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In pursuit of stability
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 25 - 04 - 2019

Egyptians participating in the referendum were mainly saying yes or no for the article extending the presidential term.
“I'm for Al-Sisi keeping his position as our president,” Mona Sayed, a 62-year-old housewife, said after she cast her ballot in a polling station in Giza's Warraq district. Sayed, who apparently said “yes” to the amendments — she was dancing in front of the polling station after voting — said she knew nothing about the amended articles but “we are with you [Al-Sisi] all the same.”
Egyptians headed to the polls from 20 to 22 April to vote on amending 14 articles of the constitution in a public referendum. One of the amendments might grant President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi his position until 2030. According to the amendments, the current presidential term would be extended for two years to 2024 after which he can run for a third term that would last until 2030. Moreover, among the amendments some articles would extend Al-Sisi's powers over the judiciary and allow him to have one or more vice president.
The electoral database includes 61.344 million eligible voters, 30.446 million of whom are women.
In pursuit of stability
The number of general constituencies in the Egyptian governorates is 368 including 13,919 polling stations that were open from 9am to 9pm over three consecutive days. A break for judges and employees was from 3pm to 4pm but that was cancelled on the last day.
“The referendum on constitutional amendments will be completely supervised by the judiciary,” said judge Lasheen Ibrahim, head of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), at a press conference held at the headquarters of the State Information Service in Cairo's Nasr City district. “There will be a judge at every ballot box. The media and civil society will be able to follow the process.”
The voting process was observed by 19,339 judges who were assisted by 120,000 employees in overseeing the referendum. Fifty-five local civil society groups, five foreign non-governmental organisations and three national councils monitored the vote.
Yasser Fattouh, a retired officer in his 60s, said there was no better choice in the meantime than Al-Sisi. “The president has embarked on a number of large infrastructure and mega projects and he should be allowed to complete what he started and to reap the fruits of his efforts.
“I, of course, voted ‘yes' for the amendments,” Fattouh, who cast his ballot in Nasr City, said.
“We trust Al-Sisi. I agree on the amendments extending his term as we need more stability in the country,” Zeinab, an engineer in her 40s, said. Zeinab, who cast her ballot in a polling station in downtown's Abdine district, believed there is no room to try a new president in the near future. Outside the polling station, dozens of women stood in a circle clapping to the rhythms of a patriotic song played on a giant speaker while a young lady danced in the middle.
According to Al-Ahram Weekly's tour of several polling stations in Cairo and Giza, turnout ranged from fair to moderate throughout the three days of voting. The first day witnessed the heaviest turnout while the second day was lighter. As for the third day, there were no queues seen throughout the day except for the last couple of hours.
On the third day judge Ehab Ibrahim, observing a male-only polling station in Nasr City, told the Weekly that “turnout is moderate. About 40 per cent of the total eligible voters in the polling station participated,” Ibrahim said. Regarding violations or complaints, Ibrahim said the atmosphere was “very festive” and there were no complaints.
Signs of joy were clear in crowded polling stations where many voters danced to national songs outside schools serving as polling stations, a trend that started in the elections and referendums following the January 2011 Revolution.
Before the revolution, turnout for elections and referendums was feeble. Since 2014, elections, referendums and major national events have been accompanied by DJs, songs and public dancing. Dancing and singing have been a unique way by some to express joy and excitement. This week's referendum was no exception.
Music was heard everywhere. Four-wheel vehicles and trucks carrying large speakers and TV screens were deployed in main squares as well as in front of large polling stations.
In pursuit of stability
“Do the right thing” was the motto of banners hanging along streets across the country. “The right thing is to vote ‘yes' for the amendments. Of course we need stability. We can't afford changing faces right now,” said Nahed Al-Sayed, a 60-year-old retired engineer in Heliopolis.
Videos of Egyptian women dancing outside polling stations have gone viral on social media. While some saw it as a natural expression of joy, others believed it did not reflect the true nature of conservative Egyptian society.
Watching with contempt a number of women dancing in front of a polling station in Abdine, one voter told the Weekly that while he rejected the amendments he decided to be positive and not to boycott. He said most people he knew who had reservations about the amendments opted not to vote. “I came to send a message that not all citizens are for the amendments. I came to say ‘no' to extending Al-Sisi's term,” he said.
Marwan, a 26-year-old salesman who participated in both the 25 January and 30 June uprisings, also said “no”.
“We participated in two revolutions in three years to have a rotation of power. Nevertheless, they are extending the presidential terms and we oppose that,” Marwan said.
Despite the differing views, the scene was peaceful outside polling stations and no clashes were reported nationwide in view of a heavy security presence. The Interior Ministry said it was adopting an extensive plan to “maintain security and order” and deal with any attempt to “disturb peace and security”.
Cooperating with the Armed Forces, security services secured 10,878 polling centres days before the referendum began. The Interior Ministry announced that it postponed leaves and vacations of officers until after the referendum.
Moreover, security procedures were tightened in the underground and public transport stations in Greater Cairo. The ministry expanded deployment services, deployed secret services and increased inspection of bags using metal detectors.
In an unprecedented move, the referendum saw the debut of ballot papers written in Braille, which uses embossed paper designed to allow people who are visually impaired to read. The Braille ballot papers, which were available in some polling stations, allowed blind people to exercise their constitutional right, and to vote in the referendum unassisted. As for polling stations that were not provided with Braille ballot papers, blind voters were assisted by judges to cast their ballots. Wheelchairs were provided in many polling stations to aid voters with disabilities. The Weekly witnessed security forces helping disabled people and the elderly by accompanying them on wheelchairs, so they can cast their ballot.
During its tour of polling stations, the Weekly saw voters holding small boxes of food items. In front of Martyr Shadi Magdi School, a man of minor means wearing a galabiya was asking other voters where he could get his “coupon” stamped. “I got this yellow coupon after voting and, if stamped, I'll receive a box packed with free groceries in return,” he said.
In pursuit of stability
Asking whether obtaining the coupon was related to his vote, he said “no, it is given to people who can prove they had just voted... no one asked us to vote either ‘yes' or ‘no'.”
Videos of voters carrying boxes of groceries were circulated on social media websites. The source of the boxes was controversial. Many claimed that one pro-Al-Sisi party was responsible to motivate the low-income segment to participate in the referendum. In turn, local media reports accused the Muslim Brotherhood of being behind the manoeuvre to show that the government is buying voters' consent.
In Cairo there were 1,388 polling stations for 7.622 million citizens eligible to vote in the capital. During his tour of polling stations, Cairo Governor Khaled Abdel-Aal described the scenes of voters participating in the referendum as “a national epic”.
“The patriotic citizen who is loyal to his homeland interacted and participated in the referendum. Turnout was apparently very high,” Abdel-Aal told media reporters.
Egyptians who live in governorates outside of their local election constituencies were able to vote at special polling stations reserved for out-of-governorate voters, according to NEC head Ibrahim. However, during the days of the referendum it was agreed that the out-of-governorate voter can vote at any polling station.
“The turnout of those was very high,” judge Mohamed Shafik, vice president of the State Council, told the Weekly. Shafik, who was observing the voting process in a polling station at Martyr Shadi Magdi School in Nasr City, said this was the result of the NEC's decision to allow people to vote at any polling station outside their hometown governorate by using their ID to make it easier for them to vote.
The election authority set up special polling stations in industrial zones, in the under-construction New Administrative Capital 60 kilometres east of Cairo, and at sites of other national mega projects, to allow construction workers to vote. In addition, polling stations were also set up in Cairo International Airport and at major railway stations to draw more voters, and arrangements were made at stations to accommodate those with special needs.
In Giza governorate there were 5.5 million citizens entitled to vote in 1,004 polling stations. In an attempt to facilitate casting their ballots, vehicles free of charge were provided to transport them from their homes, especially remote villages, to their polling committees.
“Free of charge vehicles were provided to take citizens to polling stations especially in villages and rural centres so as to make it easier for the elderly and people with special needs to vote by taking them to and from the stations as well as providing wheelchairs to each electoral committee to serve them in this regard,” Giza Governor Ahmed Rashed told the Weekly while inspecting the referendum process in a polling station in Mustafa Kamel School in Warraq.
Rashed said there was coordination among all parties concerned to provide facilities for citizens to enable them to cast their votes freely, and to supply electric generators and fire extinguishers and water coolers in the stations.


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