A woman casts her ballot at a polling centre during the final stage of a referendum on Egypt's new constitution in Menoufiya governorate (Photo: Ekram Ibrahim)
“Mubarak’s days were even better than now,” said Ayman Mohamed.
“No, not to that extent,” replied Saleh Ali.
“Tell me one thing that has changed during the past two years,” said Mohamed.
This was a conversation between two Egyptians in Al-Menoufiya governorate as they were discussing how to vote in today's second round of the referendum on the constitution.
Neither had made it to the polling station. Mohamed was planning on going after shutting down his small food shop. He will vote 'No.’ Ali, a farmer, is on the other side of the national equation. “I believe I should say 'Yes.' I am really convinced we should destroy the Sphinx because it was worshipped during ancient times,” Ali told Ahram Online.
Mohamed is planning to vote ‘No’ because his daily profit has dropped from LE250 per day under the Mubarak regime to LE100 per day now. “People don’t have money to grab a sandwich as before. At least we had food to eat during Mubarak’s time,” Mohamed told Ahram Online.
Egypt’s Menoufiya, the home town of the former president Hosni Mubarak, has been a stronghold of supporter for the dissolved National Democratic Party. “During Mubarak’s era, you would not find queues; they knew our vote and used to mark it for us,” Hani Messiha, 47, a former school principal, told Ahram Online.
Messiha believes that the Muslim Brotherhood has divided Egyptians as never before. He shares the fear with many Egyptians that violence between civilians may erupt. “But this will never happen in Menoufiya; here we all respect one another,” he said.
Menoufiya is an agricultural governorate; many of its citizens are peasants and many are unemployed. The illiteracy rate is around 35 per cent. In spite of this, polling stations are organized and citizens stand quietly in queues, find the right polling stations, and know to ask judges on hand for help if needed.
“This is one of the most organised agricultural areas in Egypt,” Judge Hesham Abdel Sallam told Ahram Online.
In very simple areas, where people have difficulty comprehending voting rules, judges tend to let pass some minor legal violations. One example was an old man marking his polling sheet in front of the judge, not in the specified private area. “It is a 'No' and a million 'No's,'” said the voter as he marked the voting sheet. The judge did not comment but the old man's vote be counted.
Walking around in Menoufiya governorate on referendum day, one could see queues around schools, shops opening, and a relaxed smile largely absent from the busy streets of Cairo. The food market is packed with sellers, but few buyers. Old ladies sit with large plates of vegetables. “I stay here from 7am to 2pm and I don’t have time to follow the news,” Raeessa Said, 68, whose husband is currently ill, leaving her the main bread winner of the family, told Ahram Online. She said she would vote whatever way people at the polling station tell her to vote.
The degree of awareness on the constitution and its articles varies among the people. Some say they have read it; others say they know about the controversial articles. Still others have no clue about it and are voting according to group affliation, particularly to the Brotherhood.
One old lady sitting outside her house said she would vote 'No' to the constitution because it denies women their rights. She said women had a better position under the old regime. “Those bearded men want to act as if women are not part of society; they want to silence us forever,” Farah Metwaly, 57, told Ahram Online.
The ‘Yes’ vote could be attributed mostly to members of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist groups. “I will vote 'Yes' because it will bring stability. Morsi should be given a chance to rule. This is the only way we will move forward,” Fathy Saleh, a former English teacher, told Ahram Online.
Not many believe in the results of the referendum. Some think the Brotherhood will pass the constitution no matter what. “We know that the results would come out in favour of the ‘Yes’ vote, but we are playing our role,” Mohamed told Ahram Online.