Come Vote! Urge Zamalek Guardians

Sarah El-Rashidi, Salma Hegab, Wednesday 15 Jan 2014

Voter turnout low, Zamalek activists say, especially among youth, but hopes are still high for referendum, and Egypt's future

Zamalek Guardians and army
Zamalek Guardians and the army at the polling station next to the Cairo Tower. Photo courtesy of the Zamalek Guardians.

A local group of volunteers who track voting tendencies on the residential island of Zamalek, known as the Zamalek Guardians, have expressed disappointment with voter turnout for the referendum on Egypt's newly-amended constitution.

"I think the fact that there isn't a national holiday for voters has affected the numbers," suggested Tarek Samir, a volunteer with the Zamalek Guardians in the polling station near the Cairo Tower.

Established by Zamalek residents during the 18 day uprising rising in January 2011, the group has assumed the task of securing the neighbourhood, while also acting as a liaison between the community and the government to deal with concerns related to quality of life. The Guardians participation in monitoring Egypt's post-2011 elections, including the 2014 referendum, is indicative of its aim to retain their central role within the community.

At polling stations over the last two days, volunteers assisted voters and helped maintain law and order. Most of all, though, they monitored voter turnout, and the results weren't as high as pollsters had hoped.

Guardians volunteer Nihal Selim said they had been expecting four thousand voters. The actual turnout, she said, was about half of that.

"It is very depressing, since [Monday] afternoon there have been very few people," Selim said.

Samir said that the early morning queue on Monday, the first day of voting, was due to only one judge being on hand at the time, rather than an outpouring of constituents. This contrasts sharply with recent political activism in Zamalek, with residents normally showing overwhelming support for previous elections. In the November 2011 parliamentary elections, for example, local residents faced queues lasting up to seven hours, proof of the area's increased politicization. Demonstrations, particularly the 30 June protests of last year, have drawn strong support from Zamalek residents, with marches into Tahrir Square originating from local meeting points such as the Gezira Sporting Club.

The biggest change in voting habits in this referendum, volunteers said, was a general lack of young voters. Most of those who came out to vote at Zamalek stations, they said, were elderly.

A general abstention from voting by young people seemed to be a trend nationwide, said Dalia Ibn Khaldoun, the group's executive director. She explained that youth, particularly those between the ages of 18 to 25, generally associate more with revolutionary ideals.

If the majority of the country is voting "yes," she explained, then youth will feel the need to "go against the tide." Another factor could be the youth's apprehension of a return to military rule, she said.

The election-monitoring organization Monitors Without Borders (MWB) also noted a relative absence of youth voters in queues in both urban and rural areas, as well Upper Egypt as a whole.

MWB director Emad Hegab said that the youth turnout this year was up to 20 percent lower than in the 2012 and 2011 referendums.

A positive change, however, was MWB's report that this referendum saw the highest turnout ever for Egyptian women, the elderly and persons with special needs.

The Zamalek Guardians tried to be optimistic. The area was spared the first day's violence, in which at least nine persons were killed in clashes with security forces and an early-morning bomb ripped through a courthouse in the northwestern district of Imbaba, putting nerves on edge but leaving no injuries.

Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim passed by, as did Cairo Governor Galal Said, both of them receiving warm welcomes, even ululations from female voters.

As the second day of voting drew to a close, volunteer Selim was still busy trying to get people into the polling station to vote.

"I urge people to vote," she said. "It makes no sense not to. We need the constitution to pass. Then we can work on institutional reform and regain instability."



Short link: