CAIRO – A highly charged mix of emotions ran through Cairo May 23 as many of Egypt’s 52 million eligible voters went to the polls in the country’s historic post-revolution presidential election.
The majority of voters were excited. Wearing smiles, their fingers dipped in purple ink, they strode from polling stations, mainly located in schools throughout the country. As they exited, many phoned friends and relatives to tell them how they voted, or how long they had to wait. In every neighborhood, hundreds of campaign banners hung from apartment blocks and overpasses. Election chatter floated up from cafes and out the windows of minibuses.
Along with enthusiasm, anxiety permeated the city. The liberals feared a takeover by the Muslim Brotherhood, whose party is already dominant in parliament. The revolutionaries feared a regime retrenchment. And in a country with a history of rigged elections, more than a few worried that the ruling generals might tamper with the election.
In spite of widespread, but relatively minor election law violations, there was an odd calm in many Cairo neighborhoods. Men and women waited in long lines, some for hours in the midday sun, eager to select a president from a wide-open race with as many as five viable candidates. It was clear that this election was nothing like the fixed spectacles that had kept President Hosni Mubarak in power for 30 years prior to his ouster in the winter 2011 revolution.
The voting took place in spare classrooms across the country. After presenting their national ID cards, voters received paper ballots printed with the names of the candidates, along with a symbol representing each one, to facilitate voting among the illiterate. Moderate Islamist candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh was represented by a horse, former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, a sun. The Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohamed Morsi, was represented by the scales of justice.