Inside the Middle East
November 29, 2010
Posted: 1929 GMT
Outisde a voting station in the Sayida Zainab area of Cairo, An NDP party candidate's poster dominates (Mary Rogers/CNN)
Outisde a voting station in the Sayida Zainab area of Cairo, An NDP party candidate's poster dominates (Mary Rogers/CNN)

We had to be patient to get pictures of people casting their ballots at the Yahya Mashhad School for Languages in the gritty northern Cairo district of Shubra Al-Khaima.

One voter would enter the room every ten minutes or so, slip behind a black curtain to fill out their ballot, drop it in a battered wooden box, sign the register, and then dip their finger in pink ink. After another long wait, the next voter entered.

Outside, earnest supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest opposition bloc, complained that their appointed observers had been denied the right to monitor the voting.

"There is no way we can ensure these elections were fair," Brotherhood supporter Mustafa told me.

Newspapers in Cairo Monday morning were full of reports of vote rigging and violence around the country.

According to the official Higher Elections Committee, turnout in Sunday¹s parliamentary elections was 25 percent. Independent observers say it was probably not even half that.

Initial results indicate the ruling National Democratic Party has cleaned up and that the Brotherhood has taken a serious beating. A round of run-off elections is scheduled for Dec. 5.

It's a dramatic turnaround from late 2005, when the Brotherhood surprised even many Egyptians by winning 88 seats, grabbing around 20 percent in the People¹s Assembly.

But that was then. In 2005 the administration of George W. Bush was at the height of its push for democratic reform in the Arab world, and President Mubarak¹s authoritarian government was squarely in the American cross hairs.

Feeling the heat from Washington, in 2005 Mubarak's government let the Brotherhood make those stunning electoral gains. Just a few months later, in January 2006, the hard-line Islamic group Hamas roundly defeated the US-backed Fatah movement in elections in the West Bank and Gaza.

Suddenly the US enthusiasm for Arab democracy went cold, replaced by the traditional mantra so beloved of dictatorships everywhere: stability.

The shift left many Egyptians hopeful of change bitter and disappointed.

"Surprisingly, President Bush, who was not at all popular with the Egyptian people, did apply a lot of pressure on our government to take serious steps toward democracy," says pro-democracy activist Ghada Shahbandar. "President Obama, who Egyptians cheered for and were very hopeful about, hasn¹t shown the same interest in internal politics and in democracy in Egypt."

The Brotherhood, Shahbandar says, "is a useful boogey man to the international community and to the Egyptian left, the different liberal parties, and the business community. The message was very clear: You either get the National Democratic Party or these Islamists."

The Brotherhood, the boogey man, served its purpose, and now, in 2010, the ruling party appears eager to go back to business-as-usual.

There¹s just one problem. The experience of the last five years, and tectonic changes in Egyptian society, may make that impossible.

During this election cyberspace was abuzz with Egyptians - secular, religious, nationalist, others just cynical - who on Twitter and Facebook disseminated scathing commentary and second-by-second reports of irregularities, violence AND intimidation throughout the voting day and well into the night. Politically aware Egyptians have taken to social media like fish to water.

The group Reporters Without Borders has branded Egypt one of the "enemies of the internet" for jailing outspoken bloggers, but that hasn't stopped many others from venting their anger on the web.

It's a mistake to overestimate the ability of Facebook and Twitter to shake a regime as solidly entrenched as Egypt's, but one shouldn't minimize the gradual, corrosive effect of the steady drip of tiny messages of anger, disaffection and frustration that cross social media sites.

This drip-drip-drip spills into the discourse of a much wider audience that increasingly seems less hesitant to hold its tongue.

Outside another school in Shubra Al-Khaima where voting was taking place Sunday, I found myself in the middle of a raging debate between supporters of an independent, non-Brotherhood candidate and backers of the ruling party.

Imad, a university student, demanded, "Why do I have to have people imposed on me? I want to be able to choose who is right for me."

Accusations of vote-buying, ballot stuffing, intimidation and violence flew all around me. Voices were raised, everyone was gesticulating wildly to make their point.

In the past I often found Egyptians hesitant to wash their dirty laundry in front of foreign journalists, or if they did, some self-appointed guardian of Egypt¹s dignity would come along and drive us away. This time, the crowd forgot I was even there.

It may sound like a cliché, but change is afoot in Egypt.

This is a regime in its twilight. President Mubarak has ruled Egypt without a real challenger since October 1981. He is 82 now and earlier this year underwent gall bladder surgery. Despite his black hair, the only president most Egyptians have ever known is starting to show his age, and people are beginning to ponder their future in a post-Mubarak Egypt.

In 2005, at the height of what became known as the "Arab Spring," I interviewed George Ishaq, leader of the Kifaya movement. Kifaya is Egyptian Arabic slang for "Enough" and it was the first group that openly called for an end to Mubarak¹s rule.

"The door is open," he said, leaning forward for dramatic effect. "And nobody can close it again. We will go through this door and we will struggle until the end, to be a democratic country. We will insist on it."

Don't let the results of Sunday's vote fool you. That door can't be closed again.

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Ola Theander   November 29th, 2010 8:07 pm ET

Very interesting. But do You think that the changing to a democratic society can be done in a peaceful way? There is a big tense under the crowdy everyday life, as far as I understand during my visits to Egypt.

Smith in Oregon   November 29th, 2010 11:10 pm ET

The human abuse crimes alleged against Egypt have been mounting with every year since it has signaled it's friendship with nearby Israel. Egypt's ruler is seen as nothing but a old despot whom the Egyptian people see as corrupt and in the pocket of America.

I suspect the next ruler of Egypt will be not a friend of Israel and very popular with the Egyptian people.

GoodNews316   November 30th, 2010 2:44 am ET

Our world is paralyzed by fear. Every day you turn on the news and see evidence of our impending doom. Pretty depressing stuff! Fortunately, there's good news! There is hope. See for yourself, visit: Story4.Us/2050.

Ron S.   November 30th, 2010 4:44 am ET

Ben–don't kid yourself. Democracy is rooted in a fair legal system and a culture of protecting minority rights. Egypt is not on this path and your sugar-coated optimism can't cover the truth. Eventually, mayham will follow the fall of the Mubarak regime (either the father's or the son's) unless there is educational reform and judicial reform that gives the Egyptian people the tools and opportunity to build a democratic society.

Omar   November 30th, 2010 7:10 am ET

I think Egyptians need to stand up and not depend on American and European support. Change comes only if the public works hard for it.

miriam   November 30th, 2010 7:39 am ET


Any claims of human (rights) abuses in Egypt mounting in the last 30 years has nothing to do with Egypt's peace agreement with Israel and more to do with the penetration into Egyptian society of Western values as result of globalization, modernization and time. Abuses have always existed.

One would hope that whoever the next ruler of Egypt will be, he/she(!) will be the popular choice of the Egyptians, not Oregonians. Whether he/she will be a friend of Israel is not the only factor involved in the choice for most of the population. However, there will certainly be complicated legal, economic and diplomatic considerations if that leader chooses to violate the terms of the peace agreement with Israel.

Mariam   November 30th, 2010 8:20 am ET

One word for the Americans and the West stay away from our country we don't need your help, and by the way I voted for the ruling party because the Brotherhood don't represent us they are bunch of traitors and terrorists like any of those who promote western values in our country. we don't need some puppet president like the laughable regimes you created in Iraq and Afghanistan,this is our country and we are capable of protecting it, stay away from us we don't need your stupid democracy because it is just a lie, we know exactly who our enemies are and we are going to stand firmly behind our president like we stood in this elections whether you like or not, save your advices for yourself it might save your embarrassing global image and your failing economy.

Hanem   November 30th, 2010 9:08 am ET

I think that the problem is beyond having one leader versus another. Unfortunately, dictatorship inside Egypt is not only pertaining to who rules the country. Anybody with any kind of authority, tends to abuse others even if he is simply a teacher or a nurse or a taxi driver.. I think that people themselves need to change and get rid of the long lasting social diseases that they deveopled in the past three decades!!

Fadi - From Egypt   November 30th, 2010 10:12 am ET


I'm Fadi from Egypt, with all the respect to all your comments but i cannot see or vote except to the ruling wing.... why? because the others done nothing except shouting to the Media but nothing was done from their side to fix anything. Those people are just Shouting but they didn't do any positive step/investment towards Egyptian people....

Ruling Party, performed a lot of enhancements in the infrastructure and industrial section, also the education section but due to their denial and the willing to change some of the Egyptian are shouting to change but MOST of the Egyptian see/feel the difference and progress we have.

Believe me, I'm not belonging to any political movement in Egypt but seriously I'm an Egyptian who loves this country and working to improve it in all means.

Thanks for Posting,

From Egypt

essam   November 30th, 2010 12:22 pm ET

The egyptian became the only cheap thing in egypt.
No respect
my voice is under the shoes of those people of the ruling party.
in these elections I will not ask "where is my voice"
as I know where is it.
ٍSurly it is in the nearest trash.
Thanks to GOD as I am still alive after voting.
But my dignity is dead.

Sherif   November 30th, 2010 12:35 pm ET

I still have that crazy hope that a change in government may come about rather peacefully in Egypt. Egyptians by nature are a peace loving people and in the past century (1919, 1952) general violence was limited.

E. A.   November 30th, 2010 1:16 pm ET

Will the US ever learn, stay out of it, or does the US prefer a real election with the Muslim brotherhood taking over? some of those countries they do have their own way of management and democracy, and it is not the same like ours, advise to the US, stay out of this one, and don't get hated more for no good reason, as it is a reason that would only back fire.

MsEgypt   November 30th, 2010 1:31 pm ET

Egypt will never be an democratic country as long as they follow sharia-law. You cant call for democracy and bear down your sisters/mothers/aunts and religious minorities like the copt in the same time.

Instead of praying and shouting gods name all day long, start cleaning up your country, create jobs, respect your minorities!

The problem is not the current government, but the backwardness of the egyptian people.

Deb from Israel   November 30th, 2010 9:46 pm ET

It seems that many Egyptians, like the citizens of many other Arab countries, prefer to be ruled by benevolent (or not so benevolent) dictators, disguised as presidents, kings, or whatever. In all honesty, if this is what the citizens want, it should be up to them. If they want to change that and institute a different form of governance, that's up to them. I really don't think other countries have the right to interfere.

Regarding Egypt, I wish you all well. I hope whoever does eventually take over from President Mubarak keeps the peace treaty going with Israel. We Israelis are very happy to have a peace agreement with Egypt, and only wish that our feelings of friendship and peaceful co-existence would be reciprocated by all levels of Egyptian society, and not just the ruling elites.

Ariely   December 1st, 2010 7:09 pm ET

Ruling regimes ,Parties and Organizations with the ideology to impose by force- hate- phobia-fight the world are the most dangerousness to peace across the world.

They are using democracy to gain power latter to abolish democracy.
Regardless the government type, either dictatorship or democracy they are using the terror to impose their doctrine.

They should be outlawed worldwide.

Muslim brotherhood is a good example.
The powerful Muslim Brotherhood with active branches worldwide on the official web page
A Muslim can come closer to Allah by waging jihad against all non-Muslims – Christians, Jews, atheists, or polytheists in every possible manner/
Dr. Ahmad 'Abd about Al-Walaa Wa'l-Baraaarticle in the "Muslim brotherhood,"

Cairocarole   December 2nd, 2010 8:53 am ET

Egyptians now have the "what's in it for me" mentality. They don't do anything unless they can get some "bakhsheesh" or free food. This was evident in the election process when some of the candidates felt that serving free food would garner votes. The fact that only 26% of the population even voted is a testement to that fact. The general public doesn't care about greenhouse gases, sanitation, water shortages or obeying the rules. Just try driving in Cairo. Old cars spew smoke, people dart into oncoming traffic, ignoring walk/don't walk signs. Cabbies try to overcharge by taking the long way around, even if they have meters and can be assured of charging more. I can cite hundreds of examples of basic disregard of living a courteous and selfless life as described in the Koran or Bible. Until the Egyptian mentality gains a concience and a care for their fellow man things will never change here.

Andrew hana   December 5th, 2010 7:27 pm ET

Backsheesh is a bad way and used usually by lower class tourists,so they call it in a smooth way tips or they way dont critisize because harlem is very dirty too even much more, blame you government if you are american, they help an old despot because he has good relation with isreal,he would do any thing to see his son as a president even on the corps of his whole people, we left egypt long time ago, i was 11 yrs old, now im 72 yrs old, egypt was a very wealthy country,one egyptian pound was equal to 9 english pound,i visited egypt 2 yrs ago, i found out that egypt went back a hundred yr at least, i visited maizia and i compare between both, egypt was advanced, now it become a very 5 th world country,america should help people to get red of that one and his family,i was told many stories about that corrupted regime and his carol b objective and clean harlem and all areas before you critisized others

One   December 19th, 2010 12:18 pm ET

If you'll really have an accurate vote in Egypt then you'll get a huge numbers of the muslim brotherhood members in the parliment and a lot of egyptians do not want this to happen, therefore there must be first a phase where political awareness should develop and get mature like in the US and Europe and that'll take many years, then in the end comes the accurate vote otherwise we'll end up being like Iran or may be like palestine where Bush cabinet pushed for democracy and all what they got was "Hamas" and I do not think that kind of democracy made the palestians life any better.

IBN ELNIEL   December 30th, 2010 8:04 pm ET

Moslem brotherhood is Egypt's curse ,they are the mother of islamic terrorism ,keeping them under pressure is the only way FOR PEACFUL COUNTERY.
Moderate Islam which was hijacked by militants with Sadat's help combating comunism ,had turned against him when he try to control.
Other than this thorny issue which plagues this religion .

EQUAL RIGHTS TO ITS VARIOUS ETHNIC GROUPS IS WHAT IS IMPORTANT AND STRICT FAMILY PLANING [otherwise they will run out of room ] ,Technical education for future jobs other than oversupply of university graduates .

Kebaya Moturi   January 14th, 2011 8:41 am ET

EGYPT, the land of many histories, the land of that harbored Jesus, at the time of first born executions, that land of the legend pyramids. The start of civilization, how i pray for your freedom from the bondage of Mubarak.......long live THE PEOPLE OF EGYPT, chase them bald heads outer town, and never ever again let that door close on your faces. ALUTA CONTINUA, AND YOU WILL OVERCOME...!

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