A Day at the Egyptian Elections
Egyptian authorities panic in the face of an Islamist victory.
Three men are concealed at the end of Khorshid Street, in Sharqueyya, the fief of Mohammad Morsi, the highest ranking member of the Muslim Brotherhood permitted to run for office in the Egyptian elections. One of the men has a pail filled with rocks, pieces of concrete and glass bottles. These men are the baltagueyya, a term untranslatableterm meaning means faithless,lawless individuals paid by the National Democratic Party to commit acts of vandalism in order to spread panic. One hundred meters away, a colorful assembly of veiled women is waiting in front of the polling station reserved to women of the neighborhood.
It is 8 o’clock in the morning, Wednesday, December 7th. Some have been waiting for more than two hours, fanning themselves with their pink voting cards. The station is open, but a dense cordon of police with helmets, club and shields bar the entrance and are deaf to the pleas from the women who hope to enter. They know that we are going to give our vote to the Muslim Brotherhood because we are in Islamic dress, explains the elderly Ashgan. I don’t care, I’ll wait all day long if I have to. A female voter, waving her membership card in the NDP in the face of the police, is able to cross the security cordon with no problem.
One of the baltagueyya gives the signal. Suddenly, glass bottles shatter against the walls, dispersing dangerous shards. Rocks and concrete rain down on the women, who flee screaming. A dozen baltagueyya, posted at the other end of the street, make a charge at them from the rear. They toss rocks and Molotov cocktails as well as bottles of sulfuric acid. Within the space of a minute, Khorshid street is transformed into a battlefield, furrowed with plumes of smoke. A little girl falls down, her food severely burned. From the surrounding buildings, men begin enter the streets.
From the balconies, neighbors organize a counterattack, throwing anything they can get their hands on at the attackers.
As the baltagueyya retreat, a small metal cannister launched by police lands in the middle of the street. It’s a pepper bomb, someone shouts! Panic gives way to choking. People are holding their stomachs to vomit, everyone’s coughing, their eyes are reddening and their skin is burning. When the smoke clears, the baltagueyya are gone and the street is deserted. One by one, the women return to assemble in front of the police cordon. Seated on the sidewalk, the elderly Ashgan sobs, immodestly displaying her wounded leg. The baltagueyya are the down-and-out of the neighborhood, she says. Election time in Egypt is baltagueyya season.
In the Sharqueyya district in the heart of the Nile delta, the tension was predictable. During the last day of voting in the Egyptian elections on December 7, 11 of the 35 Muslim Brotherhood candidates faced off against the NDP. Khorshid Street is a strategic position in the struggle between the party in power and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Across the street from the polling station are the headquarters of Mohammad Morsi. This physician, who runs the Zagazig hospital, is a member of the “guidance” bureau, the Muslim Brotherhood control center. In the outgoing Parliament, he was the Brotherhood’s party whip. This year, with or without the reelection of Dr. Morsi, the Brotherhood will have at least 76 seats in Parliament, an historic record and a political breakthrough which the government is trying to limit.
After the explosion of violence, the women lost their composure. Judges! Hey, judges! You are our only hope besides God! The ringleader is Abir, a young woman veiled in black. This country will never change as long as we remain silent, she shouts. Why do we have to live in fear? She turns to the police. May you be covered in shit—you’re defending corrupt men and dictators! "Shut up", the women whisper, "You’ll get yourself arrested!" I’m going to shout the truth! cries Abir sharply, so I don’t go to hell on Judgment Day!
A family walks out of the neighborhood. They are Christian Copts, who are numerous in the region. They were not permitted to vote. We don’t have an NDP membership card, explains Sabet Morqos, the father. But we wouldn’t have just voted for anyone, except the Islamists. Today we officiously enjoy few rights. Tomorrow, with the Brotherhood in power, we’d lose everything, officially.
Khaled, a forty year-old accountant, wanted to vote for the Brotherhood. To tell you the truth, he admits, the Brotherhood scares me a little. I like what they say, but nobody knows exactly what their agenda is: the Iranian model? The Saudi or the Turkish model? But we are so stifled that any change —even for the worse— is better. By sending in the baltagueyya, people hate them even more. A vote for the Brotherhood is a protest vote, and they're gaining ground every day.
Back in the quarter, the violence has resumed. Every street is under siege. Knives and sabers are unsheathed. The clashes oppose the Muslim Brotherhood to the baltagueyya. It’s the Palestinian war! cries a child, who is delighted to throw his stones as he’s seen on television. A pause intervenes when teargas is deployed or it is time for prayer. Inside the Muslim Brotherhood offices, doctors tend to the wounded. A baltagueyya mishandled his Molotov cocktail and became a human torch. A photographer is brought in after being struck in the face with a projectile. He’ll lose that eye, comments a doctor.
The legislative elections, which began on November 9th in an atmosphere of remarkable calm, ended on December 7th in unprecedented violence and with a death toll of 6, including two in Sharqueyya, and hundreds of wounded. In Khorshid Street, the police condon remains immobile until the polling station has closed. The city returns to calm. Baltagueyya season is over.