runoff last time, while the FJP was taken off-guard by Nour's succcess in the first round. I wouldn't be surprised if we see tensions between FJP and Nour supporters, either.
  • Menoufiya is a stronghold for the Muslim Brothers, but also for the felool. Lookout for the races in the Sadat family strongholds in the south, in Menouf and near Ahmed Ezz's steel factory, in Bagour in Kamal al-Shazli's old fiefdom.
  • Beheira might also be interesting — expect it to go strongly MB with a possible sweet vengeance for local Damanhour son Gamal Heshmat, a member of the MB's Political Bureau and a victim of NDP machinations in the last decade (I'm not sure he's running, but in any case I expect FJP to get much sympathy for the past abuses they suffered there.)
  • Sharqiya is mixed, but I wonder if the Wafd will do well there as it has done in the past through the Abaza family. My hunch is that the new electoral system creates districts that are too big to be used in this way (which is why the "big families" have failed thus far)
  • Ismailiya and Suez: the former a conservative stronghold, would not be surprised if Nour does well there, the latter a strong working class and revolutionary presence — perhaps giving Revolution Continues a boost.
  • I fear a Salafi triumph in Beni Suef, one of the most neglected governorates in Egypt, and Sohag will give us more indications of the Upper Egyptian vote: good chances there for the Egyptian Bloc due to a sizeable Christian population, and a test for the "big families" that once were for the NDP. These did not do well in Assiut (partly because the FJP and Egyptian Bloc has strong candidates), but Assiut is cosmopolitan compared to Sohag.

Salafis: Why the surprise?

This is a guest post by Nathan Field.

One of the major themes I’ve noticed in the media after the Salafi al-Nour party won 25% of the votes in the first round of Egyptian elections was a surprise (or as in this week’s In Translation – anger). Yet their success shouldn’t be considered a surprise. Here are four points to ponder:

(1) Most popular T.V. stations to 25% of the votes isn’t a huge jump:

In 2008 Ahmed Hamam and I talked to dozens of Egyptian Salafis, members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and various journalists and academics for a study on Salafi Satellite TV Stations in Egypt, published in Arab Media and Society in April 2009.

While precise Nielsen-style statistics don’t exist in Egypt, the general consensus was that Salafi-oriented TV stations such as Al-Nass and Al-Rahma, featuring charismatic preachers like Mohamed Hassan, were drawing higher ratings than any other TV stations in Egypt. So the evidence of the popularity of Salafism has been clear for years.

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In Translation: Fahmy Howeidy on Salafis

The electoral success of the Salafis has alarmed many in secular circles, but not only. Fahmy Howeidy, an Islamist writer considered to be one of the most-read commentators in the Arab world, wrote last week of his relief in seeing a prominent Salafi personality defeated in Alexandria. The article was translated courtesy of Industry Arabic, which is sponsoring our In Translation series.

Society Has Issued Its Verdict

By Fahmy Howeidy, al-Shorouk, 8 December 2011.

I cannot conceal my feelings of relief at the defeat of Eng. Abdel Moneim al-Shahat, one of the representatives of the Salafi movement, in the run-off election.1 I consider this defeat a message sent to him by society, which should be taken in by him and his ilk of fanatical Salafis, who incessantly terrify people with their abuse of both the sacred and the secular. When I heard the results, I said that the issue here is not a question of who won, but rather the real story is that this man failed and did not succeed.

I do not know Eng. al-Shahat personally, but whenever I heard him or followed him speaking in the media, I felt like he was launching a personal insult at me in my capacity as a researcher concerned with Islamic issues. When I learned of the final tally in the second round of elections in the al-Nuzha electoral district in Alexandria, I said that voters’ aversion to him was a sort of punishment vote against him for the statements he keeps spewing, especially as of late.  This is a story that deserves to be told.

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Salafis in Damietta

I spent a few days in the northern port city of Damietta earlier this week, for the run-offs. Damietta being the country's most-Islamist district (I think 90% of the votes went to Islamist parties), the main competition there was between Salafis and Muslim Brothers. I wrote a piece about inter-Islamist dynamics and the emergence of the ultra-conservative Salafis for The Daily Beast. 

Damietta is a pleasant, calm, friendly town and it was a strange, fascinating, enervating experience to sit for hours in various party offices there with 1) Muslim Brothers disparaging Salafis as politically unqualified "preachers" and cooperators with the former regime now manipulating simple people through religion 2) Salafis disparaging Muslim Brothers as arrogant, sneaky and self-interested and insisting that they themselves are not extremists because (despite the fact that they can't bring themselves to print a niqabed woman's face on a poster and that they don't support democracy "if by that you mean rule of the people") they plan on gradually, "gently" persuading all of Egypt to become Saudi Arabia, without the use of physical force. 

It's really easy to get freaked out by Salafis. There is something truly disturbing about the fact that these religious fundamentalists have entered electoral politics while withholding their support for basic democratic principles and human rights. I think it was probably a mistake to legalize these extremist parties (and a contradiction with Egyptian law, which forbids parties based on religion); it was also a mistake to hold elections before writing the constitution and establishing the framework of the future state and the rules of the game. 

That said, Salafis have a real presence in society (they are much better implanted in mosques than the Muslim Brotherhood) and their ideology needs to be understood and confronted. Their rising to the surface of society, as it were, seems like a natural post-revolution process. And one encouraging sign is that most Salafis lost their run-offs (to Muslim Brothers). In think the negative media attention to some of their most ridiculous and odious statements may have had an impact on public opinion. 

Charts Galore: Round one of Egypt's elections

Caveat Emptor

Before we delve into the charts to analyse the results, a word of caution: while the results for the individual candidacy (IC) districts are official, there will be runoffs in all but four districts on Monday, and there could still be changes due to legal challenges due to campaign violations. Still, there is valuable information to be mined here for various purposes: seeing who the runoffs are between and voting accordingly — for instance if you're a liberal can't stand the Salafists, you might vote for their Muslim Brotherhood competitor just to ward them off, or conversely you may want to seek out those districts where a non-Islamist may still stand a chance. Likewise if you're a Muslim Brother, this shows which districts are battlegrounds to concentrate on — there are many districts split between Salafists and Brothers, for instance.

Even more caution is necessary with the proportional representation (PR) districts, for which all results and estimates used below have been collated from the media, since there have been no official announcements. Eventually, for both IC and PR districts, it will be fascinating to see the complete information on the votes cast — anecdotally, we for instance know that in a place like Fayoum district #2 — mostly split between the Salafists and the Brothers — one-third of votes got wasted on tiny parties that stood no chance. 

For the meantime, considering the appalling lack of diligence and transparency of the Higher Elections Commission, we must make do with what we have.

The big picture

The above map, based on our previous chart of Egypt's political parties, represents more or less the ones that have garnered enough votes to count, with each party represented according to the number of seats it obtained (or may obtain following runoffs). This picture is unlikely to change much in the remaining two rounds, and shows three big political forces: The Muslim Brothers' FJP, the Salafists (especially the Nour Party), and the Egyptian Bloc alliance led by the Free Egyptians and the Social Democratic Party. Get this chart in PDF.

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Figuring out Egypt's elections: Qasr al-Nil

The Lions of Qasr al-Nil Bridge

Here’s an exercise in how I think the votes in the proportional part of Egypt’s parliamentary elections will be calculated. Let’s take the beautiful district of Kasr al-Nil — the Fighting Lions! — where The Arabist is based, covering parts of Downtown Cairo and the tony island of Zamalek. This district slants liberal compared to the rest of the country. These are the results that have been published in the press:

  • Freedom and Justice: 162,841 votes
  • Egyptian Bloc: 73,183 votes
  • al-Wafd: 59,807 votes
  • al-Nour: 59,184 votes
  • New Independents (Ex-NDP): 28,233 votes
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Amr Moussa on the rise of Islamists

Amr Moussa urging people to calm down, and as always trying to have it both ways. One of the results of the parliamentary elections, I think, will be to push skeptical secularists towards Moussa as a presidential candidate — despite his "feloolism".

Don't panic. Yet.

The official results of the first round of Egypt's parliamentary elections come out tonight, but a cursory look at initial results presented by parties and reported by the media paint a fairly clear picture: Islamists will be a majority in the next parliament, led by the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, and Salafists have exceeded expectations to be, perhaps, the second party in Egypt.

This news has profoundly depressed most educated, middle class Cairenes I know who had hoped that the overthow of Hosni Mubarak would be followed by a relatively liberal democracy that would be inclusive of moderate Islamists. It is particularly distressing to non-Muslims, who will now fear the Islamization of public life that has taken place in the last two decades will now be accelerated, with full backing from parliament and government leaders in the next few years.

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Sarah Carr on the election trail

I am delighted to offer this guest post by the wonderful Sarah Carr, who blogs at Inanities.

I am a journalist, so my fate for the past two days was to drag myself between schools in Cairo looking at people, a bit like a paedophile.

We started out in Shubra, where long queues of people patiently stood in muddied streets waiting to attack the ballot box. It became clear early on who was dominating the whole affair. Outside virtually every polling station stood a small group of men with laptops providing information (voter number, which polling station they should go to) to confused voters. A useful service, but one whose legality is clouded by the fact that they information they provided was written on slips of paper bearing the insignia of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).

Even in Christian-majority Shubra liberal and leftist parties were strikingly absent, leaving last-minute rallying outside polling stations to the FJP and their confreres in Islam the Nour party. The same pattern was repeated in Sayeda Zeinaba, Ain Shams and Abdeen.

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Morning Egyptian Elections Roundup: FJP at 40%?

A few selections while we await the results — nothing official has been said yet, but parties are expected to make statements this afternoon that will give an indication, and incoming reports from various governorates thus far tend to confirm the expected: the FJP as first party, Salafists often as second in the countryside. The FJP appears to be making the 40% line which was at the high end of most predictions. And this is with Cairo, Alexandria and Red Sea governorates, which could be predicted to be among the more liberal parts of Egypt.
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What to make of these elections?

The events of the last couple of weeks in Egypt have been incredibly complicated, bringing together issues such as whether the elections that started today are well prepared enough, the future role of the military, police and army violence, whether a second revolution is needed, the attitudes towards protests and elections of various parties, the absence of strong political leaders and still much more. The story has flipped suddenly fropm being about a repeat of the January uprising to being about splits in the Egyptian political spectrum and then about elections. Even from yesterday to today, the narrative has changed from a high level of concern about elections taking place in the middle of this mess to a recognition of strong voter enthusiasm in what may be the highest participation rate Egypt has experienced in decades.

We need to slow down and take in what is happening today separately from what happened in Tahrir or what will have in the relationship between SCAF and the future parliament or the rise of Islamists in Egyptian politics.

What we saw today — so far at least — is that even amidst public uncertainty about the future, split public opinion on Tahrir and SCAF, and organizational chaos, the Egyptian people are eager to participate in the democratic process that may have real meaning for the first time in their lives. They are sharing in the fruits of the revolution, with pragmatism and hope, and testing whether the change is real. I don't see the high turnout (or what we think is a high turnout as we await official data) as a sign of support for SCAF. It's a sign of support for the democratic process and hope for its improvement.

That is a testimony of the Egyptian people's seriousness. But it does not change the fact that these elections were prepared with staggering, perhaps even malicious, incompetence and on that basis alone should not have been held, and that the transition blueprint in general is a bad one.

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