Egypt hails election as 'successful'

2011-11-29 11:07

Cairo - Egypt's first post-revolution election entered its second day on Tuesday amid pride and triumphalism over the high turn-out and the orderly start to the country's complex transition to democracy.

"The birth of the new Egypt," declared the state-owned Al-Akhbar newspaper on Tuesday, hailing the "huge turnout, free voting in a secure atmosphere" witnessed on Monday.

"The people have passed the democracy test," headlined the independent daily newspaper al-Shorouk on Tuesday. "On the road to democracy," said English-language Egyptian Mail.

Egyptians in Cairo and the port city Alexandria waited in long queues on Monday to cast ballots for a new parliament - the start of multi-stage elections that are the first since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in February.

On Tuesday, polls opened again, but the volume of people was a trickle rather than the deluge seen the day before.

"I decided to come today to avoid the crowds," 30-year-old Rafik told AFP in the Heliopolis area of Cairo. "It was important for me to vote because I feel it's the first time that my opinion is taken into account."

The formerly banned Muslim Brotherhood, a moderate Islamist group, is widely expected to emerge as the largest power, but without an outright majority, when results for the election are published on January 13.

Source of stability

The backdrop to the vote was ominous after a week of protests calling for the resignation of the interim military rulers who stepped in at the end of Mubarak's 30-year rule. Forty-two were killed and more than 3 000 injured.

The largely successful first day will be seen by the interim military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi as vindicating his insistence that voting should go ahead on schedule despite calls for a delay.

Protesters had again occupied Tahrir Square in Cairo, the epicentre of protests against Mubarak, but this time they called for the resignation of Tantawi and his fellow generals.

The demonstrations stemmed from fears that the junta, initially welcomed as a source of stability in the days after Mubarak's fall, was looking to consolidate its power and was mishandling the transition period.

The only complaints reported by activists on Monday were administrative glitches which delayed the opening of some voting centres and minor violations of electoral law that saw campaigning at some poll booths.

Monday "might very well be seen as a positive step in Egypt's transition," wrote political commentator Issandr El-Amrani, referring to the "public buy-in" to democracy and "a symbolic shift" from the army to parliament.

He warned, however," about the "incompetent" organisation of the election process, which could lead to frustration and violence, as well as the myriad of uncertainties surrounding the army's role and the transition process.

Voting for the lower house of parliament takes place in three stages starting in Cairo, Alexandria and other areas. The rest of the country votes in December and in January.


Each stage will be followed by a run-off vote a week later.

Once results are published on January 13, the country will then head into another three rounds of voting to elect an upper house in a process widely criticised for its complexity.

Much also remains unclear about how the new parliament will function and whether it will be able to resolve a standoff with the armed forces over how much power they will retain under a new constitution to be written next year.

Ziad Bahaeddine, a columnist with the independent daily al-Shorouk, said that Egyptians still needed to continue demonstrating peacefully to keep pressure on the army to hand over power to civilian leaders.

"Why are we participating in elections taking place in these circumstances... to elect a parliament that will not have full powers according to the military rulers and whose term is unknown?" Bahaeddine wrote.

As well as the Muslim Brotherhood, hardline Islamists, secular parties and groups representing the interests of the former Mubarak regime are all expected to win seats, raising the prospect of a highly fragmented new parliament.

The stakes are high for Egypt, the cultural leader of the Arab world - and the conduct and results of the election will have repercussions for the entire Middle East at a time of wrenching change caused by the Arab Spring.