For those who’ve been following the parliamentary elections in Egypt, Sunday’s poll lived up to their expectations.
Violence, vote rigging, police intimidation and widespread chaos. It was an epic show of democracy in Mubarak’s Egypt.
Those who thought this would be a political contest, or a race between candidates based on respective political programmes, would have been bitterly disappointed.
However, the events that unfolded on Sunday, particularly in the city of Mahalla – though violent in nature – were, in my view, a glimmer of hope for the future.
In Mahalla, and at every polling station I visited, local residents gathered at the polling station to monitor the ballot boxes.
Whenever any irregularities were attempted (and plenty were) they literally fought to defend their votes.
At one particular polling station, police tried to evacuate the building, whilst two non-uniformed officers entered.
Locals looking on said they saw these officers trying to fill ballot boxes with forged votes – within minutes skirmishes broke out and the officers were literally chased away.
Once voting ended, the people of Mahalla took it upon themselves to guard the ballot boxes as they were being transferred from polling stations to the main stadium for the count.
A convoy comprising of hundreds of vehicles escorted the police cars through the streets – it was one of the purest demonstrations of democracy and self determination by Egyptians that I have ever seen.
But the people of Mahalla were not finished, when the ballot boxes reached the city’s main stadium (where the counting was to take place) riot police tried to prevent the public from entering.
But it was a futile attempt these people were not going to give up.
Hundreds of Egyptians forced their way into the stadium grounds. After all, it’s not every day that you get to express yourself freely in this country – and the people of Mahalla were not going to let this chance go by.
Over 1,000 opposition supporters filled the stands overlooking the football pitch, where a tent was set up for the vote tallying.
A 10-foot metal fence and hundreds of riot police separating the two.
Inititially the gathered crowds chanted slogans in favour of their candidates and denouncing vote rigging – chants of “Islam is the solution and may the hands of those who rig the elections be paralysed!!” rang throughout the stadium.
But then things started to get heated.
Hundreds of security forces, dressed in full riot gear, some carrying batons, others carrying guns, began to surround the stands.
Those leading the chants quieted down, they ushered the crowd to settle and began reciting versus of the Quran.
It was obvious that the crowd did not want a confrontation, at least not with so many of them being women.
The feeling was not mutual. The riot police, totally unprovoked, began wielding their batons and beating those gathered.
The sound of chanting was replaced with piercing shrieks of women screaming, as they tried to flee the brutality of the police.
Within minutes, what was a refreshing sight of positive political participation and democracy, transformed into an ugly demonstration of the reality in today’s Egypt.
A dream millions of Egyptians yearn for, almost realised. A nightmare feared by Mubarak’s regime averted.
Regardless, the people had spoken.
The fact that the ruling National Democratic Party will retain an overwhelming majority in Egypt’s parliament is somewhat irrelevant.
Few had expected anything different. But what is significant about these elections is the refusal by the Egyptian people to watch on as they continued to be deprived of their rights.
What makes these elections unique, is their rejection, en masse, of the status quo, and their collective chants for reform and change – regardless of which opposition party or candidate they support.
But the real test is in the coming months ahead of next year’s presidential elections.
Will the people of Egypt be able to maintain and build on their re-found collective political participation? Or will the elections of 2010 be nothing more than a dream never to be realised?