News / Middle East

Egyptian Voters Embrace Cleaner Elections

Egyptian election workers count the ballots following the end of the two day presidential election at a school in Cairo, Egypt. Experts say the elections were fairly clean given Egypt's past corruption.Egyptian election workers count the ballots following the end of the two day presidential election at a school in Cairo, Egypt. Experts say the elections were fairly clean given Egypt's past corruption.
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Egyptian election workers count the ballots following the end of the two day presidential election at a school in Cairo, Egypt. Experts say the elections were fairly clean given Egypt's past corruption.
Egyptian election workers count the ballots following the end of the two day presidential election at a school in Cairo, Egypt. Experts say the elections were fairly clean given Egypt's past corruption.
Despite some reports of irregularities, Egypt’s historic elections were remarkably clean.

Observers say that virtually all of the candidates violated the election rules by transporting voters to the polls, giving speeches during the official period of silence, handing out sugar and cooking oil, or leaving campaign posters up by voting booths. But there were no reports of systematic vote rigging, marking a major step forward in the nation’s path toward greater transparency and democracy.

“There was nothing that seemed intentionally fraudulent about the process by the administrators,” said Samer Shehata, an assistant professor of Arab Politics at Georgetown University in Washington who traveled to Egypt to observe the process.  “We did see some technical violations by candidates. Small things. Nothing that affected the outcome.”

Still, like in most elections worldwide, candidates are appealing some results. The High Election Commission will begin considering the complaints on Saturday.

Shehata described the difference between this election and the 2005 vote that took place when former President Hosni Mubarak ran for a fifth term, as “night and day.”

“The idea that 85 million people did not know and still do not know to this day who their president is going to be, that is revolutionary,” he said.

The popular uprising that lead to Egypt’s first truly democratic elections began, in part, as a rejection of the endemic corruption that had enriched the powerful and marginalized the poor for decades. Nepotism ran rampant in the Mubarak government - high-level graft that trickled down to the lowest levels of society, where Egyptians were expected to provide “al-halaway” or “the reward” for a job or basic public service.

Bribes are still an everyday occurrence in Egypt, but Mubarak has been detained, awaiting a verdict on charges of corruption and abuse of power. The revolution appears to have fired up the nation’s resolve to root out systemic corruption, as seen in the public’s vigilance on voting day, according to Mostafa Hegazi of the Egyptian monitoring group Shayfeencom.

He said Shayfeencom sifted through 750 voting incidents sent in by citizens via text message, phone calls and social media on Wednesday and Thursday, 150 of which were verified by a legal team and sent to authorities to investigate.

“This high participation could only mean that people are eager and willing to have a better future by ensuring that democracy will not be hindered and that the elections would be fair and transparent,” he wrote in an email.

Shayfeencom, which means “we see you” in Arabic, began using the Internet to shed light on voting fraud in 2005, posting videos to YouTube that showed violations by Mubarak’s supporters. That effort has expanded in this election.

“We were able through Facebook and Twitter to make thousands of people interact with us directly and call us during the elections day,” Hegazi wrote.

The online participation echoed a greater level of activity at the polls. Voter turnout hit about 50 percent this year, up from the less than 30 percent that showed up for the 2005 presidential election.

Shehata said Egyptians took this election seriously, a new phenomenon for the country, which he said will shape its future.

“With regard to elections and the election administration, I don’t think we can go backwards. I think that things are going to get better and that we’re going to continue to have elections that have some integrity in Egypt,” he said, noting that the presidential election had less irregularities and greater efficiency than the parliamentary elections, which took place beginning in November.

Whether Egypt’s attempt at clean, democratic elections will translate to a more transparent, equitable system of governance is another question, Shehata said. A question whose answer depends on who wins the vote, how the new constitution is written, and how much the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces answers to civilian rule.

“By July 1 or June 24, when a new president is appointed, that will be one move forward with regard to Egypt,” he said. “Will it be the land of milk and honey and full democracy? No, and it’s not going to be for some time to come, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

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