by Christian Vachon
Over the weekend, beneath the hot sun, a bit more than 18 million Egyptians — 41% of eligible voters — waited in same-sex lines to vote in a constitutional referendum that will shape the country’s transition from military rule.
The last time there was an election in Egypt was during the parliamentary contests of November 2010. Only 6 million bothered to cast votes; the rest of the country, disillusioned by the flagrant fouls of the Democratic National Party, stayed home. According to Human Rights Watch, in the days before that election, “Egyptian security forces had arrested 1206 Muslim Brotherhood members, including five candidates, and brought 702 of this group before prosecutors while releasing the rest.”
Conscious of the culture of suspicion surrounding anything political in Egypt, the interim government took steps to help bolster an appearance of legitimacy. Voting has been placed under the jurisdiction of the legislature, a branch trusted by the public. In addition, all military and police officers have been banned from casting votes.
Still, on the poll lines, fear of foul play was rife. Throughout the day voters re-tweeted the numbers of hotlines to report voter fraud. In Heliopolis, voters brought boxes of pens from home. They passed them out to others in line to guard against the possibility that pens provided by the government might use magic ink that could disappear from the ballot card hours after it is submitted.
One woman at a polling station in Boulak said that in her home district of Shubra there were reports that men were offering citizens packages of food in exchange for voting YES in favor of the new constitution.
On Sunday rumors buzzed through Cairo that the referendum had passed with 65% of the vote. In the end, it passed with 77%.
Gordon Reynolds is the pseudonym of a teacher in Cairo. He also posts regularly to Twitter, if you follow him there.