It is the fifth day of registration for presidential recommendation forms in a documentation centre in the satellite city of 6 October, outside Cairo.
Each presidential candidate, who has decided not to rely on the support of 30 Members of Parliament, needs 30,000 of these signed documents to run in Egypt’s first presidential elections since the January 25 Revolution.
At 10 in the morning, there is a line of 20 people waiting to get the forms. Jailan, 64, the only woman in the line, expressed her frustration.
"There is only one employee in the office working on presidential forms and he is busy talking on the phone," she said, adding that she is choosing the Salafist presidential candidate Hazem Salah Abu-Ismail. In the two hours that the Ahram Online reporter spent in the office almost all forms had Abu-Ismail's name on it.
Arafa Abdel-Mawla from Abu-Ismail's campaign confirms that they have already collected the required 30,000 recommendation forms. Abdel-Mawla is sitting in a booth with photos and flyers of Abu-Ismail, whilst helping people with their registration forms.
Technically campaigning is not allowed until three weeks prior to elections. However posters of candidates are on walls of the documentation centre itself.
In addition, booths have been set out for three candidates: Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, Mohamed Selim El-Awa and, of course, Abu-Ismail. All these candidates are from Islamist backgrounds. The busiest booth is that of Abu-Ismail.
Most campaigners are working on a voluntary basis. They speak passionately amongst themselves about a new Egypt and the future. There are no complaints of rigging in this centre so far.
However, the campaigners criticise the long bureaucratic procedures that make it difficult to finish more than 50 recommendations in a centre per day. This is because each centre is still doing its normal work of documenting cars and buildings contracts, marriage certificates and legal cases.
"I am doing the work of three employees, and Kamel, my colleague, is doing the work of four. Each of us is overworked and on top of that we are doing the extra job of presidential forms," murmured an angry employee, Magda, while documenting a car sale contract.
How to complete a form?
It took the Ahram Online reporter one hour to finish the form. The process goes as follows: you collect a form, fill it in including providing the presidential candidate’s national ID number and the candidate’s full name as it appears in his/her passport.
During the first day of registration, it was necessary to have a photocopy of the candidate's national ID card but "we changed that now to make it easier for people" boasts one employer at the centre. This is why all campaigns have scanned their presidential candidates’ IDs and put them online or distributed them in booths.
After filing in the form, you go to the cashier and get a signature to confirm you don't need to pay anything. Then you photocopy your own ID card, which has to happen inside the registration office. Then you go to another window to hand in the form and the copy of your ID card.
After this has been signed off, you receive a final stamp from the head of the office and finally it is possible to hand in the form to your chosen presidential campaign's representative.
This process will only be open for a few more weeks, as on 8 April registration for presidential candidates closes.
In a recent press statement, Abul-Fotouh's campaign said they "witnessed violations in several governorates in Egypt.”
A documentation centre in Alexandria, Abul-Fotouh’s campaign said, filled in forms for one candidate for money, and when a different campaign's representatives objected they closed the doors of the centre.
In addition, the press statement read, the buying of votes has been discovered in more than one place in Cairo, like in Nasr City’s Hay Al-Asher district where people were paid between LE30 to LE100 to take buses to vote for one candidate. Also at the Maghagha centre in the Minya governorate “employees refused to make any forms except for one candidate” the press statement added.
In 6 October these violations have not been witnessed. However, people from the different campaigns at the centre said that they had all heard of instances of vote-buying. In addition, some had seen busses taking people to centres, who they suspect may have been paid.
"We heard that some people pay money to obtain forms. These are the candidates from the former regime. But it can't be proven," said Islam, 20, working on El-Awa’s campaign.
Islam smiles and admits he skipped classes to volunteer for the campaign. "Egypt's future is more important than my study, I skipped classes during the revolution last year also," he said adding he is sure about his candidate's chances.
Islam expressed concern that the documentation centres were not open for long enough, especially as registration only takes place during working hours. "We formally requested that the Ministry of Justice open these centres after hours, so that people can come after work," Islam said.
This request was repeated by almost all candidates, as well as the employees of the documentation centres themselves.
The lack of time for collection of these signed forms makes it difficult but possible for well-established candidates like Amr Moussa, a former minister under Mubarak, and Abul-Fotouh. However in terms of publicity, campaigning, and financial resources the short time frame makes it hard for newer or less well-known candidates such as Khalid Ali, who joined the race this month, or Buthayna Kamel, one of the few female candidates.
There are over a hundred documentation centres in Cairo alone and around ten in each governorate, however candidates and their supporters do not believe that this is enough.
"Only one person has given me the recommendation form and then put his hand under the table waiting for me to give him money. I told him we don't do that, so he sent his son to take it back," said Mohammed Sami of Abul-Fotouh's campaign.
Buying votes was common practice under former president Hosni Mubarak. Although there were accusations of vote-buying in the first parliamentary elections after Mubarak’s ouster, it is clear more people are participating in politics out of genuine interest in building a new Egypt.
The turnout for the latest parliamentary elections, which started last November, exceeded 75 per cent in some areas like Alexandria.
Kamel Abdel-Gaber, who has been working at the documentation centre for 10 years, said he was so moved by the increased participation of people that he and two colleagues decided to work extra hours to meet the growing demand.
Gaber, who confirmed that most forms carry Abu-Ismail’s name, hasn’t decided who he will vote for yet.
“The people come and stand in long lines and complete difficult procedures just to participate," he added, “I just hope whoever wins deserves this post, I have never seen people so hopeful about the future.”