Egypt: Democracy in the making

The nationwide referendum was the first major test of the country's transition to democracy after a popular uprising.

    File 16476
    [All pictures by Fatma Naib]

    Egypt is undergoing a real democratic process for the first time. Egyptians have voted overwhelmingly in favour of sweeping changes to the existing constitution in a national referendum. 

    The last few days leading to the vote were full of debate discussing the referendum. There were many campaigns in the streets where people handed out leaflets explaining the Yes and No vote. There was also plenty of debate taking place in various universities and cultural centres.

    File 16576

    Even Tahrir Square saw around 2000 people campaigning for the No vote. The square was buzzing with people since it was evacuated a week ago. It may seem normal for any other country, but for Egypt as Shafik, an accountant told me, it is different than the way things used to be. "I feel that things are different, there are no government thugs trying to threaten us and force us to vote a certain way."

    File 16456

    On the day of the vote, as I arrived at the polling station I was struck by the sight of the endless queue that led all the way to the road. There were voters young and old, men and women, and even young parents with their toddlers.

    It was humbling to see everyone waiting patiently side by side, standing in one line for men and another for women. As I walked through the crowd I asked everyone how long they had been there.

    File 16516

    Mahmoud, 65, said he had been queuing for two and a half hours. "I don't mind waiting. I have been waiting for a day like this all my life. This is my first time voting."

    Indeed he was not the only first-time voter in the crowd. Most people I spoke to were also voting for the first time.

    Everyone spoke about how they felt that this time their vote would actually count.

    Azza Shaban said: "I am voting today for the first time in my life, I feel that this time it will count for real."

    Some forty million people were eligible to cast their vote, and the vast majority did so - relishing this newly won freedom.

    The arguments for and against amending the constitution have been intense, the debate spilling over from the cyber world onto the streets and into cafes and homes of a people long denied the right of meaningful political discussion.

    File 16556

    As I got closer to the polling station the police and army were manning the entrance, and were supported by young volunteers who were there to maintain order and ensure that everything ran smoothly.

    I witnessed some extraordinary scenes as a man tried to cut the 300 people long queue claiming to be a 'VIP', before he was told by the people in the queue and the police to go to the back of the queue like everyone else.

    'This is new Egypt, this behaviour was in the past', shouted one lady in the crowd.

    The man sheepishly walked away. I was amazed by what I had just witnessed, but this scene was repeated several times throughout the day.

    Elderly people and parents with children were allowed to the front of the queue, but I saw many over 60 years old who remained in the queue refusing any special treatment.

    File 16396

    One young lady provoked someone in the crowd because she was wearing a t-shirt imprinted with a "No" slogan and standing by the entrance leading into the polling station.

    She was reprimanded, "You are influencing people's choice." The lady in question responded by telling her that she is free to wear whatever she likes just as everyone should vote as they wish, and that this was the meaning of democracy. Their discussion carried on for a while before they each calmed down. An onlooker decided to take a photograph of the woman in the t-shirt to report it saying: "It is simple, if she is violating the voting process then this photograph will be evidence."

    File 16596

    This newfound sense of responsibility and speaking up was echoed throughout the day. And everyone seemed to take it upon themselves to ensure that any suspicious activity or irregularity was documented.

    As I walked away from the polling station I spoke to Inas, a student, who told me that she will respect the outcome whatever it is. 'We are not going to dwell on it. As long as there is no fraud then I will accept the result."

    Nancy, a nurse, was less optimistic, saying: "I am happy that I am voting but part of me is worried, I heard about irregularities in some polling stations. I am not sure."

    The result of the referendum will also determine whether or not parliamentary and presidential elections will take place this year.

    But as I discovered, the day ultimately was not just about the result of the referendum, but about the democratic process that this country is witnessing for the first time.

    The real victory has already been achieved by those who fought so hard for the right to choose.


    Visualising every Saudi coalition air raid on Yemen

    Visualising every Saudi coalition air raid on Yemen

    Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia and a coalition of Arab states have launched more than 19,278 air raids across Yemen.

    Lost childhoods: Nigeria's fear of 'witchcraft' ruins young lives

    Lost childhoods: Nigeria's fear of 'witchcraft' ruins young lives

    Many Pentecostal churches in the Niger Delta offer to deliver people from witchcraft and possession - albeit for a fee.

    Why did Bush go to war in Iraq?

    Why did Bush go to war in Iraq?

    No, it wasn't because of WMDs, democracy or Iraqi oil. The real reason is much more sinister than that.