CAIRO — In the second phase of Egypt’s constitutional referendum, lines of men and women stretched along Monofeya’s main downtown boulevard, named after late President Anwar Sadat, where four polling stations opened at 8 a.m. to receive the 22,000 registered voters assigned to that main street alone.
“Mathematically, if each voter takes one minute to cast their ballot, each of the polling stations will require more than 90 hours to cover the number of registered voters,” principle of Al-Qadima Elementary School, who refused to have his name published, told Al-Monitor on Dec. 22, a few minutes before the two polling stations inside his school opened their ballot boxes to hundreds of voters who had already been waiting for almost an hour.
“If the turnout is 50% we would still need 45 hours, if its 25% we would still need 22.5 hours, and that is only if none of the supervising judges take a break, nothing interrupts the process and every voter miraculously takes exactly one minute,” said the principle, whose ancient, arabesque style palace-turned-school had more than 11,000 registered voters divided over two supervising judges.
Dozens of military and security personnel scattered across the school yard directing voters, helping the elderly and trying desperately to absorb the anger of those who frowned, yelled or sometimes tried to push open the school gate after waiting for hours.
The lack of supervising judges due to nationwide boycotts by members of the judiciary forced the elections committee to combine polling stations, which led to overcrowding. Holding the voting process in one day, instead of two, which was applied in both the presidential and parliamentary elections, was said to be another reason that will keep millions of voters from casting their ballots across the country.
The constitutional referendum was called for by President Mohammed Morsi in an attempt to contain a political crisis he instigated by passing a decree granting him vast powers and immunity from all state bodies including the judiciary. Massive protests sparked by Morsi’s Nov. 22 decree led to violent clashes between his supporters and opposition members leaving several dead and hundreds injured. Annulling his decree two weeks later failed to strike dialogue with opposition forces or sway judges from boycotting the constitutional referendum.
Monofeya, the home governorate of ousted president Hosni Mubarak and his predecessor, assassinated president Anwar Sadat, is also home to 2.3 million or 8.8% of Egypt’s registered voters. During the June 2012 presidential elections, Ahmed Shafiq who competed with Morsi over Egypt’s presidency garnered 1.2 million of the governorate’s votes while only 480,000 went to the latter who became the country’s first democratically-elected president. The governorate continues to be tagged as the stronghold of the remnants of Mubarak’s ousted regime.
“I am neither an Islamist nor a Mubarak-lover, but I will say no to the constitution that was put to a referendum without national consensus, dialogue, or the democratic system the Muslim Brotherhood continues to claim,” said Emad Eddin Ali, a 57-year-old shop owner who waited in line for a couple of hours before casting his ballot.
“I read the constitution and watched hours of constitution propaganda by Islamists, but it never convinced me, I couldn’t find anyone but Islamists praising this constitution,” said Ali.
A few minutes away from the polling station, dozens of members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party set up an operation room to monitor polling stations and document violations reported by their field representatives.
Sabry Amer, a top Muslim Brotherhood officer of Monofeya, a Freedom and Justice Party member of the 2011 dissolved parliament and head of its Transportation Committee, told Al-Monitor that “those who vote yes are not supporters of Morsi but of stability and economic progress.”
“And those who vote against the constitution are a combination of Morsi’s opposition, remnants of Mubarak’s regime, those angered by the president’s decree, and a minority have logical reasons for voting against it,” said Amer who believes it’s difficult to anticipate the results of voting in Monofeya but says the difference, for reasons he failed to elaborate, will never be as massive as that between Morsi and Shafiq supporters in the June 2012 presidential elections.
Amer set two conditions for this constitution, who he thinks will pass, to satisfy the Egyptian people: political will and economical stability.
“We have the political will, but we lack the economical stability due to many reasons on top of which is the poor performance of the current government that showed clear incompetence in running the country at this critical time,” said Amer who insisted that the “Freedom and Justice Party’s experienced leaders should have occupied the majority of the cabinet.”
“As for the constitution, only reading it will convince anyone to vote yes.”
Meanwhile, members of the revolutionary April 6 Youth Movement set up their own operation room a few blocks away from that of the Muslim Brotherhood. Six men ran around the clock shifts over the past week to organize their anti-constitution campaigns and continued to report and document violations throughout the voting process on Saturday. One of their computers showed a newly married couple who insisted on taking their wedding photo with a “Vote No” sign.
Irregularities reported by the April 6 operation room included members of the Muslim Brotherhood directing voters inside polling stations, several fabricated reports of violations in polling stations where the “No Vote” is expected to be significantly higher, free of charge transportation for voters sponsored by the Muslim Brotherhood, and several judges banning monitors from entering polling stations.
“Our main concern is that lack of organization will block hundreds of thousands of voters from casting their ballots, either because of the unending lines of voters due to combining polling stations or because of the one day voting process that will never be enough for around 2 million voters,” Abul Hassan Mohamed, spokesman of April 6 Youth Movement in Monofeya told Al-Monitor.
“This is definitely an advantage for the Islamist constitution supporters, it will either make them win Monofeya, which will be shocking in comparison to the presidential elections, or they will lose it by a very slim margin.”
“Either this constitution passes or fails, our critical view of it will never change until it changes,” said Mohamed.
Mohannad Sabry is an Egyptian journalist based in Cairo. He has written for McClatchy Newspapers and The Washington Times, served as managing editor of Global Post's reporting fellowship "Covering the Revolution" in Cairo as well as a contributor to its special reports "Tahrir Square" and "Egypt: the military, the people." Sabry was nominated to the 2011 Livingston Award for International Reporting. Born in Saudi Arabia and raised around the world, Sabry returned to Cairo in 2001 and has been covering Egypt since 2005. Follow him on twitter @mmsabry.