May 22, 2012

Egyptian Elections


Jessica: Habiba Bakier is doing something few Egyptians have ever done before — volunteering for a presidential campaign.

Habiba Bakier: Campaigning for a presidential candidate is something new. It’s exciting because we didn’t have the chance to campaign for a presidential candidate.

Jessica: Campaigning is so new in Egypt because the country’s previous president, Hosni Mubarak, had a lock on power for thirty years.

Habiba: People didn’t campaign under Mubarak’s regime because the elections were fraud. We knew before the results that Mubarak would win over and over again.

Jessica: And while Mubarak squandered billions of dollars on palaces and on the military during his presidency, two out of every five Egyptians was living on $2 a day or less. The people were fed up. So last year, more than a million of Egyptians, like Ahmed Amin, protested in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. They wanted Mubarak out.

Ahmed Amin: When we were protesting in Tahrir, I would say the basic and most simple demands were divided into three things you had: bread, freedom and social justice.

Jessica: Those Egyptian protests were a crucial part of the Arab Spring uprising. That is when people in Arab countries stood up to their leaders demanding a true democracy.

The people of Libya, Tunisia, Yemen and Egypt were successful in toppling regimes that had held onto power for decades.

Mubarak resigned in February of 2011 and is now being tried for the deaths of some of the 840 protesters who killed during the revolution.

With Mubarak finally gone, Egyptians were elated and hoped their lives would finally start improving. But change was put on hold when Egypt’s military took over. The generals promised to hold elections and write up a new constitution within six months, but nothing happened.

“People started to become impatient with the military regime. Protests started week-by-week. They started getting more serious until the military started to respond with brutality.”

Jessica: Under growing pressure from protesters and from the international community, the military allowed elections for parliament almost ten months after taking over. Egyptians turned out in huge numbers.

“it feels really good to experience democracy for the first time. And to feel your vote really counts is an experience no one should live without.”

Jessica: Unlike past votes in Egypt, the parliament election was seen as free and fair. Yet the outcome may not have been what Tahrir protesters had in mind. That revolution was led mostly by young people, like Ahmed, who weren’t looking to have a religious group in power that might pass laws based on religion. But members of a group of religious conservatives, known as the Muslim Brotherhood, won the largest block of seats, about 47%.

Tomorrow, fifteen months after Egypt’s military took power, the country’s two-day presidential election gets underway.

“There are thirteen candidates running for the presidential elections.”

Jessica: One of the leading candidates worked in Mubarak’s government. Others have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Earlier this month, the two front runners — one of whom Habiba supports — took part in the Arab world’s first televised presdiential debate. But Ahmed is concerned. He says the military broke its promise of having a new constitution before the elections.

Ahmed: That’s scary. That means we are voting for a president based on the old laws of which Mubarak came to power and under which Mubarak constantly re-electing himself term after term.

Jessica: Habiba and Ahmed could have their own debate about what they think the outcome of the elections will be.

Habiba: In the past, regimes…there was a lot of fraud in the elections and in the results. But I don’t think these elections there will be fraud because there is a new system.”

Jessica: Ahmed is not so optimistic.

Ahmed: I believe it is a manipulation of the masses. Nothing is actually going to change and we are basically going to be stuck with a military junta the way we have been for 7,000 years.

Jessica: If no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote, the top two face off again in June.


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