In Cairo’s middle-class district of Heliopolis, the first day of Egypt’s parliamentary elections got off to a busy start, with large numbers queuing to vote from early in the morning.
By noon on Monday, at least 3,000 voters were lined up in the side streets leading up to the Zahret El-Madan School in the Nozha area of Heliopolis.
The ages of most of the voters ranged from 20 to 40 years old.
“I have been here since 7.30 a.m. this morning with my daughter, ready to vote, and we have only finished now [11.30 a.m]. Despite the long wait, it has been a very pleasant experience and we are happy about the organisation of the whole process. It is very organised,” affirmed a 45-year-old woman.
The voting process was to a large extent very organised, with voters standing in line and keen on keeping a sense of order.
The atmosphere very much resembled the constitutional referendum on March 19, 2011, with an air of anticipation, calm and optimism in evidence.
One of the voters referred to the constitutional referendum - the only post-revolutionary electoral experience in Egypt so far - as a hoax. “I truly hope that this time around it is different; we are doing what we can and while there are many reservations, we nevertheless do not want to eventually regret not having voted.”
Surprisingly, there was hardly any mention of the recent conflicts having swept over the country as a result of the protests in Tahrir Square and the other commonly-heard comments about the need for stability in the country and the need to increase the country’s “wheel of production”. It seemed to be a feeling of a new start for the country that many of these voters were eager to be active participants in its making.
The posters that flooded the walls of the school were that of the Salafist Al-Nour Party. Buses covered in posters of their respective candidates were also lined up outside the school’s gates, transporting voters to the polling station.
A significant number of Coptic Christian voters were present at the station; three Copts who Ahram Online spoke with said that they were voting for the liberal Egyptian Bloc, the coalition bringing together the Free Egyptians Party of Coptic business tycoon Naguib Sawiris, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and the Tagammu Party.
“The main incentive for my participation today is that I do not want the Islamists to win. While I am a veiled, practicing Muslim, I think that being governed by an Islamist party will greatly hurt our country,” stated a woman who later clarified that her husband works in the tourism industry and their family would suffer as a result of an Islamist victory.
Many in line were still debating who to vote for, and several mixed up the names of the candidates and their respective parties.
The last group of voters at the end of the line at around 5 p.m. energised themselves by singing patriotic songs, including those of El-Sheikh Imam.
Campaigners were seen walking around wearing placards around their necks of the candidates they support. One of the women expressed her apprehension of this and told them that they were not allowed to do so.
Several volunteers were also walking around speaking to the voters and explaining the voting process. The difference between the independents’ list and the coalitions’ list and the different ballot boxes that the papers are to be placed in were discussed with voters.
Despite a few skirmishes towards the end of the day, as a result of certain voters being allowed to skip to the start of the line, the voting process was run fairly.
This, however, was not the case in other voting stations in Heliopolis. Amr Hamzawy, an independent liberal candidate running in the district, faced clashes between his supporters and the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, causing him to leave the Salhadar school early.