CAIRO — Shaking off years of political apathy, Egyptians turned out in long lines at voting stations Monday in their nation’s first parliamentary elections since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, a giant step toward what they hope will be a democracy after decades of dictatorship.
Some voters brought their children along, saying they wanted them to learn how to exercise their rights in a democracy as they cast ballots in what promises to be the fairest and cleanest election in Egypt in living memory.
After the dramatic 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak on Feb. 11 after almost three decades of his authoritarian regime, many had looked forward to this day in expectation of a celebration of freedom. Now that it arrived after nearly 10 months of military rule, divisions and violence, the mood was markedly different: People were eager to at last cast a free vote, but daunted by how much is unknown and unclear about what happens next in their country, whatever the outcome.
On one level, the election will be a strong indicator of whether the nation is heading toward Islamism or secularism. The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest and best organized group, along with other Islamists are expected to dominate in the vote. Many liberals, leftists, Christians and pious Muslims who oppose mixing religion and politics went expressly to the polls to try to stop them or at least reduce their victory.
Also weighing heavily on voters’ mind was whether this election will really set Egypt on a path of democracy under the rule of the military, which took power after Mubarak. Only 10 days before the elections, major protests erupted demanding the generals step aside because of fears they will not allow real freedoms. The ruling military council of generals, led by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, insists it will maintain considerable powers after the election. It will put together the government and is trying to keep extensive control over the creation of an assembly to write a new constitution, a task that originally was seen as mainly in the parliament’s hands.