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Voting Continues in Egypt's Landmark Elections

Egyptian women show their inked fingers after voting in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 28, 2011
Egyptian women show their inked fingers after voting in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 28, 2011
Elizabeth Arrott

Egyptians lined up for hours Monday to take part in the nation's first post-revolution parliamentary elections. While logistics for the staggered, three-month process are daunting, so far, voters seemed pleased to be able to make their voices heard.

Victor Beattie's Q&A with David Farris, director of the International Studies Program at Roosevelt University in Chicago:

The line stretched for blocks outside a polling station in Cairo, with some voters hopeful that this election, unlike those of decades past, will count.  

Student Farah, her uncovered hair standing out in a line mostly of veiled women, said she came to ensure a good future for all Egyptians.

"We want now to participate in everything in our country. I could participate last year, or the previous period, but I wasn't sure my voice will take the original steps in our process. Now I'm sure, insha'allah that my voice will be heard," said Farah.

Major Alliances for Egypt's Parliamentary Elections

Democratic Alliance for Egypt: Formed in June 2011, it was the first significant political coalition to emerge after President Hosni Mubarak's February resignation. The coalition is led by the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and includes at least five other political groups. The alliance started out as a broad-based coalition of liberal and Islamist parties but some of its original members left due to ideological differences.

Islamist Alliance (Alliance for Egypt): Led by the Salafist party al-Nour and includes at least two other groups. Its members were originally part of the Democratic Alliance but split because of a disagreement over the number of candidates they would be able to field in the elections. The Islamist Alliance formed in late September.

Egyptian Bloc: The liberal coalition has lost members since its formation in August and now includes only the Free Egyptians, Social Democratic and al-Tagammu parties. The bloc says it hopes to bring together political forces that are committed to a civil democratic state based on a principle of separation between religion and politics.

Completing the Revolution Alliance: Formed in October, the alliance includes youth, socialist, liberal and moderate Islamist parties. Most were formerly part of the Egyptian Bloc. Members include the Revolutionary Youth Coalition, the Egypt Freedom Party and the Socialist Popular Alliance Party

Despite a crackdown in past days on anti-military protests in the capital's Tahrir Square, the vote was proceeding peacefully across much of Cairo governorate, one of several regions of the country taking part in this first stage of elections.

The three month process is being hailed as a milestone for Egypt, a country dominated by a military-backed government for nearly 60 years. Political analyst Hassan Nafae said that as imperfect as the vote may be, it may answer a fundamental question.

"This is a very, very important election in just one sense: It will, for the first time, show us who represents what exactly, because we really don't know," said Nafae.

In Alexandria, where the two-day first round of voting also was underway, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party told VOA that in two districts where Islamist parties were popular, ballots didn't arrive until noon. He added the army was being cooperative, though, helping to establish security at polling places - a scene he described as "remarkable."

Islamists hope to do well in this voting, both the Freedom and Justice party, and the more fundamentalist [Salafist] Al Nour party.  

Marwa Mohammed, standing in line to cast her vote in Cairo, came to give her support to the Salafists.

Fully covered in a niqab, she said the party represents her: "It will fulfill my future demands, God willing."

Nearby, another voter hoped for a more mainstream government. Mariam, a dentist wearing the more common hijab, or headscarf, said her main hope is that this new wave of popular participation continues.

"I'm really not sure how it will go, but I'm aiming for a moderate Egypt. I'm aiming for a better future for our kids and I need to see a more proactive people in the community, and more of a literate community rather than what we had before," said Mariam.

Cairo-based analyst Nafae said that is likely to happen, even though he believes the parliament being elected now will be weakened because there will be no new constitution until next year, and the military vows to prolong its rule.

"I am not optimistic about the next parliament, but I am optimistic about the future because I do believe that the Egyptian people are much more aware than before and they will work very hard until they achieve all the objectives of the revolution," said Nafae.

The first round of voting ends Tuesday, with runoff elections set for two weeks from now. Other regions in the country will begin their voting next month.

Join the conversation on our social journalism site - Middle East Voices. Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter and discuss them on our Facebook page.

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