Counting votes after 14 hours of supervising the electoral process, elections monitors in Gamal Abdel Nasser School in Dokki were elated at having been able to successfully guarantee the integrity of the process for the first time in their careers.
“We are very exhausted but we’re very happy, and we’re ready to keep working until the morning. This is better than the days of humiliation when state security officers used to get in the polling station, kick us out, and do whatever they wanted,” said Abdel al-Khalaf, an employee in the Ministry of Social Solidarity who has been monitoring elections for four years.
Confident that this time their votes would count, unprecedented numbers of voters filled polling stations on Saturday to take part in the referendum on constitutional amendments.
In recent years, voting was considered a dangerous and futile activity. The former ruling National Democratic Party used a variety of methods, including thugs, police violence, and fraud, rendering the people’s votes completely ineffective.
As frustrating as this was for voters, it was nothing compared to what monitors had to go through. For years, they were forced to watch the integrity of the elections, which they are responsible for ensuring, being violated right in front of their eyes.
“We used to go to the polling stations knowing the results in advance. Even the people in the streets knew who would win whether they liked it or not, but we had to go through the motions because it was our job,” said Khalaf.
The ousted regime used to orchestrate election fraud. This time, all polling stations were subject to full judicial supervision.
“The election this time was 100 percent honest; before that it was a joke,” said Khalaf.
Khalaf remembers the Shura Council elections last June, when he fainted on the job due to the psychological pressure caused by the amount of violations that he had to witness helplessly.
“From 7 AM to 11 AM, no one was allowed into the polling station, even though there were people in the streets who wanted to vote,” remembers Khalaf. “At 11 AM, state security officers instructed us to leave the room, and when they let us back in after 15 minutes, we found all the boxes filled with ballots.”
During the parliamentary elections in November 2010, Khalaf witnessed glaring incidents of fraud that were uncovered nationwide.
In one polling station, where he witnessed on 112 people cast votes, a result of 944 votes for the NDP candidate was announced. And the most discouraging part for Khalaf was that the result was announced before he handed it in to the High Electoral Committee.
“Being the head of a polling station and having a younger officer come in and force me to leave my post took a toll on my nerves. Ater all, this is our country,” he said.
As saddened as he was by the fraud that he witnessed, Khalaf was never able to voice his objections.
“When our rulers are the ones committing the violations, if you object, you’ll go to jail,” said Khalaf.
With pink ink all over his clothes and a tired smile on his face, Khalaf left his polling station on Saturday reassured that the job of an elections monitor in Egypt had been permanently altered, from that of silent observer to that of protector of democracy.