On Saturday, Egypt witnessed a turning point in its long history as millions took to the streets to vote on constitutional amendments in an effort to augur in a new democratic era for Egypt.
“Are we going to return back to the corrupt era?” shouted Zaki Khalil, a voter inside the polling station of Serum and Vaccine Centre in Mohandessin.
Khalil became upset over the unstamped ballot papers and insisted on not leaving the station unless there were stamps on ballot papers. Stamps were initially required in order to certify the authenticity of the ballot. “This is a charade. If there is no serious move taken for solving this problem, I will file a report in the police station,” he told Al-Masry Al-Youm in a nervous tone.
On Saturday, the Supreme Judicial Committee in charge of monitoring the constitutional referendum announced on its Facebook page that the signature of the supervising judge can substitute for a stamp on the paper ballots.
However, the judge of Khalil’s committee refused to sign the paper, saying, “I cannot sign each paper; it is not my mistake.”
More voters complained of irregularities. “I came to cast my vote for the first time because I thought that the voting process would be transparent. But the lack of the stamp makes me doubt again that my vote will count,” said Farouk Abdel Wahed, a lawyer.
The voting process was halted for almost half an hour and many people refrained from voting till an officer came with the stamp that guarantees the validity of their ballot papers.
The incident was repeated in other districts including Mit Okba, where voters refused to let the police officer leave with only 30 thousand stamped ballots left in the station. “All papers were supposed to be stamped in the first place. If the country was not yet ready to conduct a nationwide referendum, they should have waited,” said Aly Mansour. “Good thing for the armed forces officer who listened to our complaints and stopped the police officer at the last moment from taking the stamp.”
Evan Emile, a 21-year-old student, said the Muslim Brotherhood, the biggest opposition group in Egypt, dominated the polling place of Mit Okba Bakeries Complex. “The group’s youth negotiates with people and urges them to vote yes. Everyone knows that the approval for the proposed constitutional amendments will be of great benefit to the Brotherhood.”
Emile voted against the amendments because “the country is in need of moderate regime, not a religious one. We should avoid falling into the trap of sectarian strife and backwardness.” He added that the country wants more time to form new independent parties that truly represent the voices of people.
In the same polling station, a group of breaded men standing in a long voter queue said they would vote in favor of the amendments.
Asked why this is the first time for him to vote, Essam Salah replied sarcastically, “Because the National Democratic Party used to vote for the whole country.”
The constitutional amendments, according to Salah, are quite reasonable given the realities of Egypt’s current transition period. “If we said no, maybe the Armed Forces would enact another constitution that we don’t accept. This is our opportunity to shape laws that protect our rights and achieve democracy,” concluded Salah.
The women’s turnout was higher in upscale districts than in low-class neighborhoods. Manal Khamis, a 33-year-old employee in investment ministry, supported the constitutional amendments, saying, “The wheel of industry should start to move again. Our daily life has almost stopped due to the ongoing protests everywhere.”
Khamis explained that the role of the armed forces lies not in governing the state but in protecting it. “They must return to the border because we're now easy prey to America and Israel,” she said. “If our demands are not met, we'll return to demonstrate in Tahrir Square. What happened to us will never happen again. People are now aware of their rights and know how to defend them.”