Baheyya's election diary

Our favorite Egyptian political blogger, Baheyya, has a riveting account of election day at the district of leftist leader Hamdeen Sabahi, the head of the (unrecognized) neo-Nasserist Karama Party.

4 pm. Townspeople converge on Sabahy’s courtyard and the candidate comes out to speak, standing on a pick-up truck. Livid, fiery youth and men climb on the pick-up truck and demand revenge. Sabahy struggles to control the crowd’s emotions, saying he’d rather withdraw and give up his seat than join this scandalously handpicked parliament. A fully veiled woman in black climbs on the truck and pulls the microphone from his hand, screaming, “Don’t you dare withdraw, Sabahy! Don’t you dare withdraw!”

The crowd chants, “Balteem boxes won’t leave! Balteem boxes won’t leave!” By law, counting stations for the entire district are located in Hamoul but since Hamoul was experiencing rigging, residents feared their ballots would be destroyed or disappeared en route to the counting station.

5 pm. A contingent of the crowd breaks away like a renegade train car and heads for polling stations, to confront the clerks engaging in fraud and ballot-stuffing. Riot police are called to the polling stations and begin firing tear gas canisters into the crowds, blockading streets, and chasing down any young men. I accompany a handful of journalists trying to get close to the action to take photos. The gas burns our eyes as we get closer and I can’t see well from the tears. I ask a matronly woman standing outside her house for a couple of onions. Without a word she rushes inside and comes back 15 seconds later with two onions sliced down the middle, stuffing them into my hand. We snort the onions and immediately feel better, our sinuses and eyes completely cleared.

Naturally, read the whole thing.

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.