Monday was the largest turnout in recent memory for the first round of voting in Egypt’s first parliamentary elections since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. People stood in the rain in Alexandria, and lines stretched around blocks in Cairo, where some waited hours to vote. Maybe the high turnout was due to the threat of a 500LE fine for those who don’t vote. But just as likely a reason for the turnout was the fact that these elections are the first time in three decades that parliamentary seats aren’t essentially promised to Mubarak’s National Democratic Party.
Entrances to polling stations were manned by army officials and police, ostensibly for the purpose of protecting voters and preventing intimidation. But at one polling station in Nasr City, a precinct in Cairo, a policeman made an underhanded remark that hinted at political tensions. During an argument with a candidate who spotted a National Democratic candidate delivering chairs for people to sit on, the police responded: “We’re not here to watch who’s walking in, we’re here to make sure no one from Tahrir comes to throw molotovs at you.”
Political banners line streets throughout Cairo, while in Tahrir Square new banners have been raised bearing the faces of the recently deceased. More than 40 protesters were killed in the week leading up to the elections, after police tried to forcibly remove protestors who were camping in the Square by firing tear gas canisters, rubber-coated steel bullets, pellets and even live ammunition.
Sometime after the close of polls Monday night, it was reported that five workers at the Suez port refused to accept 7.5 tons of tear gas from the U.S. to be delivered to the ministry of interior. Activists tweeted about the port workers, calling them the “brave five,” while the Square was mostly quiet, as a heavy rain from the night before along with elections seemed to have carried much of the crowds away. Many protesters were conflicted about whether to boycott the elections. Some say voting means legitimizing a government they are working to remove from power – the military council – while others say boycotting would only mute their voices.
When I met up with Saleh, he was still deciding whether to boycott. Saleh is an activist who, during the clashes with police in Tahrir, was arrested and later released along with other protestors. He describes his experience as “fortunate” when compared to the fates of those killed in Tahrir as well as the thousands who remain in military detention.