Friday, September 09, 2005

Making an Election Work

Wednesday was a good day to stay at home for a lot of people. Some were concerned about problems during the elections, others like myself had a virus that seems to be making the rounds in Cairo giving you a sore throat and headache. So I was laying low for health reasons until the evening when I met a group of young friends at the Sheraton in Giza for a going away dinner that was planned for one of the group who is leaving for the US. It was me and five twenty-somethings, and the conversation very naturally was about the election. Three of the others are not Egyptian citizens while two of the young men are. These two had gone out to vote and been unable to. The third young man, a foreign journalist, had spent the day observing the polling. Interesting story.

Turns out that the system here (to use a somewhat inappropriate word since it does imply some organisation) involves having a three week period in which one must register to vote, but this three week period was last November, almost a year before the election. Once the period is over, I'm not sure that it's impossible to register, but it certainly is difficult. Then there is the question of WHERE you can vote. Apparently, you have to vote in the district in which you registered your national ID. So one of the young men who lives in Maadi but works in Dokki tried to go from his office to a polling place only to be told that a) he should have registered a year ago and b) he couldn't vote in Dokki anyway. The other young man made the rounds of polling stations in the Heliopolis/Nasr City area looking for a polling station where you could vote if you had moved from your district, but he never found this fabled polling station. Both of them spent about 4 hours wandering around polling stations talking to people and trying unsuccessfully to vote.

Everyone, fairly naturally, was predicting a win for Mubarak, especially since most of the "helpers" at the polling stations were in Mubarak hats, pins and other paraphenalia. So the first contested election here is over without any major disasters and with the predicted result but the boys had some interesting suggestions to improve the system. They suggested that there should be a major campaign to let people know HOW to vote and how to register to vote and that the powers that be need to begin to take into account the fact that Egyptians no longer spend their entire lives in one district of one city as used to be the case. One semi-serious suggestion put forth to ensure a clean vote was to have the ballot boxes made of plexiglass so that everyone could see that at least they were going into the polling stations empty...though that didn't really help the fact that the general impression was that there was no control over the ballot boxes once they left the polling station.

It's going to be interesting to see the fallout on this election. No one was really expecting much of a change from it and it looks like no one is going to be too surprised. For myself, at my age I can see that sometimes a small change is easier to institute than a large one, but the next step has to be another change to keep up the momentum. Will that happen? Who knows, but let's face it. Hosny is much older than I am and he can't last forever so a change is coming no matter what we want.

Oh, and what does the picture have to do with all this? Nothing at all actually. I just shot it through the front window of my jeep one day because it seemed to symbolise the way a lot of things are done here. More being carried than the system should be able to handle and nothing fastened down terribly well. A lot of vision with the details left flying in the wind.

And the parrot soap opera came to a close when I moved the nest box from Ali's cage to Mona and Fritz YB's cage. The pair had chewed theirs to bits and wanted Ali's unused box. Guess that birdbrains are smarter than we think.

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