Choosing Egypt’s Future

Yasmine El Rashidi in the New York Review of Books:

ScreenHunter_09 Dec. 06 13.19Few people I know in Cairo got much sleep last Sunday night. The voting stations were set to open at 8AM the following morning, and everyone was concerned that the day would be marred by the increasingly lethal violence we have witnessed in recent weeks. “I’m going to go as early as possible, before it gets crowded or anything bad happens,” my mother had told me. It seemed everyone had thought the same—by the time I reached my neighborhood voting station at 7:15AM Monday, it was already packed—there were at least 2,000 people there. A friend called me from her own voting station about 40 minutes away as I arrived, saying she couldn’t even see the end of the line.

For much of the past ten months, you could gauge the direction Egypt was moving in by seeing what was happening in Tahrir Square. Ever since serving as the epicenter of the revolution, it has been the place where the different post-Mubarak factions—the Islamists, unemployed youth, trade unions, liberal and secular parties, even government workers and the police—have staged rallies or aired their grievances. If Tahrir was calm, things were generally considered to be improving; if it was occupied, or worse—the site of confrontation with thugs or the military—it meant the country was in trouble.

This week, however, as we started voting in the country’s first parliamentary elections since the fall of Mubarak, that center of gravity seemed to have shifted. The square was once again occupied by activists protesting the recent violence at the hands of riot and military police, and they had announced they were boycotting the vote, on the grounds that it would legitimize the rule of the Military Council that they sought to remove. But by Monday morning, the “boycotters” were a muffled minority numbering only a few hundred people. Everywhere else, throughout Cairo and across the country, voters came out by the tens of thousands, often enduring hours-long lines to cast their ballots.

More here.