The scenes of crowds and long queues at polling stations in the initial phase of Egypt’s first parliamentary elections after the January 25th revolution contrasts with the state of pessimism that has prevailed over the past weeks, and the calls from some political forces to postpone the elections – even for weeks – fearing the political and security situation that may emerge in the second phase, and hence urging the reschedule the first phase for a later date.
It may be difficult on the first day of voting to predict the voter turnout, but the scenes of queues and the reports of correspondents and observers indicate a substantial turnout that may exceed the level of participation in the [constitutional] referendum that took place shortly after the January 25th revolution. This is different to any previous election in Egypt, where genuine estimates of voter participation were no more than 10 or 15 percent. This is a new indication that a real change has taken place in Egypt, and that people are willing to participate in the elections if they feel their votes will be of value.
The picture of the initial phase will not be complete before the polls close this evening, but the initial features indicate that the people have surprised many and come out to vote despite the tense security situation, which has emerged as a result of the cloudy political and security atmosphere that preceded the election.
This cloudy atmosphere may in fact have led to the determination and resolve of the people to come out and vote, although the political process and the way it operates is confusing for many of them, especially with the large number of candidates and party lists. People from all age groups have come out to vote, and certainly the overwhelming majority of them did not exercise this right before. This is a reflection of two things: Firstly, the people’s commitment to one of the gains they achieved as a result of the January 25th revolution, and secondly – and most importantly – a commitment to the hope of a better future through a desire to succeed in the first real step in the transition process towards the establishment of a new legitimacy, through the votes of the electorate.
No one can know how the next parliament will take shape until after the vote count in the final electoral stages, and all that has been said so far is mere speculation. This is a process that Egypt has not experienced before, with the participation of many sectors of society, especially the youth sector, in the voting phase. Therefore, the importance of this election – regardless of the parliament that will come later – alongside helping to establish the beginning of a new legitimacy, lies in the fact that it will give a clearer idea of the real map of political forces and blocs in Egyptian society, giving everyone the opportunity to deal with these forces realistically, and not on the basis of assumptions and allegations.
Another important point, in relation to the fragmenting political forces in a large number of parties and coalitions, is that the people are not passive; they are willing to take part. Hence the role of these political forces is to work with the voters in a political manner, and not just via the language of slogans. If the electoral process goes smoothly then we can assume that these will not be the last elections, and there will be other opportunities for the forces who feel they did not get what they deserved.
Finally, this is only the beginning of the first step on a road that is expected to be long, but it is a step in the right direction to create a self-propelled political dynamic, the legitimacy of which no one can question.
*The writer is a prominent columnist. The article was published in the London-based Asharq al-Awsat on Nov, 29, 2011.