After much contemplation and debate between the polarized vote and boycott voices in my head, I decided to let my vote go through. Here’s the view from my brain…
Since last Saturday, in what is being called the second wave of the revolution, peaceful protesters in Egyptian cities including but not exclusive to Cairo have been in clash with riot police, appointed by the ministry of interior, controlled by SCAF. Same demand, targeting the extension of Mubarak’s dictatorship: The people want the fall of the regime, the fall of Field marshal Tantawi.
The Arab world, as it looks on, is witnessing the same tyrannical tactics repeatedly being acted out, patterns so consistent and steps of the dictators blatantly and boringly predictable. This next step for Tantawi was to deny, in the expected tone-deaf manner, the sentiment being made very clear in the streets; the people want the military rule to be replaced by a civilian one.
In response to the 35+ people that have died in the streets of Cairo and Alexandria, predominantly due to police attacks on sit-ins and protests in and around Tahrir, some activists reached the decision to boycott parliamentary elections that will begin their first round today in Egypt. The main argument is that these elections, under SCAF’s visibly crumbling fist, are useless and irrelevant to the blood still warm on the streets at the expense of our martyrs. These elections, which are nothing but a dirty political game, will give legitimacy to an outdated council of Mubaraks, whose time has long been up.
Watching apprehensively from New York, along with many others living outside of Egypt, there’s always an overwhelming feeling of helplessness that I can’t seem to describe as anything other than itching of the heart- to be in the street with my brothers and sisters who are ready to die (and dying) for their country. This dreadfully familiar feeling reminiscent of January and February days has yet again pushed me to airline websites in some daydream of negotiating something with my professors to expedite my semester and be on the next plane to Cairo.
With this pain of watching through a screen as people are suffocating under thick clouds of tear gas, losing their eyes while the police officers responsible celebrate their target, brave doctors scrambling to save lives and volunteers coordinating between cities to deliver necessary supplies, Egyptians abroad including myself are constantly looking for ways to help. Any way and every way. And solidarity protests and sending masks and goggles just isn’t enough. Which is where my vote comes in.
Being one of few eligible voters living abroad, I had to take my chances. Many Egyptians I’ve spoken to don’t have national IDs (rakam qawmy), which is a prerequisite to participate in these parliamentary elections. The older generation, my parents included, only have Egyptian passports; the younger, my siblings, not old enough. Which makes me the only person in my house eligible. In the first elections since Mubarak was ousted, (though replaced by a crew of 19 Mubaraks called the military council), am I expected to pass up this rare opportunity of taking part in a decision that will play a role in Egypt’s future? Get real.
A problem often overlooked and forgotten in regards to the reasons older generations of Egyptians left the country traces back to the corruption within the regimes under which they lived and the crackdown on expression they faced, much like we continue to face today. Since they cannot enjoy the right to vote due to expired documentation, its up to my generation to reverse that through our voice. The same voice that started a revolution in January, the same voice that continues it until victory. Regardless of how unfair the elections may be. This is just a first step, SCAF or not.
I went through with the process, found out minimal information about candidates and parties for my district, and filled the forms as instructed on the website. Because the ballots from abroad were collected at Egyptian embassies, there was word that consulates in states without embassies would be available on the weekend to answer questions or direct us if problems were to arise. And they did. The closest embassy to New York is in Washington DC. Making the voting deadline the weekend after Thanksgiving was nearly impossible for many voters in the States, as normal shipping would not suffice. Time was very limited, as were instructions. Some consulates had volunteers around, who would take ballots to the embassies. As for the ones outside of driving range to their nearest embassy, what were they to do? The 350 voters whose votes were invalid once they reached the embassy in DC because they “didn’t follow instructions”… How would these numbers be refilled?
Personally I was very frustrated to find the New York consulate closed on possibly the most important weekend of the year, and that they had been unresponsive to phone calls from the night before. Saturday I found envelopes addressed to the consulate itself in between the revolving doors of the building. These could have been anything, but if they were ballots, they add to the number of lost votes. After finding that these were the grounds of our elections, I debated whether I should boycott. Why would I want any part in elections that seem, overall, like a sham?
There was a march scheduled for the evening against what SCAF has been doing to the people in Tahrir. Protesters marched from the Egyptian Mission to the UN on 44th St and 2nd Avenue, to the consulate. It was a complete coincidence that night, that a friend asked me if I had voted. Explaining to her my story, she responded telling me that a friend of hers was driving from New York to DC to deliver ballots. If it weren’t for Rania’s friend, I would not have been able to vote. The fact that these are the measures many of us had to take in order to vote are completely ridiculous, but on the other hand, what would boycotting actually accomplish?
I respect the good-willed arguments of those boycotting the elections, but a quick word to those declaring voters as politically naive or ignorant about the interests of the candidates they are voting for: Instead of writing off these elections and waiting for them to fall apart, take a role in monitoring them and educating people about the political process you claim to have expertise in. This democracy thing is new to Egypt, and regardless of how twisted and imperfect these elections are, they are happening. Realize that they are taking place, with or without those boycotting.
A boycott holds more significance symbolically, among a minority, than it does realistically. And realistically right now, voting is encouraged, as it resonates with much of the population. We will soon witness the role parliament will play in Egyptian politics after Mubarak, and Tahrir will remain as it is. People have not stopped taking to the streets, why would they stop now? Parliamentary elections are but a small step in the necessary road we must take out of SCAF’s grip. Regardless of who wins.
Reading tweets from different stations this morning before polls opened, there already have been campaigning violations on part of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party. Fliers are being handed out to voters to gain numbers, MB breaking the reported rule of no campaigning within 48 hours of operating polls.
With many liberals boycotting the elections, that many are contributing to MB’s win. By the same token they are isolating themselves from the reality that is the Egyptian general public away from Tahrir, as well as waiving their right to complain about the outcome.
As an Egyptian who wants civilian rule, unconcerned with religious or military interests, I feel it is my duty to participate in this first parliamentary election. In a year of information overload and events that seem to turn every few minutes, I cast my ballot with the martyrs and injured in mind, and only time and continued action will tell of the change these elections will yield.