Uncertainty doesn’t halt Egyptian voters

Millions of Egyptians waited in long lines Monday to cast votes for the election of a lower house of the country’s new parliament, even though they don’t know how much power that parliament will have.

The voting, which continues today, is one more faltering step toward what we hope — and more importantly, millions of Middle East residents hope — will one day be a region dominated by democracies.

The greatest uncertainty in Egypt now involves how much power the country’s military leaders are willing to cede to citizens. There are also concerns the country could be taken over by Islamist leaders who have little sympathy for the rights of those who don’t share their religious views.

Egypt’s generals, who worked closely with former dictator Hosni Mubarak and assumed control after Mubarak was deposed in February, have said they will not give up authority to the new parliament, even though they authorized this week’s elections.

Elections for the upper house of parliament are scheduled for March, with presidential elections expected in mid-2012.

As a result of the generals’ intransigence, the mood of Egyptian voters was less jubilant than that of their Tunisian counterparts, who cast ballots in that country’s first free elections a month ago. According to several news accounts, there was black humor among Egyptians waiting to vote, fears that what they were doing would make little difference and concerns they would be electing a puppet parliament that would simply do the military’s bidding.

And in Cairo’s Tahir Sqaure, where the uprising against Mubarak began, thousands of people continued to protest the authority of the military leaders.

Despite all the concerns and questions, however, Egyptians turned out to vote in such large numbers Monday that polling places were kept open hours longer than scheduled. And they did so with few reports of violence or disruption at the polls. Many told news reporters they believed that, despite their doubts, voting now sends a signal to the military and it is a necessary first step toward eventually wresting power from the generals.

There are nearly 50 political parties fielding a total of 6,000 candidates for 500 seats in the parliament. The largest and best organized is the Freedom and Justice Party, an arm of the Muslim Brotherhood. The once-banned Islamic group is now expected to win the largest share of seats in parliament, setting up a potential confrontation with the military.

All this points to significant turbulence as Egypt continues its break from its past, and great uncertainty about what direction it will take in the future.

However, the fact that so many Egyptians were willing to endure lengthy waits to cast ballots, despite the uncertainty, demonstrates that they want a real voice in their government and they are not going to give in easily to those who would deny them that voice.


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