Monday, June 11, 2012

The Election Train Rolls On

This went out in Sunday's Austin American-Statesman

 — As the polls were closing on the second day of Egypt's presidential election, I stopped by a street performance by a small group of artists. They had designed a giant puppet named Bakaboza, dressed him in a red cap and Harry Potter spectacles, and described him as the "perfect presidential candidate." To the cheers of a hundred screaming children who were unfortunately below voting age Bakaboza promised jukeboxes in the streets and an end to corruption. He promised that men would learn to cook and sew while women learned to fix motorcycles. He promised anything anyone asked of him.
In the last few weeks before the first round of voting May 23-24, it seemed like each of the real candidates had become a receptacle for hopes, fears and grievances. Voters were supporting one because they were afraid of another, or because he promised security or came with strong backers or promised Islamic law in the constitution or simply because their family was voting for him. It didn't seem so different from the U.S. Instead of buzzwords like "hope" and "change" and "maverick," we saw a different set: "Islamic law," "stability" and "security."
Despite the similarities to U.S. campaigns, where the buzzwords often mean little, there is a feeling in Egypt that this election will have far-reaching consequences for both the country and the broader Middle East. On Saturday, Egyptian voters will return to the polls to choose between two runoff candidates: Ahmed Shafiq, one of former President Hosni Mubarak's ministers, and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi. Since the first round of balloting, pro-revolution protesters have returned to Tahrir Square, bitter over the results after splitting their numbers between several campaign-season front-runners. The polling had been mostly calm and genial, marked by a lack of negative campaigning and widespread confidence in the process. But the shock of the results, combined with Mubarak's controversial verdict, has brought back uncertainty and street protests to Egypt's sputtering political transition.

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