Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Non-Scientific Sample of Egyptian Voting Experiences

Dear readers: 

We in the social sciences like samples to be big and representative. Egypt has 80 million people, so a representative sample would have to be very large, and drawn from many socio-economic strata, many areas, and many religions. I cannot provide that for you. What I can provide you with is anecdotal, but interesting, and rich data from the people around me.  WMB

4:42 p.m. March 19, 2011
One of my students called the election hotline and it sounds like the reports of violence in Giza are incorrect. Giza is very far from where I live, so I could not confirm those reports for myself.

I just attended the voting at Tagomoo neighborhood in New Cairo. That is the polling place nearest to my house. The polling place was a large club. Polls are supposed to stay open until nightfall. What I saw was a very peaceful situation. People were standing in a very orderly line waiting to vote. The line snaked all around the perimeter of the club. I found this amazing, because Egyptians are not good at standing in line, and tend to push and pile up. Some people were holding umbrellas, as the sun is very hot today, and some were holding Egyptian flags. Children played on patches of grass and families held picnics. Music was playing, and all in all, the atmosphere was extremely positive and peaceful.

10:50 p.m.  March 19, 2011
Thugs apparently attacked reform advocate and likely presidential candidate Mohammed El Baradei at the polling station in Moqattam when he tried to vote. Thugs threw stones, and glass, and attacked his car. There was a physical confrontation where a journalist was injured, and a female supporter badly beaten until rescued. Al Masryalyoum newspaper confirms what my student wrote about the Muslim Brotherhood trying to bribe voters with food. These violations are tarnishing the fact that this is a free and fair election. These are fairly serious occurrences.

12:01 p.m. March 19, 2011
Well, I am getting exhausted. It has been a very difficult and exciting week. Just a few more thoughts before I turn in. There are inadequate polling stations. I went to Tagomoo today to observe polling because there was NO polling station in El Rehab where I live. El Rehab must have on the order of 10,000 residents, so this is a fairly serious oversight. In addition, voters in Zamalek waited in line for more than three hours, because there was only one polling station on the whole Island. My guess is that the No vote should prevail, but I have no scientific polling data to back that up.

One of my students, RM, whose family is affiliated with the NDP is likely to vote yes. He said that he waited fifteen minutes in line to vote, which is a very short time. He says there were separate lines for men, women, those who were above 60. He claims that there were some fights inside the polling place itself. An old woman was shouting at the yes voters she said "you should say No, because the whole constitution is illegal and unethical. The people who died, you do not care about their blood, you want the NDP to come back." There were men with long beards telling people to vote Yes. He also says that his friends said that the Muslim Brotherhood was handing out food in the name of charity but telling people to vote Yes.

12:49 a.m.
Signing Off Now. God Bless Egypt. Viva la Democracia!Viva!

2:46 p.m. March 20, 2011
My friend MF, who is 46, and an educated businessman, says it his is first time voting because he had never felt that his vote meant anything before. He voted in the Aguza area near his mother's house in downtown. The lines were separate inside and outside for men and women.  He saw no Muslim brotherhood supporters. He said the mood was really nice. He said it took him one hour before it was his turn. He said that most of that time people were joking and laughing. People were very polite, there was no pushing. Anyone exceeding 50 years old could go in a shorter line as a matter of respect. He voted no but he thinks that it is more likely to go to a yes vote. He says we did not have enough explanation about the amendments. He thinks most people will vote yes to help ensure stability and security. He says that people are relating stability with "the saying of yes."  He says that the last two months have had no stability and no security, and if they vote yes, they think it will bring back the security. 

10:34 p.m. March 20, 2011
According to AlMasryalyoum English edition, official results are showing the majority of people backing the elections. Official results are indicating that 77 percent of the population are supporting the amendments.  About 14.2 million said yes, whereas only about 4 million said no. 


  1. So I've been a little out of the loop on Egypt. My understanding is that Mohammed el Baradei and other "more liberal" leaders were against the referendum partly because it the date of new elections too soon. When will the elections be held, according to the referendum? And when did el Baradei and others prefer them to be held?

  2. @Dan, the referendum was held on Saturday. The new elections have not been scheduled, but are likely to occur in June. Let me do some research on your questions and get back to you! Thanks for the comment, I really appreciate it!

  3. @Dan, as per Abdel-Rahman Hussein, the parliamentary elections are slated for June with the presidential elections in September. It's going to be an interesting few months. I think most people who love democracy would like to see a delay. There are a lot of elections in a really short time period. However, one could make the argument that it is good to get the new government in place. The counter argument is that rushing matters gives preferential treatment to the Muslim Brotherhood and the NDP, because they are already organized. By contrast, new parties have not really had a chance to form. Warigia

  4. In view of experiences in Russia, Ukraine, and other places in Eastern Europe and Latin America, I definitely come down on the side of earlier elections. The longer that the remnants of the old regime are making decisions before they get new, freely-elected civilian bosses the more entrenched they will become and the more difficult it will be for whoever is elected to get them to submit their actual behavior to those with an electoral mandate. It may be that this creates a disadvantage for parties that "we" (the West, liberals, intellectuals, political scientists!) prefer, but unless the Muslim Brotherhood or NDP are clearly threatening to re-impose authoritarianism, I think our political preferences of less importance: unelected bureaucrats who are running the country in the interim are probably the greatest threat to a fragile new democracy.

    All too often, I think, Western supporters of democracy forget that process and system are the real indicators of democracy, and get preoccupied instead with which set of potential leaders we like better. This often leads to Western desires to put a thumb on the scales in a way that actually undermines the sovereignty of electorates in new democracies, and in a place like Russia, helped to legitimize anti-democratic behavior in the name of "pro-Western reform" that led neither to improvements in democracy nor to pro-Western reform.

  5. @Dan, Very good points regarding process. That being said, letting parties have time to form may be part of the process in Egypt. Not sure.. . . .

    Per abdel-rahman hussein, "Btw seems the elections might be postponed. The SCAF are currently debating to ahve the parliamentary elections in September and the presidential election at the end of the year. Nothing confirmed yet though."