As millions of voters continue to flock to polling stations in all Round-One Governorates, election monitors have reported a number of violations.  Before reporting on those, it is worthy to note that, given the miserable state of voting and democracy in Egypt for the last six decades, these elections are still unprecedented and exceptionally promissing not only because of wide-spread attendance but also because the number and scope of violations has decreased dramatically.  These are shaping up to be the most free and fair elections in Egyptian history.  However, they still have a long way to go, as thousands of trained election monitors are reporting.

The most common problem from across the country is illegal advertising near and even inside of polling stations, namely by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party as well as the Salafist Nur Party.  Salafists are a very conservative sect of Islamists.  The Muslim Brotherhood (MB), while still proponents of an Islamic state in Egypt, are considered more moderate in their thinking than Salafists and, as such, have a much wider support base.  While it is unlikely that Salafists will have much success at the polls, the Freedom and Justice party is expected to win at least 40% of the vote.  The MB has been active in Egypt as both a political party and a grassroots organization which provides a variety of services to poorer areas in Egypt.  From homeless shelters to schools, the MB has a tremendous advantage in not only organization but also grassroots campaigning ability via all of their various service organizations.  Their projected successes are largely a result of the fact that they have existed as an institution for far longer than any of the other competing parties.

This begs the question: why break the rules if you are almost guaranteed to experience success at the polls?  Why bring into question not only the legitimacy of the vote as a whole, but also the legitimacy of your success?  I believe it is a reflection of the political culture in Egypt.  After decades of habitual corruption and rigged elections (intensified under Mubarak but a practice which predates his rule), it will take a very long time for Egypt to kick that habit.

The other most common problem observed in these elections thus far is polling locations not only opening late (in some cases polling stations didn’t open at all), but those that do open frequently run out of ballots and/or the phosphorescent ink used to mark fingers.  These delays have created a lot of frustration across the country as throngs of people have had to wait for hours outside of polling centers.  However, Egyptians stayed resilient, waiting in line for as long as it took to have their voices heard.

Whether this is a deliberate attempt to dissuade voting by the government, or an example of pure logistical incompetence remains to be seen.  However, the determination to vote on the part of the Egyptian people is more than just inspiring; it is evidence of the determination they have towards achieving a democracy.  Even those who are well aware of the likeliness of fraud and lack of transparency want to be a part of their government, regardless of whether or not the results truly represent their wishes.  I spoke to a man in his late 50’s outside a polling location yesterday.  He said he knew there were forces trying to undermine the elections.  However, he sees the elections as another step in the revolution and, even though SCAF’s dictatorial rule over the country prevents the existence of any sembelence of real democracy, he believes that a high level of participation will send a clear message that the people want democracy; they want it now.

More updates will be posted later as I have to get back to translating.  Please follow the Facebook page “Egyptian Elections 2011 Monitoring” as well as @eicds on twitter to receive all of the latest updates on election monitoring efforts as well as a comprehensive list of recorded violations.  Information is available in both English and Arabic as well as updates from the field available in French.

Best and thanks for reading,

-Mike

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