Tuesday, April 3, 2012

When Election Day meant Hope for Egypt .... Oh well!!!! At least we had One day to Cherish

It had rained the day before. I know, in Westchester, when rain and morning-after are logged together in the same sentence, humming birds, green trees and the fresh smell of grass come to mind.

But this is Cairo, there are never enough trees for any birds to nest on, the closest we have to grass patches are water drenched green swamps in what was initially designed to be green public squares. Even in lush Maadi, the school I was to go cast my vote in was located in a muddy, beat-down street a few blocks away from the lavish villas and old-Maadi houses this neighborhood is so famous for.

I woke up way too early and way too excited. Afterall, I was going to get my thumb inked for the first time in my life!

Days before, we sat in big groups over Greco coffee and Abul Sid shisha (water pipe) going over appropriate attire to detract attention, exit strategies in case of violence, proper behavior to dodge Islamist groups intimidation and where we would all meet after we vote to celebrate this historical moment in our lives.

On the morning of… my cousin Laila (yes, we tend to all carry the same first name in my family), my friend Hedy, my sis and her friend (who were voting next door) stood dutifully in long winding lines. We were early and we were met with many familiar faces. Maadi is big by most people’s standards, but this is Egypt, 88 million citizens and somehow you always end up bumping in all the people you know. Everywhere you go, you’re in familiar territory.

By mid-morning, the wait gets boring, apparently, our judge is still sleeping and some volunteers decided not to go for the job of observers. There was a call for new volunteers from the lines, I wanted to help but it was either spend a whole 12 hour days in that voting room observing, reporting on violations, and helping clueless voters, or be frowned upon for not wanting to help build our country!!!!

Where did that attitude come from? Over-zealous, first time voters blinded by the prospect of writing their own national history I guess. I tried to explain that we all wanted to help, but we had small children and short notices don’t help. Again, more frowning and a few nasty remarks about my lack of patriotism.

Meanwhile on the other side of the muddy road, Islamist parties had organized themselves and with such positive energy have stationed their laptops and volunteers to guide the, by now super tired, voters to their designated voting rooms.

I did my part, I took pictures, I talked sense, I officially complained and I reported violation.. After all, the rules were clear: parties were not allowed to campaign on the day of! But the lack of internal organization and the long wait were ripe environment for any takers. No one was more readily organized than the Islamists and sure enough, the street was flooded with yellow banners, untamed beards and scary black Niqabs.
When the doors finally opened, the lines went in fast. The process was relatively painless, except when a young woman clad in a huge black Niqab cut the lines, and pushed her way in to vote!

Hedy, Laila and I tried to block her path. We argued that for such a supposedly pious woman she should respect her fellow citizens and wait for her turn. She begged to be let in:
- They called my number, she argued
- No they didn’t, Hedy firmly replied. You and I carry the same number and it hasn’t been called yet.
- But I’m carrying a sleeping child, she said
- Well, so are a dozen other women whose turn you’re so impolitely ignoring
- OK, then I’ll go home
- Great… Who needs another Islamist vote? I told her. With this outfit, no way you’re voting liberal I assume!
- If you’re really going home, get out of the line and walk back, Laila told her
- But I can’t, can’t you see my long black dress will be muddied?
- Really now< I was quite angry by then… we have to push aside and muddy ourselves for your highness simply because you chose to come vote in a dragging black robe on a morning like this. Your decision to cover yourself from the whole word doesn’t make you a better or cleaner person, you know!

In the end she won… she managed to push her way in, moan and beg the army soldiers at the gates, vote before the rest of us and so proudly flaunt her black gloved hand at us. We couldn’t tell whether she was inked or not.
Later that day we heard reports from other stations that Monaqabbas performed multiple votes for their party and no one dared question their identity under the black Niqab!

A woman behind me murmured to her friends: so they lie, cheat, trample and seduce.. That’s what the Islamist party women do to win.

And win they did, a sweeping victory for a party that most of the Maadi population can’t identify with. How?

Months later, sipping coffee in Panera and dreaming of a steamy cappuccino with my Maadi friends back in Greco, I still wonder!

How did they win our district over? How many Monaqqaba voters did I see that morning? Including the pushy lying one with the sleeping baby, probably two or three. How could the outrageous Salafi Al Nour Party take my Maadi by storm on that Monday morning on Election Day? I can’t imagine the mostly secular crowd, in jeans, sweaters and fancy chignons stood so patiently for hours to vote Al Nour or even the F&J Party.

God help us in the next few weeks when, along with their Islamic peers the F&J Party, Al Nour translate their surreal ideologies into a constitution that will govern our lives and our children’s lives for generations to come.

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