Saturday, June 30, 2012

Presidential finale sees apathetic voters, clashing supporters

Ahram Online
Sat. June 16, 2012

Salma Shukrallah

Protest votes, sporadic clashes and alleged electoral violations dominate proceedings during the first day of the country's much-anticipated election runoff 

The first day of Egypt's presidential runoff saw no Egyptian flags being proudly waved and few smiling voters queuing to vote.

The relatively small numbers of people who showed up at the polling stations visited by Ahram Online seemed less enthusiastic than those participating in any of the country's other post-Mubarak elections.

"I'm choosing the best of the worst," was a phrase heard time and again by those covering Saturday's second round vote for Egypt's next president.

A Thursday court ruling deeming Egypt's parliament unconstitutional and dissolving the assembly could have soured the celebratory mood that was apparent in prior elections.

It may also have contributed to the low turnout reported by Hatem Bagato, the head of the country's Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission (SPEC).  

According to a statement released by the lawyers syndicate's committee for monitoring the runoffs, participation did not exceed 15 per cent on the first day of elections. 

Voters, according to many observers, also seemed to be motivated by a need to protest rather than genuine support for their chosen candidate.

"I will vote for Morsi because he is only hope the revolution will continue. It was unfair of the ruling military to dissolve parliament," 45-year old Habiba Hosni told Ahram Online, adding that she did not vote for Morsi in the first round.

Habiba's family, however, were all planning to vote Shafiq after backing Sabbahi in late May's initial elections.

"If Sabbahi had made it to the second round he would have won," she said. She was not the only person to vote Morsi as a way of rejecting elements of Egypt's former regime, represented by ex-prime minister Ahmed Shafiq.

Several political groups, such as the April 6 Youth Movement, have officially declared support for Morsi as a way to battle the "military's candidate."  

French literature student Aya Wael and her fiancé Hussein said they had voted for Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh in the first round, before choosing Morsi in the second.

"We are against voting for a candidate that will take us back to the same dictatorial regime we had before," Aya said. She noted, however, that in comparison to the first round, voter turnout seemed very low.

It worked the other way, too, with others voting for Shafiq either as a rejection of the Muslim Brotherhood specifically or the entire idea of Islamist rule.

"We don’t want religious rule in Egypt. If Morsi wins, the Muslim Brotherhood will be the masters of this country," Gomaa, a thirty-something bar-tender told Ahram Online.

Similarly, 38-year old Mohammed who works in tourism said he had voted for Sabbahi in May but that Shafiq was his choice today.

"I do not like to be put in a cage or controlled and that is what the Brotherhood will do," he explained, before praising Thursday's decision by Egypt's constitutional court.

"Dissolving parliament was the best thing that happened in the last two years, even better than the ouster of Mubarak," he said.

But despite the general apparent apathy and low spirits amongst those who turned out to vote, there were others in higher, more impassioned, spirits.

Clashes between supporters of the Brotherhood and those of Shafiq took place throughout the day, although few serious injuries were reported and no fatalities.

The two sides tossed accusations of electoral violations back and forth; the bad blood risiing to a violent crescendo arguably not seen since Egypt's 2005 parliamentary elections when the Brotherhood secured nearly 90 seats.

In Daqahleyia, Shafiq and Morsi supporters reportedly fought each other with firearms and bladed weapons. One man sustained a gunshot wound to his right hand while a woman suffered a deep cut to her head.

Many Egyptians, however, felt alienated from the fight. 

Mohamed Abdel-Baky, who voted for Amr Moussa in the first round was one of an untold many who is boycotting the runoff.

"The accusations being thrown back and forth and the vote rigging conducted by both candidates reminds me of the 2005 parliamentary elections when the fight was between the Brotherhood and [Mubarak's] National Democratic Party," says the 28-year old.

"Again the Brotherhood are competing against Mubarak's man. History repeats itself".
Perhaps the most widespread accusation against Shafiq is that he owed his first round electoral success to the support of the military and police.

According to a report issued by the Egyptian Association for Supporting Democratic Development (EASDD) on Saturday, small numbers of military personnel were spotted voting -- a right which they are denied while they are serving.

The Muslim Brotherhood, on the other hand, was accused of using "group voting", an action also considered illegal.

Many of the voters -- as well as boycotters --  remain puzzled as to how the president will pursue his position without either parliament nor constitution.

Thursday's High Constitutional Court (HCC) decision left Egypt with neither a legislature nor a constituent assembly to draft the country's new constitution.

This leaves a vast question mark as to the role of the coming president and where his responsibilities will start and end.

One young juice-seller who told Ahram Online he was backing Morsi because "he does not have the blood of martyrs on his hands" summed up the confusion.

"How can a president be sworn in without a parliament?" he asked.

The HCC rulings also shed doubt on the integrity of the electoral process. 

Famed labour activist Kamal Khalil spoke to Ahram Online near a polling station in Abdeen, central Cairo.

"We should not be depressed, but unfortunately this seems to be the general mood at the moment," he said.

Describing the dissolution of parliament and Shafiq's candidacy as "a smooth military coup", he claimed that elections have been rigged in favour of Mubarak's ex-premier.

But Khalil also saw room for optimism, saying revolutionary forces will eventually unite, with figures like Mohamed ElBaradei, Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh and Hamdeen Sabbahi coming together to help put Egypt on a better path.

(Additional reporting by Nada El-Kouny & Ekram Ibrahim)
*Photo courtesy of REUTERS

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