Thursday, May 24, 2012

"That's Democracy"



At 2:20PM, outside of the New Primary School in Hedayat El Kobba, a handful of portly older policemen ordered around young soldiers. Usually the orders involved helping old women step up to the curb. There were no lines or crowds to control. Voters came every few minutes. In November, there were always big crowds. Now that everyone is used to two days of voting, there doesn’t seem to be much of a rush. “More people will come after work,” a police officer told me, flicking his cigarette into the street.

At 4:00PM, outside of the Education administration building several blocks away, I met an egg seller and his employee, Hossam and Mohamed. Both had blue ink on their pinkies. Egyptians, I have learned, never hesitate to say whom they’re voting for. You don’t find any of the privacy fetishism of American voters. Hossam voted for the charismatic leftist in the back of the race, Hamdeen Sabbahi. Mohamed voted for Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s former Minister of Aviation. The candidates represent opposite ends of the spectrum: revolutionary and former regime, but Hossam and Mohamed weren’t arguing at all. I almost cringe at the feel-good-ness of Mohamed’s explanation: “I have my opinion, and he has his opinion. That’s democracy.”

I asked them who they thought would win. Both agreed that Shafik would at least make it to the run-off. “He is very close to the military council,” Hossam said, “so he has a better chance.” This was the third or fourth time someone had said this to me, that the former regime candidate had a better shot because the country’s current leaders want him to win. Every time someone says this, I reactively ask, “So you mean that they will influence the election? Will they do something illegal?”

Hossam scrunched his face and shrugged. “No, no. I’m not saying they’ll do something illegal, but still he has a better chance. You know?” I still don’t understand this.

At 5:00PM, outside of a third polling station in the same neighborhood, a long line of women snaked around the block. I bought some tea and watched an entourage of cameras and men in suits approach the entrance. In the center I spotted Khaled Ali, the youngest candidate by far, a labor lawyer either seen as untainted or callow. A few days before, I saw him give a speech at a rally near Tahrir square. His voice boomed through the alleyways and over buildings, while a few hundred supporters filled the street. Several young women were pasting stickers with his young, clean-shaven face up on light poles. “The jails of the military council will be like the jail of Mubarak!” he shouted. “Ask the commission why there was no real debate between all the candidates! Ask them! Ask them!” Some men in trash trucks heckled the crowd.

As Ali approached the polling station, he waved to the few people that were clearly staring. A few more people whispered to one another, “That’s Khaled Ali!” For the most part, however, nobody recognized him. 

Photo: A Khaled Ali poster in Aswan, sandwiched between a ripped, outdated parliamentary poster and a poster for defunct presidential candidate Hazem Saleh Abu Ismail, covered with an advertisement for apartments. 

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