By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
CAIRO, Egypt–In the first elections since President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in February 2011, thousands of Egyptians are headed back to the polls for a third and final round of voting in the parliamentary polls. Lines began to form around schools that had been converted into polling stations at 8AM local time (6:00 GMT) on Tuesday 3 January 2011.
The voters who will cast their ballots on Tuesday 3 January and Wednesday 4 January represent the last 15 million voters to vote in first parliamentary elections in 60 years. In the first two rounds of voting, an unprecedented number of individuals voted, with an estimated turnout of 62 percent. Egypt’s voting system is highly complex, with two-thirds of the 498 elected seats being decided by proportional representation and the rest by a first-past-the-post system.
A total of 2,746 candidates are competing for 150 seats; one hundred on the electoral list and fifty for the individual seats. The runoffs are scheduled to take place on Tuesday 10 January and Wednesday 11 January. Once the results of the third round are announced, the parliament’s new lower house will hold its first session on Monday 23 January, two days before the first anniversary of the revolution, 25 January.
This seemingly positive event of free and fair elections continues to be overshadowed by the deaths of 17 individuals last month in clashes between the army and protesters, demanding that the ruling military step aside immediately. The military generals have insisted that the violence will not derail the election process. Egypt’s Supreme Council of Armed Forces, which took power when Mubarak was ousted, has repeatedly pointed to the elections as proof of its plan to hand the reins to a civilian government.
But police raids on pro-democracy and rights groups just last week have disrupted the work of leading Western-backed election monitors and has drawn accusations that the army was deliberately trying to weaken oversight of the vote and silence critics. The government claimed that the raids were part of a probe into illegal foreign funding of political parties and not aimed at weakening rights groups, which have been among the fiercest critics of the army’s unstable ability to rule.
Islamist groups, which came relatively late to the uprising, have won the largest share of seats in the previous round of the first free and fair election to take place in Egypt in six decades. The Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s best-organized political movement is widely expected to triumph and has claimed the lead through its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (JFP). The final round will take place over two days in the Nile Delta provinces of Qaliubiya, Gharbiya, and Daqahliya; the New Valley province; the south governorates of Minya and Qena; the border province of Matruh; and in North and South Sinai.
Al-Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros, reporting from El-Arish, in the northern Sinai Peninsula, shared these sentiments about the developing situation.
“Overwhelmingly we are hearing people tell us that they will be voting for the Salafi Nour party or the Ikhwan, the Muslim Brotherhood’s party Freedom and Justice, so it’s very much a lot of grassroots support for the Islamist parties here. When it comes to the individual candidates, people are not talking to us about policy and issue and what the individual candidates stand for; it is very much on tribal and clan lines, that’s how people are voting here.”
Al-Jazeera’s Mike Hanna, reporting from a polling station in Shubra El-Khaima, north of Cairo, shared these words.
“This particular area is a bedrock of Muslim Brotherhood support. Some 70 percent of the vote, it is understood, has done to the Islamist parties so far, with the Freedom and Justice party the clear front-runner.”
In an industrial region north of Cairo, where labor disputes over low wages preceded the wider protests that helped bring down Mubarak, the optimism in the air was high as resident lined up to vote. Many Egyptian view the first free and fair elections they can remember as a chance to end the affliction of incompetent leadership and a culture of venality among the powerful that enriched a few and left the majority in poverty.
Ahmed Ali al-Nagar, a carpenter in his late 50s from Mahalla el-Kubra, shared these sentiments with Reuters.
“I am glad to be alive to witness this-a free election in Egypt. Workers had a big impact on the political outcome we are living through these days.”
Another individual, Amany al-Mursy, a middle-aged woman from Mansoura, also shared these sentiments with Reuters.
“I have chosen to vote for the Freedom and Justice Party as I like its talk and I think it has a long history and experience and I think they will help us the most. And if it does not do as we hoped, Tahrir Square is still there. If something goes wrong, we will go out and say something is wrong and remove the wrong people and replace them.”
For more information, please see:
Ahram – Final Round of Egypt’s Parliamentary Election Kicks Off – 3 January 2012
Al-Jazeera – Egypt Holds Third Round of Voting – 3 January 2012
BBC – Egyptians Vote in Third Round of Parliamentary Poll – 3 January 2012
CNN – Egyptians to Begin Third Round of Voting After Weeks of Unrest – 3 January 2012
NYT – Egyptians Vote in Final Round of Parliamentary Elections – 3 January 2012
Reuters – Egyptians Head to Polls Again in Parliamentary Vote – 3 January 2012