Revolutionary parties, consumed for the last ten days in a
wave of murderous police violence and the protests it spurred in Cairo,
Alexandria, and other cities, faced a quandary. Many of their supporters urged
a full boycott. "If we vote, we give legitimacy to the military, which is
illegally ruling our country," said Albert Saber, 26, who refused to cast a
ballot even though he had already chosen a line-up of independent
pro-revolution candidates in his east Cairo district.
At the same time, the activist party leaders realize that
the next parliament will play a key role in a transition to civilian rule, if
one occurs, and they understand they might have more influence if they have a
voice inside the chamber of deputies as well as on the streets outside.
"The next parliament will have no authority, same as the
last one," said Moaz Abdel Kareem, a youth leader and founder of the Egyptian
Current Party, founded by liberal breakaway members of the Muslim Brotherhood
youth wing. "This election is fake, a special effect to make it look like the
military is working for the people."
His party suspended its campaign, but its candidates still
stumped in polling stations on Monday as part of their unified list, which they named "The
There was a tangible sense in Cairo that street protest was
being left behind, dwarfed by voter turnout and the cautious embrace of
electoral politics that it heralded. With notably less enthusiasm than they
showed during a national referendum in March -- the first poll after the Tahrir
Square uprising -- Egyptians queued for hours, with a mix of muted excitement
and markedly modest expectations.
"Change won't come immediately. It will come step by step,"
said Taghreed Ibrahim Hassan, 46. She had come to vote in Shoubra, Cairo's most
densely populated area, with female relatives spanning three generations; she
stood out in the voting line for her loud laugh and booming exclamations of
"This time our voices will count," she said. "This
parliament won't represent us perfectly, but we won't be stuck with it
Up until the day before voting began, there was uncertainty
whether it would be postponed or even cancelled. The election process has been
remarkably confusing and opaque. Even some sophisticated,
internet-equipped citizens have been unable to figure out when and where they're supposed
to vote. The country has been divided up into three regions, which vote at
different times. Each region has a two-day vote, and a runoff the following
week; furthermore, voters have to cast two ballots, one for individual
candidates and one for parties. Even professional elections experts have
described the setup as bewildering.
The final votes for parliament will be cast in mid-January,
and the body won't convene until March. So far, the Supreme Council of the
Armed Forces, which retains full dictatorial powers in Egypt, has suggested it
will not relinquish any control of the government to the next parliament -- a
position that has infuriated many Egyptian political activists.