Today, Egyptians are heading to the polls to cast their ballots in the first stage of the first truly free parliamentary elections in the country since Hosni Mubarak seized power in 1981. Enthusiasm is tempered by suspicion, and security is tight. But what in the world is going on?
This vote will actually tell us what the Egyptian people want.
Today's vote is significant to the Egyptian people because, unlike elections over the last 30 years that were characterized by violence, fraud, and ballot stuffing that would make even the most seasoned Chicago pol blush, this election will actually be a barometer of what the people of Egypt want.
Except what the Egyptians actually want might not really have any bearing on what the government does, because the current military junta in charge won't give up any power.
Several days ago, violence erupted anew in Cairo over demands from the citizenry that the current team of generals running the government step aside and let the people have some of that freedom they worked so hard for earlier this year. What so enraged protesters was an announcement by the the ruling SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) that they'd cede no power to the newly elected parliament, and that the elected officials could never overrule the rule of the military. Think checks and balances, minus the balances. And with one-sided checking.
The protests in this election's lead up are much more violent than those of the Arab Spring.
NPR reports that this latest round of violence has led to thousands of injuries and 40 deaths.
Among the injured were Egyptian journalist and activist Mona Eltahawy, who was sexually assaulted by a group of police officers and had her hand and arm broken. She says that sexual violence is pervasive in this new round of protests. Some Egyptians speculate that this new violence is due to people paid by the SCAF government to rile people up.
The threat of violence— especially sexual violence against women— did not stop turnout from being enormous. According to on site reports, people lined up for hours outside of their polling stations. Polls were kept open for an additional three hours to accommodate the massive crowds. Some boycotted the elections because they believed them to be fake, a farce put on by the generals to calm everyone down, but they were vastly outnumbered by people interested in voting in the first allegedly fuckery-free democratic election in over 30 years.
The whole affair is confusing as hell, even to some Egyptians.
Even if the elections aren't a fabrication by the SCAF government eager to pacify a volatile population,
The Atlantic reports that the process is more opaque than a niqab—
Even some sophisticated, internet-equipped citizens have been unable to figure out when and where they're supposed to vote. The country has been divided up into three regions, which vote at different times. Each region has a two-day vote, and a runoff the following week; furthermore, voters have to cast two ballots, one for individual candidates and one for parties. Even professional elections experts have described the setup as bewildering.
The ballots themselves are reportedly no picnic, either. Google even stepped in to help the Egyptian people along, staffing information hubs that helped people locate their polling station and giving them instructions on how to fill out their ballots.
Egypt's government is probably about to get more religious— but how much?
Several parties are competing for seats in parliament, but a clear ideological divide exists between groups who would like to see the country move in a more secular direction and those who want to see the government become more Islamist. At the forefront of the Islamist charge is the Muslim Brotherhood, a party that sees the most popular support among Egyptians. The Brotherhood believes in instituting Sharia, which could mean that Egyptian laws might take a sharp right turn.
The party's probable rise to power worries some in the West, as the Brotherhood's relationship with Egyptian neighbor Israel has been— to put it lightly— strained.
Even after all that, we won't know what really happened today until next year.
Now that the ballot boxes are closed, we won't know who won the 498 seats at stake until after the final round of voting in concludes January. Officials estimate that results will be tallied by January 13, and the body won't convene until mid March.
There you have it! Clear as mud.