A historic small step

Excitement and anticipation runs high as Egyptians turn out for their country’s first round of post-revolution elections.

In a country where so much history has been written, where it looms almost on every corner, they’re adding a new chapter to the books. 

In the fog and chill just after dawn, many left their homes and headed off to the polling stations across Cairo and around the country.

The men stood around in small groups, smoking and chatting. The women, more disciplined and organised, standing quietly in line.
They came from all parts of the community here. There was Christian and Muslim, the young man and the old woman, united in the intention of casting their vote.
These are Egypt’s first elections since the fall of Hosni Mubarak nine months ago.

There are 17.5m people eligible to vote. They have a choice of almost 4,000 candidates from the 36 new parties that have emerged in the new Egypt.
At the front of the line to vote was 20-year-old language student Hanan Ahmed.  Her calm, bookish exterior covering up her enthusiasm for what she was about to do.

 “There’s a feeling of excitement and happiness. Everyone knows this is a historic day and young and old are coming out to vote,” she says.

“This is something no-one could imagine before. Now this is happening.”
As the clock crawled around to eight o’clock, people grew slightly impatient, waiting for the sign they could walk the short distance to the polling centre.

“Are you counting to the second” asked one woman, joking with the administration staff. That seems to hit a nerve and he gave the nod, allowing people through.

But at the polling centre, a delay. A problem. The ballot papers had not been delivered. The process stalled – no one could vote.
A tall man in a long coat asked people to be patient, to allow them to do their job to sort out this issue. There were a few raised voices, but the crowd quietly accepted the delay.

One woman told me: “We’ll forgive them because it’s a new experience for everyone and lots of new things are happening to our country.”
Twenty-five minutes later, wandering down the road, the men with the bundles of papers hoisted on their shoulders.

They said they’d got lost. They weren’t told the exact location of the temporary polling station, so they simply followed the crowd, a brave decision on Cairo’s busy streets.
And so, for this small neighbourhood, history was about an hour late.

One by one, the people were allowed through, past the army and the police on security duty, to cast their votes.

As they emerged from the polling booth, there was pleasure, excitement and hope.

The woman, who was earlier ready to forgive, appeared, the blue dye on her thumb to show she’d voted: “It’s been great. What we’ve done is great, there’s been organisation – the only problem was delay.”
Throughout the day the lines grew long, stretching back from the polling station, but the delay of an hour or so, a minor inconvenience to those who’d waited for this for years.
As night fell, still they came to vote – some taking advantage of the two-hour extension to polling times ordered across the country.

One slightly harassed looking man told me: “I work quite far away, and without the extra hours I wouldn’t have been able to vote either day.” 

Another late voter believes the decision will increase the turnout, which will improve the poll’s legitimacy in the eyes of the people.
Turnout across the country is reported to be high, but the reality is that this election will put in place a parliament with very little power.

Even after the politicians take their seats, the country will still be run by an unelected military council.
But still, this election is a small step in Egypt’s transition from the Mubarak years. A small but historic step.

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