An Egyptian Social Democrat in Denmark

Mary Mourad , Tuesday 20 Sep 2011

An Egyptian Social Democrat joins members of several other of the country's political parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood, to observe Danish elections, which they agreed were shockingly respectful, calm and open

Social Democrats offer bus service to the elderly to go and vote

Observing Danish elections might not be an Egyptian political activist's dream, but certainly, it is useful for an Egyptian Social Democrat to be on-hand when these elections resulted in Danish comrades heading a coalition left-wing government for the first time in 11 years.

Helle Thorning-Schmidt squeezed into the Folketing (Danish parliament) with a small margin in a very tough battle: 92 parliament seats vs. 87 for the other block - just enough to form the government.

Describing Danish politics isn’t easy. "We fight on stage, then we share a cab on the way to the next debate," Thomas Krarup, conservative party candidate in Alborg (North of Denmark) said referring to Rasmus Prehn, a social democratic party MP who won the recent elections.

The competing politicians who shared a taxi participated with six other candidates in a debate that kicked off with a song about farmers and workers, sung by everyone on the college campus where the debate took place.

The friendly atmosphere described didn't just prevail because it was simply a debate and not a decisive vote, as one might expect, but it actually did continue up until the results of elections were out.

As an observer to the election process, I was present every single hour while voters were casting their votes at the hundreds of stations spread throughout Denmark. “Present” doesn't mean “watching at a distance.” It literally means standing two steps away while they hide in small voting booth to drop their voting cards in the large box.

Everyone kept saying to us "There's nothing to hide," the whole day.

One voting station after the next, the head of each station took the time to show me around, describe how the system works and even print some graphs from the voters’ database to illustrate the point that more than 80 per cent of voters actually turn up.

"Can I take pictures?" was my silly question, used primarily to test the extent of openness. The answer every single time was "Sure!" pronounced with such a wonder as if to say "Why not?"

The highlight of my elections-observation day came when the station closed - exactly at 8pm - when they started counting votes. To my absolute and utmost surprise, the process of emptying the boxes, sorting the vote cards and counting was all taking place right in front of my disbelieving eyes.

Again, I shyly brought out my little camera to take shots of the vote counting. "Stand forward a little so you can take a closer shot," was the only reaction I received from the head of the counting process.

Danish elections are probably not the exception, but rather the rule in many democratic countries. The system is a great demonstration of how trust operates in a democratic society: no checking of ID cards, voters casting their votes in complete privacy, voting boxes going out in the street for disabled voters, and many many such small gestures as the Danes reach out to every single citizen so they exercise their rights to vote.

The kicker came only two days later, when one of the political parties protested that the Danish regulations for citizenship and voting were preventing more than 100,000 Denmark residents - including many illegal immigrants and refugees - from voting… and that it's not fair.

The brief summary of the events came from an unexpected source: a Danish-Turkish taxi driver. "Whether it's a rightist government or a leftist government, we're going to be ok in the end," he said simply, showing trust in a system where there is no fear going hungry, dying in need of medical care or having to remove one's children from school for financial reasons.

To all Danes, these rights are out of the voting ballot. They have already decided on the minimum acceptable life for all, and will not turn back on that. It’s not up for debate.

On our way back to Egypt, all 13 of us from different Egyptian political parties pondered what  we can take back home. 

Respect, openness and trust were among the comments from colleagues, including delegates from Freedom and Justice Party (Muslim Brotherhood), Al-Adl, the Egyptian Stream, Freedom Egypt, Awareness and Socialist People as well as the Egyptian Social Democrats.

An admiration for "teamwork and mutual respect among all parties" was another shared observation.

For an Egyptian Social Democrat such as myself I came back with the feeling "there's hope," looking at where Denmark started and where it ended up: with a strong legacy of social democracy. I don't see why we here in Egypt should expect anything lesss.

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