June 17, 2012 in Nation/World

Egypt warily votes

Many distrust setup, outcome of runoff
Jeffrey Fleishman Los Angeles Times
Associated Press photo

An Egyptian casts his vote in front of soldiers at a polling station in Zagazig, 63 miles northeast of Cairo, on Saturday. The two-day balloting will produce Egypt’s first president since a popular uprising last year ousted Hosni Mubarak, who is now serving a life sentence.
(Full-size photo)

Disappearing ink alleged

Rumor had it a devious conspiracy was afoot: Egyptians were being tricked into using pens with disappearing ink so their choice on the ballot would vanish before it was counted.

There was no concrete evidence for the rumors, but some voters in polling stations around the city were clearly concerned as they marked their paper ballots.

The claim seems to have emerged two days before the vote. A right-wing TV host, Tawfiq Okasha, accused the Muslim Brotherhood of importing 180,000 disappearing-ink pens from India. He said they intended to distribute the pens outside polling stations to voters they believed would vote for Ahmed Shafiq.

At a polling center in Cairo, the supervising judge was tearing his hair out over voters fussing over pens. One woman brought a pen from home because she didn’t trust the official one. Another wanted to take her ballot outside to wait to ensure her checkmark didn’t disappear, said the judge, Mohammed el-Minshawi.

“These rumors are corrupting the national consciousness,” he said. “I am hitting the ceiling.”

Associated Press

CAIRO – Egyptians began voting Saturday for a new president, but the joy that defined the first round of elections last month had turned sullen, as if they were enduring the final betrayal of a revolution by a ruling military that has manipulated events from the wings for six decades.

The choice they face in two days of balloting is stark and unsettling: Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi represents an untested political Islam, and Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister to serve toppled leader Hosni Mubarak, is an old-guard loyalist whose victory would repudiate the demands for change that fueled last year’s rebellion.

Temperatures were high and turnout was low, amid fear that the runoff would not bring them a new democracy to end months of political unrest and inspire an Arab world in upheaval. Much is uncertain about the country’s fate: A high court last week dissolved the Islamic-dominated parliament, no constitution has been drafted to outline presidential powers, and the army and police intensified patrols and checkpoints across the capital and other cities.

“I am voting today for Morsi, but I know the results,” said Dina El Garf, a young woman from the Cairo neighborhood of Dokki. She said that the military “will never let Morsi win. I know it will be the military’s choice and that is Shafiq. A lot of people did not come out to vote today for this reason.”

Tunisia and Egypt led the revolts that last year swept autocrats from power across the Middle East and North Africa. Tunisia has had a relatively smooth transition to stability, but Egypt has been stifled by echoes from the Mubarak era – a council of generals that for 17 months has allowed a veneer of democracy while retaining all meaningful power.

That dynamic was prevalent in Cairo, where government buildings stood ensconced in barricades and the helmets of riot police gleamed in the sun.

The day felt like an eerie playback of the indifference that used to settle over voting lines during the repressive days of Mubarak. Casting a ballot Saturday seemed an unenviable task for many frustrated by the polarizing choice between Morsi and Shafiq. Neither man symbolizes the spirit of the uprising; their campaigns do not excite liberals, activists and progressive Islamists hoping for a rallying voice to rise from the “Arab Spring.”

“What the institution wants will happen,” said Ahmed Hamdy, referring to the army-appointed interim government. “Both candidates are the wrong choice, but we know who is going to win. It is clear and voting is not going to change that.”

Shafiq would hew closer to the secular law-and-order line favored by the military. But Morsi, a religious conservative, would encounter an army that since independence in 1952 has backed a state that violently crushed attempts by Islamists to turn religious popularity into political clout. Morsi’s authority would be further denuded by last week’s disbanding of parliament, nearly 50 percent of which was controlled by the Brotherhood.

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