Small things:

  • Long post on my other blog about a conversation with a prominent theatre director about Shakespeare adaptation. But I have to mention here that while we were talking, his car was robbed: a theatre staffer came to tell him that someone had broken the window, stolen his cashmere overcoat and the money in the pocket, made off with some CDs, even taken his reading glasses.  The director carried on with the interview as though nothing had happened.
  • The Guardian-Observer calls my book “inspired” and suggests it as a “quirky” Christmas present.  Woo hoo!
  • Wild rumor circulating about the Salafis: if they come to power, they will try to ban Egyptian women from wearing makeup.  But then, wouldn’t the economy grind to a halt completely?
  • Tension and mud-slinging (mutual allegations of voting-day irregularities, etc) between the Brotherhood and the Salafi Nour Party as they contest twenty seats in first-round runoff elections today.  The Arabist has some good charts on what it could lead to.  No telling (because we still don’t know what kind of powers this Parliament will have) what it will mean.
  • Nine days later, old-New Prime Minister-designate Kamal Ganzouri has yet to form his “national salvation” government.  And all he has to deal with is SCAF and the Egyptian public. Imagine the government-formation process after an election when you would also have to deal with competing parties and political factions?
  • Shades of Hamlet? In the lead-up to last week’s polls, not one but two English-language newspapers, AMAY and Ahram Online, ran the headline “To Vote or Not to Vote?” (Thanks, Amy Motlagh.)



Meanwhile, at Tahrir

The movement to boycott the elections seems not to have gained much traction; Thanassis Cambanis’ post yesterday quotes some voters explaining why.  The popular blogger Sandmonkey (aka Mahmoud Salem) is even running for parliament himself!  But a number of activists remained in Tahrir yesterday, or showed up there after voting.  As I went to take the metro around 4pm yesterday to pick up my kids from school, I saw them organizing themselves to perform the protest recorded here (Activist Gigi Ibrahim’s video: Tahrir, Nov 28 2011):

The video includes an interesting argument about the Salafis.  Says the man on the left: “They were with us in Tahrir from the first days. Some of the young guys are quite sincere. Those are the people we want.”  His interlocutor is skeptical.  These are some of the divides these activists will have to bridge (and it will require some ideological nose-holding of which almost no one I know would be actually capable!) to be effective rather than just self-righteous.

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Mohamed Mahmoud Street, home of the AUC side gate (through which we would normally enter for our classes on the Downtown Campus) has been renamed “Ayn al-Hurriyya” street: Eye of Liberty. It looks like a sort of modified war zone now: cleaned up, but the field hospitals are still in place (that’s the guy in the blue helmet with the goggles and the piles of donated blankets) and you can see where the pavement has been torn up for rock-throwing ammunition. The guys checking passports at the entrances to the square were exceptionally polite to me. The young man in the white t-shirt and red keffiyyeh encouraged me to take a photo over the tape divider into Mohamed Mahmoud Street.  He said he is not voting: “I lived in England for two years, and when there were demonstrations there, the cops hit you, but they were civilized.  Here, it was like… [a gesture of severe beating].”

Iconized already

Again you can see the revolution iconizing itself in almost real time, and with excellent graphic design help coming from somewhere: the big poster with the running man and the tear gas says: “Heroes of Mohamed Mahmoud Street, Thank You!”

Voting in Zamalek

People in the women’s line at a school in Zamalek had been waiting up to five hours, since 7:30 am, when I arrived.  They seemed happy about the process; the weather was beautiful; things were relatively well organized; some clever people had even brought folding chairs and/or sandwiches. It was unclear how the would-be voters stretched for six blocks along July 26 street, then around the corner and another several blocks on the parallel street, would all get in before the 7pm closing time.  But when I passed by later the line had shortened a lot, and anyway the polls are open tomorrow as well.

The polling place itself was secured by the same type of army guys I’d seen at Maspero last week (olive uniforms, helmets, etc), but all the security and organization I saw outside was taken care of by the young men (and I saw one woman) of the Popular Committees, the (mostly) unarmed neighborhood watch groups spontaneously organized when police were withdrawn from the streets in late January.  They wore no uniforms – in some cases not even a laminated nametag – but people respected them and followed their instructions.  As in: “I’m sorry, ma’am, this line is only for those who are over 60 or pregnant. You’ll have to go down that way, around the corner, second left.”  And the person would immediately go.

Amid the underlying uncertainty over what exactly this Parliament will do, one feels odd playing a role in this scene, running around with a Nikon and taking the sort of photographs that play into the usual narrative, so familiar to newspaper readers and so often leading to disappointment. Not only Iraq (try Googling “purple finger elections”), but even the best cases (like South Africa: who can forget the images of people lining up to vote in the first post-apartheid election in 1996?).  Yet there they are by the hundreds and thousands, lined up and smiling, calling friends and relatives to discuss whom to vote for. The elderly woman emerging from the polling station with her face aglow.  Who can resist?  [Note: having trouble with slow Internet right now, but will try to upload photos in a few hours.  I didnt get the glowing face by the way; didn’t dare interrupt. But Al-Masry Al-Youm and tons of other photogs were on the scene.]

Bottom line is that at least today there’s a free choice, even if its ultimate impact will soon be canceled by gridlock, bickering, continuing dictatorship and dispossession.  At least none of the candidates on the election posters is wearing sunglasses.  A year ago, instead of all those faces of folks who have decided to run for Parliament (some of them quite ordinary people), the banners and posters would have some variation of “Yes, Mubarak!”  Not a lot to be excited about, but people are doing their best.

Election day

Going out now just to look around a bit.  An employee at the Dutch Institute Library in Zamalek says her family in the Hussein neighborhood (their voting place is the Wikalat El Ghoury, where the whirling dervishes perform) are reporting a lot of crowding at the polls, especially in the women’s line. She finds this a very good sign but jokes (it’s 10am here): “The men are still sleeping!”  There is a 500-pound fine (nearly $100 dollars, or 80% of the monthly salary of a low-level state bureaucrat) for not voting, so the turnout may be higher than the political situation would otherwise warrant.  It seems that people considering a boycott have decided against it – a smart move, I believe.  It is impossible to tell right now how high or low the stakes might be.

You can read pieces in the Times etc and live coverage in a few places (notably at The Arabist and Al-Masry Al-Youm.  Meanwhile, here are a few misc photos of the election campaign posters.  Note that each candidate and party has a “symbol” on the ballot, presumably for less-literate voters (though with hundreds of individual candidates plus party lists to choose from (and some are listed as “farmers” or “workers” to fill those quotas) even the more literate could use some help. Some of the symbols are funny. Heliopolis candidate (polisci professor and well-publicized partner of a film star) Amr Hamzawy has an engagement ring. Others I’ve seen: screwdriver; fishing rod; suitcase (seems like a bad message to send, no?), CD, sports car, hoe, oversized apple. A blonde candidate with a charming sunflower got her Zamalek posters defaced by someone who scribbled “filuul” (old regime remnant) all over them.  So it goes.  Of the posters we’ve seen, only Gamila Ismail’s lack the little symbol; presumably she is not courting illiterate voters.

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