Egypt on alert
Citizens fear an outbreak of violence as millions steer clear of the presidential run-off, reports Myra Philp
The ballot boxes will be open again this morning in Egypt in a second day of voting for the country’s first
freely-elected president. However, the moment 85 million Egyptians have been waiting for since Hosni Mubarak stepped down from power on February 11, 2011, is not quite what they expected.
The long road to democracy suffered a new twist on Thursday when a panel of judges - appointed by the old regime - dissolved the new People’s Assembly, or parliament, and the military locked its members out.
On the eve of the two-day presidential
run-off, which began yesterday, the judges said that the law governing the elections to the People’s Assembly was unconstitutional because party members were allowed to contest seats reserved for independents.
The contenders for President are Ahmed Shafiq, 70, a veteran fighter pilot who became Egypt’s aviation minister and was promoted to Prime Minister during last February’s protests, and Mohammed Mursi, 60, an American-trained engineer and head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party.
After the judges’ ruling, the Brotherhood urged people to “isolate the representative of the former regime through the ballot box”.
It even called the dissolution of the People’s Assembly a “military coup”. Mursi, meanwhile, sought to reassure the military and its supporters within the electorate that he would work closely with the generals.
“As president, they will be in my heart and will get my attention... they will never do anything to harm the nation,” he said.
However, with many Egyptians disenchanted with the choice between someone from the old regime and Islamic fundamentalism, many are boycotting the polls. Those that did turn out had to brave temperatures of 40C-plus with tents being put up outside schools used as polling stations to guard voters from the heat.
Extra army personnel were also on standby at each voting centre in case of violence. Among the voters was a man in his 60s who said: “It is not important which one wins. We need somebody to bring the country back economically. I have been told my factory might close.
I have six children. My pension is only EGP600 (Dhs360) a month and I will not be able to buy food if I cannot keep working.”
Egyptians expats around the world were allowed to vote at embassies between June 6 and June 9. In an early indication of what Egyptians think about the choice, just more than half of them bothered to vote.
Mohammed, an Egyptian expat in Dubai, told 7DAYS: “Nobody is interested. I didn’t go to vote even with the Dhs100 fine for registering and not going along to the embassy to vote.
“Nobody I know is interested. We got excited about everything that’s happened but now everyone’s just realised it’s rubbish.
“Most people I know have pictures of Shafiq and Mursi on their facebook with the words ‘NO’ and ‘NO’.”
Meanwhile, many Egyptians were last night expecting the presidential run-off to trigger an escalation of trouble on the streets across the country. Since Mubarak stood down, the country has been hit with unprecedented lawlessness.
Both candidates have campaigned on making the streets safer amid battles at the petrol pumps, widespread thefts, shootings and kidnappings after the military took over and the police lost power. On Friday, Shafiq promised to “address chaos and return stability”.
With tourists steering clear of the country and a massive fuel problem, which is being blamed on stockpiling, people are being badly hit financially. During the People’s Assembly elections there were tales of party workers offering gas canisters for cooking in exchange for votes. Egyptian expat Ahmed Salem, who arrived in his home country for the first time in three years on the eve of the presidential run-off, told 7DAYS: “I cannot believe how dangerous Egypt has become.
“Within the space of just three hours I saw people fighting with swords and knives at a filling station over a few litres of diesel and others driving their cars the wrong way down the motorway.”
He added: “Of course there is going to be huge trouble at the polling stations.” Egypt’s ruling military council has promised to hand over power to the new president by July 1.
THE PRESIDENTIAL RACE SO FAR
Of the 310,000 Egyptian expats who turned out to vote in 161 countries around the world between June 6 and June 9, about 75 per cent voted for Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Mursi. The majority of the votes came from Egyptians living in Gulf countries.
The Egyptian expat community in Saudi Arabia accounted for almost half of the expat voters worldwide - with more than 150,000 - followed by Kuwait, 54,530, and the UAE, where 33,000 expat Egyptians cast their vote.