Egyptian Presidential Election: The ability to make things stop
This article written by Nadine Ibrahim originally appeared on her blog, http://sheeshawashai.blogspot.com, on June 24, 2012. Nadine, a dear friend of mine, is currently living and working in Cairo, Egypt after graduating from Northwestern University. She has a passionate professional interest in story-telling, and women’s health and medicine. In her words, she spends her “evenings assisting in a surgical clinic/community health center in a traditional area of Cairo,” and her days writing about it. Below she shares her experience on (not) voting in the Egyptian Presidential election.
“[Our murderers'] real creed was an ancient cult of destruction that precedes every known religion, every state, every political system. We pin that cult now on the Germanic tribe of Vandals who sacked Rome in the year 455, but we can read its violent traces just as clearly in prehistoric times. Blind rage cannot understand anything as complex or beautiful as Rome, or a library, or even a person, an animal, a book, a tree, a work of art—but blind rage can make these intricate systems stop, and the ability to make things stop has served many of our kind since time immemorial as a fine substitute for learning, experience, scientific method, artistic creation, philosophy.Destruction, too, can count as hard work.” ––Ingrid D. Rowland, “Saving Alexandria”
Last weekend, I went to the voting booth in my neighborhood. Egyptian nationals all over the world went to vote for their next President, in what was allegedly the first free and fair presidential elections in the country. The moment that Hosni Mubarak stepped down from office, the question has remained: who will take his place, and how? Revolutionaries fought against tyranny, against an oppressive military-heavy regime. We demanded the ability to choose who our next President will be.
As the political sphere in Egypt developed––or, as some might say, developed and devolved––the revolutionary spirit dwindled. Lost in arguments and blind hatred for opposing opinions, the unity that once inspired the whole world to wish that they were as badass as Egyptians slowly died. As it died, so did our chances for a President truly removed from the old system.
Support for the revolutionary candidates was divided. Ultimately, the choice was between the two historically established political bodies: Mohammed Morsy, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, and Ahmed Shafiq, the last Prime Minister under Mubarak. Shafiq was appointed, at the last minute, during the revolution in an attempt to satisfy the protesters, who then forced him to step down. Had the revolution not happened, or not succeeded, Shafiq very well might have been heir to the Presidential throne.
In the last few hours of voting, I was still undecided. Should I vote for Mohammed Morsy––whom I deem as the lesser of the two evils––or boycott the vote altogether? To help me make my decision, I proceeded to figure out exactly how many grapes I can fit in my mouth at once.
Half an hour before voting ended, having successfully not choked on 30 grapes, I made my way to my voting station. I had my reporter’s notebook in hand, inside written a quote that––to me––represents what these unfair elections and candidates symbolize. The military personnel at the gate stopped to question me, “Stop. Are you a journalist?” “I’m here to vote,” I said. My notebook confused them. The line was not very long, but I was surrounded by women who were all planning on voting for Shafiq. The lack of men was no coincidence––the voting stations were separated by gender.
The last time I voted for President was in the Obama-McCain 2008 elections. I’m not accustomed to strangers asking me how I will vote, and, if anything, I consider it fairly rude. But Egypt is no place for personal space: who you are voting for and why and what kind of person that makes you is everyone’s business. They asked and I just clutched my notebook––nervous, anxious, wondering if I had made the right decision.
“Don’t you dare try to tell me that it is the government who made Egypt a wreck! Did they throw this garbage on the ground? Do they litter our streets? No, we do. We are the problem.” One woman lectured outside the line to no one in particular. I couldn’t help think to myself that she didn’t know that a responsible government would have efficient waste-management systems and laws against littering. But she had a point, we need to demand that Egypt deserves better than what we’ve got. And only when we respect ourselves and our country enough will our demands be taken seriously, and a respectable government will follow.
My turn. I went inside, handed over my ID card, picked up a ballot, and signed next to my name on the voter registration list. I turned and looked at the booth; there was no privacy. The table was positioned in such a way that everyone could see next to whose picture I drew an X.
I opened my notebook. “Our murderers’…
” I began writing on my ballot, starting on Mohammed Morsy’s bearded and pixelated face.
“Our murderers’ real creed was an ancient cult of destruction that precedes every known religion, every state, every political system.”
The ink began to seep through the paper, bleeding through Ahmed Shafiq’s clean-cut image.
These elections marked a failure of the revolution, and by voting for someone, I would have accepted that fact. I would have accepted the farce that they presented to us, and I refused. Just days before, the military generals ruling this country dissolved the Parliament––a Parliament that was truly democratically elected, and a majority of which was Islamist, a threat to the military regime. “Fool me once,” I thought to myself, “shame on you. Fool me twice,” and the blame lies with me.
“Ya anissa! [Hey, girl!]” the woman who held the voter registration list yelled at me, “what are you doing?”
“I’m voting!” I yelled back, not bothering to turn around and still hunched over my ballot.
“Are you writing something?” she asked. “Stop that. You can’t write anything.”
I ignored her.
“Hey! Stop! Stop that! You have to vote for ONE PERSON,” she demanded.
“I am!” I said sweetly. I turned and smiled at her.
She called over to one of the military personnel standing at the door, who, fortunately, is not allowed inside the room. “This girl is not voting properly,” she accused.
“No, sir, I’m not writing anything. I’m voting for one person. Just like I’m supposed to.” I said while scribbling my message, now more frantically than before lest I am arrested.
I know that the military generals heading the Supreme Council of Armed Forces will never accept a civilian handover unless they are guaranteed immunity from their decades of corruption, their human rights abuses, from obstructing justice. I know that whoever is President will only be allowed to take the throne with their blessing. And I say “a7a” to their blessing. I reject it. I reject that very notion, and I will not be a part of it. I continued to write from my notebook:
“Blind rage can make these intricate systems stop, and the ability to make things stop has served many of our kind since time immemorial as a fine substitute for learning, experience, scientific method, artistic creation, philosophy.”
The voting officials have given up on telling me to stop ruining my ballot and their curiosity got the best of them. “Well, tell us what you are writing!” the woman asked.
“I told you, I’m just voting, the same as everyone else!” I said.
Neither of the candidates stand for the values of the revolution. Both of them, consistently, claimed that they embodied the revolution, when in fact, they went against it. The last 60 years of Egypt’s political history has been a game of tug-of-war between the old, military regime and the Muslim Brotherhood––leaving the people of Egypt to fend for themselves. Leaving them to think that it is up to them to clean up the garbage on the street, to clean up this country. The revolution was a direct threat to this old standard system, to the power-struggle; it challenged the notion that those in power can self-serve, and it demanded that leaders truly speak for us.
“Destruction, too, can count as hard work.”
So, I congratulate the old system on successfully fooling this country into thinking that things are changing. I congratulate them on serving their own interests, on stealing a revolution to empower themselves and on destroying the opposition. And I, as a stubborn and idealistic citizen, refused to play into their game.
I folded up my ballot and put it in the box. I dipped my finger in ink, and retrieved my ID.The woman with the voter list called me over. “Tell me, what did you write?” “I wrote what I thought about these elections.” “I remember you,” she said. “The last time you were here voting for Parliament, you wrote a message in English at the top of your ballot. What did you write then? What did you write now? Why didn’t you write it in Arabic so we could understand it? We all tried to read it last time!”
I told her, “there are people in this country who want power, and those people are threatened by the revolution, and by Egyptians who demand that they serve the country. These people want to keep things the way they were, and in order to do that, they step on us and they keep us down. In my eyes, both candidates represent this oppression, and I cannot support that.”
She smiled at me. “Your words are beautiful.” I smiled back, relieved. “But you know that you have just invalidated your ballot? You ruined your voice.” “I know, I did that on purpose.” She was grinning. Another woman, older, dressed conservatively and wearing a hijab, was next in line to vote. She had witnessed the scene that I caused and had waited a long time for me to finish. She came up to me and asked me, firmly, “did you just boycott?” I did, I said, preparing myself for a confrontation.
She held out her hand and shook mine. “That is exactly what I am about to do.”
[Update]: Mohammed Morsy, the Freedom and Justice Party/Muslim Brotherhood Candidate won 51.73% of the votes and is now Egypt’s first civilian President. Out of 26 million ballots cast, 843,252 votes were invalidated.