Egypt’s Historic Election: ‘Even the Most Jaded Were Moved’

Across Egypt, at least 50 million people were eligible to choose from a field of 13 candidates in the country's first free presidential election. Gwen Ifill and McClatchy reporter Nancy Youssef discuss what the historic election means for Egypt's future.

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    For more on today's historic election, we turn to Nancy Youssef, reporting from Cairo for McClatchy Newspapers.

    I spoke to her a short while ago.

    Nancy Youssef, good to see you.

    So tell me what you struck you that you saw at the polls today?

  • NANCY YOUSSEF, McClatchy Newspapers:

    Well, I think the most remarkable thing was how unpredictable the selection.

    At every polling station, we found different candidates in the lead for surprising reasons. In poor areas we visited in Cairo, people who we thought would have supported the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohammed Morsi, instead said they supported Ahmed Shafiq, who was a regime prime minister, the last one under Mubarak, which suggests to us that in some areas, rather than having an Islamist state, what people are really seeking is security.

    So we're at the end of day one and with no sense of who's in the lead, who's in second place and what's even really driving voters to the polls.


    Were the lines long? The lines were long, but was the turnout high? Do we know?


    Well, the early estimates we have received from the election commission is 60 percent. It seems to be a guess at this point, which is lower than it was during the parliamentary elections.

    So, in that sense, it was lower than expected. So we'll see if day two proves to be better. One of the differences between the parliamentary election and this one is that voters had the days off as holidays during the parliamentary elections. Today was a working day, and so a lot of people couldn't come out until after 4:00 or 5:00. And the polls closed at 9:00 today.

    The government has declared tomorrow a holiday, so that may change voter turnout. We might see more people come out that couldn't come out today.


    Was the voting emotional for people who haven't had the chance to do this ever?


    It was incredibly emotional for voters that we talked to. Even the most jaded were moved by the whole process. We saw people sort of tap the ballot as though — for good luck and we saw people get emotional and cry. We saw people tear up.

    Remember, this is a whole country that's never even had the option to consider choosing its own president and today had 13 candidates to choose from. You could see it in their faces, really just the shock that this day had come just 15 months after the revolution. And so you couldn't escape the emotions.

    And they rose up. And sort of at every polling place we went to, no matter the candidate and no matter the circumstances, people who were doing very well post-revolution, but were still sort of shocked at the prospect of voting, and people who really had hoped that the revolution would improve their lives in some way had, in fact, suffered since the revolution, either through a loss of job or increased food prices and what not.

    So every person I talked to had something to say about how moved they were about the process, about having the option to check off a name and drop the ballot box — drop the ballot in the box themselves.


    Nancy, with the Muslim Brotherhood as one choice, the military ruling council as another choice, does this boil down to a vote for change vs. stability?


    Yes and no.

    I think it's a choice of where you want the country to go in the future. It's in a way a vote on the Muslim Brotherhood and how well you think they have or have not performed in the parliament. It's a vote on whether you think that Egypt has gone — undergone too much change and has become too unstable or, in fact, hasn't done enough change and needs to do more.

    There's a whole mosaic of factors that kind of come into play in terms of what's bringing this together. But, at the most basic level, yes, it's a choice between those who believe that Islam should be a guiding principle and that an Islamic candidate can bring about the kind of change that the revolution had promised, and those who think that too much change has happened in too short a period and that what the country needs right now is stability and a leader with experience who can guide it, so that the change that everybody sought 15 months ago actually happens in a productive, healthy way for the country.


    And, finally, Nancy, were there any irregularities reported in today's voting, like we saw during the parliamentary elections?


    It was much better than the parliamentary elections. In those elections, there were — there were delegates out for the various parties electioneering right in front of the polling stations. We didn't see it that nearly as much.

    There were sort of peppered violations here and there. My own sense was in visiting — I visited about a half-a-dozen polling centers today — was that the biggest irregularity was that people didn't know that — the judges in charge of elections, how to actually administer it.

    And so each election was administered a little bit differently in each of the six places that I visited today. The other surprising thing that we saw is people just didn't know who to vote for. So many women I saw today, they kept asking and looking around to the election workers, and saying, who do I vote for, who do I vote for, and were just almost overwhelmed by the prospect of having the choice.

    And so there was a lot of effort to make sure that election workers weren't in any way communicating with the voters, because that would have been a violation. Remember, there were delegates from each of the campaigns at polling centers, and all but one had people sitting there monitoring — monitoring the process. So there seemed to be a vast improvement from the parliamentary elections.


    Nancy Youssef reporting from Cairo for McClatchy Newspapers, thanks so much.


    Thank you.


    Online, you can view photos of Egypt's momentous vote today and an interview with a GlobalPost reporter in Cairo about how events unfolded. That's on our World page.