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Egyptians Wary About Future as Historic Elections Begin

  • Elizabeth Arrott
  • Japhet Weeks

Egyptian women queue to vote in a polling station in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 28, 2011

Egyptian women queue to vote in a polling station in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 28, 2011

Egypt is entering the next stage of its political transition with parliamentary elections, a process that started Monday and is expected to continue for three months. But, after a tumultuous year and now more than a week of violent demonstrations, many Egyptians are anxious about their country's future.

University student Habiba el Husseiny is not hopeful. "I honestly don't want to be a pessimist. I want a better future for us. Now I don't think it's the right time for them to take place, but they have to take place," he said.

It is a dilemma discussed in Husseiny's political science class at The American University in Cairo.

"How many of you have been to Tahrir? Two? Only two?" political sociologist Said Sadek asks students about their involvement in the protests.

Habiba Husseiny says she plans to visit Tahrir Square to oppose the government crackdown on demonstrators, not to support the protesters' anti-military cause.

"We're in very unstable times, and the economy is a disaster. So this is not what they should be focusing on now. They [protesters] should be focusing on our economy, our tourism, everything else except that," Husseiny stated.

Said Sadek says the military gives some Egyptians a sense of stability after the tumultuous events of the Arab Spring.

"The military is basically middle class, urban middle class, and they have many economic interests," he noted.

But the civil-military conflict in Tahrir Square is not the only source of tension. Sadek blames Islamist politicians for inspiring further resentment and unrest.

"Political Islam is not Islam. These are politicians who are using religion to reach power. And they are building on that class struggle -- division between the village and the city, Bedouin life and modern life. And they build on that," he said.

These different voices have left some Egyptians even more alienated.

Hassa'an says Egypt is entering a dark stage, with most parties having interests that do not reflect public opinion. The working class, he says, are the "silent majority."

At The American University in Cairo, Professor Sadek is challenging his students to understand where they fit in Egypt at this historic crossroads. "Are you the majority or the minority?" he stated.

No matter how uncertain these days might be for many Egyptians, experts say the results of the elections might make that question a little easier to answer.

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