Official results in Egypt's first free presidential election aren't expected until Tuesday, but according to unofficial tallies published by the Egyptian news media, with 90% of the vote counted so far, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohammad Morsi, is leading and will compete in a June run-off against either Ahmad Shafiq, currently in second place, or Hamdeen Sabahi.
Egyptians flocked to the polls on the second day of voting Thursday. In one of Cairo’s poorest neighborhoods, voters brazenly declared their support for Sabahi, the Nasserite candidate who has vowed to be the president of Egypt’s poor.
Conversations were shared for all to hear in lines outside polling stations in Imbaba. “Enough with the Islamists, enough with the old regime, down with the military. We need a clean man — Hamdeen is the one,” said a woman dressed in an abbaya, conservative Muslim garb. She went as far as asking fellow voters whom they would cast their ballots for. But it seems none needed her convincing. All said they were rooting for Sabahi, the dark-horse leftist candidate who seems to be garnering more votes than opinion polls had predicted. In fact, many people in Imbaba call him by his first name — a sign of affection, they say.
“I know many young people prefer Khaled Ali but Egypt is not ready for a young president. They need someone with experience,” a young man who took part in the revolution told me. He was referring to the other leftist candidate, a human rights lawyer who is 40 years old and a newcomer in politics. “I’m voting for Hamdeen, too,” he added. Sabahi, a veteran opposition politician and founder of Al-Karama (Dignity) party, is 52.
“The Islamists lie, the Muslim brothers lie. They didn’t do anything for the poor; instead they spend their days in parliament praying and discussing stupid matters,” said another woman who added, in the same breath, that she is an observant Muslim, “mind you.”
Egyptians can watch parliamentary discussions live on one of the country’s public channels. Though the People Assembly’s sessions were already broadcast before the revolution, most if not all Egyptians shunned them. Now, many say they want to know what the MPs they elected in November 2011 — a majority of whom are Islamists — are up to. “The Brotherhood said they would not run for the election. They lied,” said a man. The Islamist group, banned but tolerated under Mubarak, ended up fielding two candidates, one of which was disqualified by the electoral commission.
Outside another polling station in Imbaba, a scuffle broke on the street. A soldier guarding the station was called to the scene. “They’re telling people who to vote for and paying them bribes,” shouted a man, his face red with anger and pointing to a group of fully veiled women sitting on plastic chairs on the front porch of a building, slightly removed from the main street.
One of them stood up at once and denied the accusation. A crowd soon formed around the soldier and the women whose eyes were only showing through their niqab’s slits. “I saw them telling people who to vote for and slipping them a few bank notes,” swore another onlooker. The soldier tried in vain to disperse the crowd. An observer with the electoral commission asked which candidate the women had instructed people to vote for in exchange for a bribe. “[Islamist candidate] Abul-Fotouh,” said a man. “Mohamed Mursi,” the Brotherhood candidate, swore another. The veiled women had long left by the time the accusatory crowd came down.
Soon enough, another man came running and panting. “I saw a group of men telling people to vote for [former prime minister and air force commander Ahmed Shafiq].”
“No, they were saying [former foreign minister and Arab League chief] Ahmed Moussa,” insisted another. The electoral commission observer couldn’t help but laugh. “I can’t report this as a fraud,” he said. “I have no conclusive evidence.”
"That’s right,” chimed in a man. “All is going just fine here, please tell the world we’re voting in an orderly fashion, nobody is cheating,” a man strangely dressed in a freshly pressed jogging suit made a point to tell me. And I thought to myself, if anything else, it goes to show that Islamists and remnants of the old regime aren’t much liked in Imbaba.
Sophie Claudet, Europe and Middle East correspondent for Al-Monitor, is covering the Egyptian election on location in Cairo. Follow her on Twitter: @sophieinparis