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Islamist-liberal faceoff in Egypt elections; face-veil stirs debate

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Like the rest of the country, the south of Egypt, also known as Upper Egypt, witnessed a breathless race between the rivaling factions that stood in the first parliamentary elections after the ouster of Mubarak.

Those factions can be roughly divided in two categories: First, the Islamists, represented by the Muslim Brotherhood affiliated Freedom and Justice Party, the Salafi oriented al-Nour Party, and the political wing of the previously militant al-Gamaa al-Islamiya the Building and Development Party. And second, the liberals, represented by the Free Egyptians Party and al-Wafd Party.

Islamist parties did their best to attract voters. Besides the religious discourse which they are known to use in their campaigns, they also offered voters several other services like buses that took them to polling stations as well as an orientation about the procedures of the electoral process.

Several Islamist candidates slammed the alleged role played by the church, which, according to them, mobilized citizens to vote for the Free Egyptians party, founded by a Coptic businessman and currently a member of the liberal Egyptian Bloc alliance, as a means of countering the possible Islamist victory.

Upper Egyptian voters expressed their satisfaction with the way the electoral process went despite security concerns and lack of stability on the ground since the January 25 revolution erupted.

In the southern governorate of Luxor, voters flocked on the second day of elections to polling stations and the participation of both women and Copts was unprecedented.

Voting, however, stopped in one polling station in the governorate after the supervising judge was taken ill with exhaustion.

Other polling stations, in the towns of Badari, Abnoub, al-Qousiya, and Fath, had to delay the start of the voting process due to the absence of organizers and the judges’ insistence on waiting until new ones were approved by the election operation room in the governorate.

As for the town of Esna, all was quiet with the exception of a small but notable incident when a mentally retarded man began to shout: “Osama bin Laden will bomb these polling stations with missiles!”

He was later arrested and a police report on the incident was filed.

In the governorate of Assuit, meanwhile, the military police surrounded one of the polling stations following reports of armed thugs trying to disrupt the electoral process.

In the same governorate, the town of Manfalut witnessed a problem of a different kind as polling station supervisors insisted that fully veiled women show their faces; a request viewed by residents, including the veiled women, as an insult to their traditions. The girls stuck to their guns and insisted on voting without lifting their face veils.

Another dispute about the face veil erupted in the Red Sea governorate and specifically in the capital Hurghada, where a group of Islamist hard liners reprimanded the supervisor of the polling station for asking a woman to show her face.

It is noteworthy that despite the Islamist-liberal confrontation and the association of the liberal powers with Christians, the majority of voters from both religions made sure they do not fall in the religious division trap many parties had been trying to set for them.

(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)