The elections in Upper Egypt

15-12-2011 09:26 AM

Basma William


As election fever engulfed those regions in Egypt where the first round of parliamentary elections were held, Watani had the opportunity to have a close look at the balloting scene in the Upper Egyptian town of Assiut.

WATANI International
2 December 2011
As election fever engulfed those regions in Egypt where the first round of parliamentary elections were held, Watani had the opportunity to have a close look at the balloting scene in the Upper Egyptian town of Assiut. 
In Upper Egypt as well as in all rural regions, where the illiteracy rate is high and the rate of political illiteracy higher still, the poor public awareness was exploited to the fullest in last week’s parliamentary elections. 
The preliminary results, announced as Watani International went to press, indicated an Islamist win. 
Turning away Copts
Some 1.8 million voters flocked to the polls in Assiut, a town of little less than 4 million inhabitants, 62 per cent of whom are Copts. 
On election day, campaigning outside balloting centres is banned. Yet the Islamist Freedom and Justice and the Nour parties aggressively campaigned outside the polling stations, blaring their religious slogans through microphones. They bribed voters with EGP50 and kilogramme of meat each. The other parties either respected the campaign ban or had minimal presence outside the polls.
Many voters, especially Coptic women—who are easily recognisable because they wear no hijab (Islamic veil)—were turned away from the polling stations they should have voted at. They were met there by female Islamists who masqueraded as polling assistants and informed them that, according to recent official orders, the polling centres at which they must vote have been changed and they should now vote at other sites miles away. This effectively kept many of them from voting, since traditions dissuade women from travelling far while unattended.
‘Helping’ voters
As voters approached the polls, campaigners who stood outside shouted at them the names of the parties or nominees to vote for. This inevitably caused plenty of confusion and many voters later said they had got mixed up as they marked the names or signs of the candidates they had wished to vote for on the electoral charts. Given the large number of candidates, this came as no surprise.
Under the guise of helping the voters who after hours of standing in line and being bombarded with election campaigns seemed rather bewildered, polling assistants offered to ‘help’ the voters by voting for them. In one case a female assistant asked a group of voters to hand her their ID cards and wait a few minutes outside while she did the voting for them.
And in what amounted to a farcical situation, one male villager in his 50s answered the campaigners outside the polling station he had just emerged out of, and who asked him who had he voted for, by saying: “I chose all the candidates on the chart, so that no-one would take offence.” The problem was he was not joking. 
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