When voting unites Egyptians
Salma Hussein, Saturday 19 Mar 2011
At 9am the queue to vote on the Egyptian constitution takes one entertaining hour in a middle class suburb of Cairo, where the spirit of Tahrir Square reigns

9:30am, Cairo, Egypt on the Constitutional Referendum Day

The seeming endless queue of ladies was twice as long as the men's queue in front of a public school on a middle class street in Nasr City. They came early to cast their vote on the constitutional reform referendum after a week of a hot "Yes" or "No" debate. Amendments to the constitution were drafted in response to the revolution’s demands, but a referendum is necessary to see if it is satisfactory to most Egyptians.

"Men are lazy," winked a veiled lady, smiling.

"Good morning," joined a lady in her mid-forties. "It's my first time I ever vote. I feel my voice counts," she said, adding that she didn't expect the queue would be that long.

Suddenly, her facial muscles cramped when two women in niqab (the full face veil) follow her in the queue. Unconsciously she reached for the cross hanging around her neck.

A discussion begins between the two women in black and another lady. "I know you want to vote yes. My cousin is like you. I respect all opinions," the lady said.

"It doesn't matter who says yes or who says no, the most important thing is that all these people are here to cast their vote," declared a young lady in her twenties. She looked at one of the two women in niqab and asked her "Do you work?"

"Yes, I am a doctor at a medical public unit in the neighbourhood" she said from underneath her black veil.

The tense lady turned around, this time with a smile: "That makes two of us. My name is Mary," she said, adding that she has worked in a public hospital for 15 years.

"How many years do we have to work before our salary equals the monthly salary of [TV host] Mahmoud Saad?" she joked.

The doctor in the niqab, Aliaa replied: "I get LE400 per month. I have to work for 100 years to get what he gets in one month." Both women laugh.

The queues moved forward. People left the school gate and raised their pink thumbs – the proof that they voted - and everyone cheered. Inside the school the long queue winds around the classrooms, which have been transformed into voting stations.

In the middle of the playground under a hot sun, as hundreds of voters wait for their turn an elegant family tries to cut into the queues to vote. An organiser popped up to stop them and politely told them go to the end of the queue.

"I don't mind waiting for a while as long as everyone respects the queue," says the veiled smiley lady.

To kill time she asked: "If you ladies were to join a party tomorrow, which party would you join?"

"I'll look to a new party. I'll stick to the youth," replied Mary.

Aliaa took a while to think: "The old parties are practically dead. I think I would join a party that represents the Tahrir Square youth revolution."

The veiled smiley lady looked at the two doctors, the one in the full black veil and the Christian and says: "This means that both of you will join the same party. That's a revolution!"