Poor districts irked by Brotherhood's controversial constitution vote No

Mon, Dec 17, 2012, 00:00

Egyptians flocked to the polls on Saturday to vote in the first phase of a referendum on a constitution most had not read and many did not comprehend.

Nevertheless, men and women, many accompanied by chil-dren and a few with babes in arms, stood patiently in separate lines at schools transformed into polling stations, presented identity cards, collected ballots bearing a blue circle for yes and a brown circle for no, marked their choices and deposited their papers in fat semi-transparent boxes.

Irish ambassador Isolde Moylan and I visited a dozen polling stations, all but one in down-at-heel schools in poor districts of the capital.

Legitimacy established

Queues were mercifully short at the Industrial Technical Insti-tute in the Boulaq slum in central Cairo where legitimacy was established by judge Ali Farouk Saif-ed-Din who presided over ritual registration and purple inking of fingers to prevent multiple voting.

“Six thousand can vote here,” he said, “but 1,000-1,500 are expected.”

At the Fustat school in an elegant yellow villa on the bank of the Nile, we were proclaimed “human rights” and welcomed by the posse of soldiers and police keeping order and providing protection. In the women’s room, a brisk black-suited official observed a Nikabi, a woman covered from head to toe with only her eyes showing, as she slipped off her glove to dip a finger in the ink pot once she had voted.

In the shabby Saida Zeinab district, there were long lines outside the tiny, blue-painted Talee’a boy’s school, where crumbling classrooms did not have windows and graffiti-scored wooden desks were at least a century old. Little wonder people had revolted against their rulers.

A policeman in black uniform with silver buttons and flat beret took us on a tour of polling stations in a two-storey school sheltering in the shadow of the historic 9th-century Ibn Tulun mosque with its famous spiral minaret.

Long lines

Few voters presented themselves at the school gate in the City of the Dead where the living dwell in the tombs of forebearers and ancestors.

However, long lines formed outside the school beside the Cairo tower on the Nile island of Zamalek. As we made for the entrance, a cheerful woman remarked, “Here, in Garden City and Maadi,” two other upmarket districts, “there will be a big fat ‘no’.” She was right.

But no was also the main message in poor districts where a majority demonstrated displeasure with the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies for trying to impose a disputed constitution on Egyptians voting for the eighth time in 22 months but seeing no improvements in their lives.