TOPICS > World

In Egypt, Signs of Heavy Turnout as Second Round of Voting Begins

December 14, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
In three separate waves of voting across the country, Egyptians are choosing a new Parliament, which in turn will draft the country's constitution. Ray Suarez discusses the second round of voting with GlobalPost's Charles Sennott in Cairo.
LISTEN SEE PODCASTS

TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Next, Egypt continues its experiment with voting and democracy.

Ray Suarez has that story.

RAY SUAREZ: In three separate waves across the country, Egyptians will choose a new parliament, which in turn will write a new constitution. All this comes nearly 10 months after a revolution that ended in Hosni Mubarak’s ouster.

Citizens in Cairo and Alexandria already have voted. Today, it was the turn for voters outside the capital.

Charles Sennott of our partner GlobalPost, the international website, is covering the voting.

Charles, thanks for joining us.

Have you been to the places where voting is under way? Are people happy with electing a new government, showing up in large numbers to vote?

CHARLES SENNOTT, GlobalPost: Well, we were out in the polling districts in Giza today.

I was in Imbaba, which is this neighborhood that’s largely Islamist. And we were also in Mendesin (ph), which is a more wealthy neighborhood. Lines were long. There was definitely evidence that this is heavy turnout, as there was in the first stage of this election.

And everyone we spoke with seemed to be pleased with the way it was going. We didn’t see any major problems. We saw minor violations, like people handing out leaflets. You’re not supposed to be campaigning within 48 hours of the vote. We saw campaign posters that were too close to the entrances to the polls.

But these seemed like minor infractions compared to the elections past in Egypt, where you had serious violence and a sense that those votes were rigged, that those elections were fraudulent. And this time, what we heard, at least anecdotally, up and down the different polling districts was a faith in this election, a sense that for the first time in many people’s lives, they feel like they are casting a vote in a real election.

RAY SUAREZ: Given where the votes have already been cast and where the polls are open today, what’s different socially, culturally, economically? Are these different places likely to produce a different result from the first round?

CHARLES SENNOTT: That’s really hard to say right now because what you’re seeing in this day of elections, these next two days is really, you are going to see all of Egypt represented.

You’re going to see rural areas, urban areas, factory towns, like Sohag. You have upper Egypt communities like Aswan. You really have a mix of urban and rural, wealthy and poor, working-class and agrarian. It’s really hard to say exactly where this is going to break down.

But I think what we’re hearing from people who have studied these districts is, we can expect a vote similar to the last one, which was 40 percent for the Muslim Brotherhood and somewhere over 20 percent for the Salafists, which is a more puritanical sort of Islamist group that’s emerged surprisingly powerful in this election.

RAY SUAREZ: Do the remnants of the old regime have a political party, and is it running well in the areas voting today and tomorrow? It sounds like it’s condemned to third place, at best.

CHARLES SENNOTT: It’s a great question.

They have a phrase for the remnant, which is “feloul.” And it means “the remnant.” And the regime is trying to emerge through different parties, through independent candidacies. And there is a website actually dedicated to exposing the remnant of the National Democratic Party, which was Mubarak’s party.

So there really is an attempt by many of these old guard candidates to rebrand themselves in a post-revolution Egypt. Whether they’re going to succeed or not, we will see. We know, in the first round, they didn’t have great success.

One of the things that was interesting in this round was how the liberals and sort of more forces of the left, those who really got this revolution moving in some ways, they had to re-strategize. They were beat soundly in this first round. And so they had to rethink how they were going to do it this time.

RAY SUAREZ: Is there any evidence that the army, which just in the last couple of weeks has been the target of the rage of demonstrators, has made any attempt to influence the outcome of the balloting or expressed its own preference for an outcome?

CHARLES SENNOTT: No, we didn’t see that, nor have we heard that.

The military has been, from all observations we have had — and, again, we have been in several of the different governorates and we have been in many of the different polling places — is a military that’s flanked out in front of the polls, there to protect the polls. But we didn’t see any interference.

We did see them helping some elderly people into the polls. They seem to be really trying to play to that role as the protectors. But you’re right. There was a flare of violence. People became alienated from the military. And the really big question this election looms ahead.

That is, once a parliament is formed, then the parliament has to take shape, and the parliament is going to have to challenge the military to give up its power and to allow civilian rule forward. So, in many ways, the military’s challenge is yet to come. It will come once the parliament is in place and the assembly is formed that will write and implement a new constitution.

That’s when the big challenge of the role of the military will come to the fore. That’s when the big challenge of the role of religion will come to the fore. So, in a lot of ways, this election is important because of the people who will be elected and the power they will bring to giving shape to a new government.

RAY SUAREZ: Charles Sennott of GlobalPost in Cairo, thanks for joining us.

CHARLES SENNOTT: Thanks, Ray.