Welcome, Egypt, to democracy

The 2012 Egyptian presidential elections are not just any elections. They are the first democratic presidential elections to happen in this country. And they come at a great cost of life and limb from the Egyptian people. There is a lot at stake for Egyptians. Egypt turned over the souls of many of its sons and daughters to their Maker for these elections to happen. Eyes were lost, limbs were broken, and every single person who participated in the revolution risked their lives.

Egypt’s revolutionaries and their supporters wish to see true change in Egypt.  But as it happens, the picture those revolutionaries and their supporters have in their heads of what that change needs to be varies widely.

But what is democracy if it is not to give the people the tools with which to dictate which change is most desired by the majority?

Egyptians revolted from January 25 to February 11 and onwards in order to bring democracy to their country. But did they all truly understand what it means to live in a democracy?

The Egyptian presidential elections were held on May 23 and 24. The results have been unofficially trickling out. The official results will be announced on Tuesday, May 29; in two days. Since the evening of May 24, many Egyptians have had little sleep. They’ve followed the election results minute by minute, second by second. As the hours went by, many revolutionaries I know expressed their growing surprise at the results.

I consider myself fortunate to have been spared a post-election obsession with the results. I organized a weekend hiking trip to Egypt’s highest mountain, Mt St Katherine, in southern Sinai. Besides myself and my non-Egyptian husband, the group was comprised of six other Egyptians, all under the age of 30 and all pro-revolutionaries. The group was very well disciplined. They naturally began discussing the elections and the results that were coming out for a small part of the bus ride to Sinai. But not too long afterwards, they agreed to stop the discussion and to enjoy the trip instead. Every now and then, someone would take a peek at their phone and announce the latest update. And when the phones finally became out of reach of the mobile phone networks, the elections were placed in the backs of everyone’s minds and all focused on the beauty of the mountain and the physical effort required to climb it. I had a group of happy people on my hands. And it was really nice.

On the way home, the group had a long discussion about who their votes should go to based on the preliminary results that were showing Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak’s former minister of aviation, and Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, as the two forerunners. Someone would place their argument, and the others would respectfully dissect it and find the faults in it. Everyone on the trip was in agreement that there was no way in hell that they would vote for Ahmed Shafik. But did that mean that we had to vote for the Muslim Brotherhood candidate? Most everyone agreed it did. One member of the group strongly felt that she’d rather not vote for either than have to vote for the MB candidate. The discussion eventually ended. Most people in the group were upset that they would have to choose between those two candidates. But the euphoria of climbing a mountain with a great group of people had not yet wiped off. Their spirits were high.

I came home to see the spirits of most Egyptians I knew were not. My Facebook feed was smack full of negativity. Many friends and family were expressing their deep shock that a significant portion of Egyptians voted for Mubarak’s man. It was worse than shock. They were depressed. The revolutionaries were let down by the people.

Everyone I knew had decided who was the worse of the two candidates and began trying to convince their friends why their decision was the right decision.

For some, there was no way in hell they would vote for another Mubarak man. Doing so would be letting down the hundreds of people who gave their lives to remove Mubarak’s regime.

For others, there was no way in hell they would vote for the Muslim Brotherhood’s man. They would rather put their trust in a man who they feel was never very significant in Mubarak’s regime and who is, as they see, a good government administrator. Besides, it’s only four years. We can change him then.

A lot of judging ensued. One person on my feed went so far as to remove anyone on her list who was going to support Mubarak’s man. As far as she was concerned, those people were betraying the revolution and the martyrs.

It’s not easy trying to summarize the mood in the country at the moment. But among the people I know, no one is happy. Most people are in a state of shock and/or depression. So much so that one of my friends wondered, “If everyone is so unhappy with the two candidates that are in the lead, where are the people that actually chose them??”

Some people I know have been unable to go to work. Friendships are being lost. Respect for “the other” is virtually non-existent. Tolerating another opinion is becoming almost impossible.

These are not any ordinary elections. There are valid reasons for this being a highly emotional time. There are valid reasons for people being very strongly opinionated. We already know what cost we paid for us to have democratically held elections. But what costs will we pay to learn to live with democracy? I expect the cost will be very high.

Being among a group of smart, respectful, young people this past weekend helped me come to a decision with little to no pain. I would hate to see either candidate as the president of my country. I would hate to see either as my president almost just as equally. What I would hate even more, though, would be to see the remnants of the former regime back in government. For me, it’s not about the one man: Ahmed Shafik. For me, it’s about the people I believe he will bring in to form a government. I did not risk my life and watch others’ lose theirs for this same group of people to rule over me yet again. If Morsi wins, chances are higher that he will remove the remnants of the former regime. He might bring in top ass people in their place. But if they do not perform, if he does not perform, he will face the wrath of the Egyptian people. And no matter what, it’s only four years. We’re going to have four years of hell either way. It might as well be with a new group of people.

I will tell you this, though. I refuse to judge poorly my friends who think otherwise. I refuse to consider them politically inadequate or naïve. My friends are smart, professional, educated, and cultured people. Whatever they decide, I will respect their choice. I will not do anything to imply, as Mubarak’s right hand man, Omar Suleiman, did by saying – only days before Mubarak was ousted – that Egyptians were not ready for democracy. My faith in my fellow Egyptians, for the time being, is unshakable.

It is a very difficult choice we all have in front of us.

The formal results of the elections come out on Tuesday. There may yet be a surprise or two in store for us. Let us wait and see. In the meantime, welcome, Egyptians, to democracy.

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9 comments

  1. “Democracy- everyone is unhappy equally.” (My mother said that a few years ago not sure if she was quoting anyone).
    1) Welcome back!! Take me on the next trip pleeeeeeeease!

    2) I have decided that regardless of the result I am proud. Everyone I spoke to, bawabs, taxi drivers, farmers, cleaning ladies, teachers security guards. Everyone made a choice and it was a ‘free’ choice. In that noone was really forcing them. They looked at the situation and their lives listened to what ever they were being told and made their own judgements. And THAT is democracy isn’t it?

    I can’t say I am happy with the choice we have to make, who can be? But the only thing that really disappoints me is the amount of coercion and emotional blackmail and manipulation going on currently to convince people to vote one way or another. Its not fair, its not right, its dictatorial at best.

    One lesson I truly hope we take away from this is that people have the right to vote for whomever for whatever reasons they like and most importantly they do not need to disclose who they vote for to anyone!

  2. I don’t blame you. It’s important for Americans to understand the dynamics behind Egyptians’ choices in both the first and second rounds. I fear most Americans don’t, and interpret the elections as: “See, political Islam is on the march! We have to step up the War on Terror! It’s a clash of civilizations! It’s either us or them!” Actually, that’s not true. Most Americans probably have no idea Egypt just had elections (sadly). Or that it even had a revolution. Good luck in round two.

    ‎”democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried” -Winston Churchill

  3. The most sincere, valid, truly wise post I have read about the election results. My greatest respect for being so undeterred and loyal to the democratic goals so many fought and even lost their lives for. The reactions you describe can be seen indeed all over twitter and facebook and are sad to read and follow. So much more invaluable that you found the right words how it really should be after an election producing difficult if not to say troubling results. If your attitude and approach would become the standard, there would be nothing to worry about regarding democracy in Egypt – despite this outcome. It’s the people that need to change, not the results.

    “Besides, it’s only four years. We can change him then.” – What an epic, historical sentence to say in Egypt!

    That no one ever could say before in decades and years. And now you just dish it out like that. – Ha! – Democracy anyone? :-)

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