Monday, November 29, 2010

Vote rigging caught on video during Egypt election

The following video shows a man filling out ballots for the women's quota in Belbeis, Sharkeya. In the background another man fills out regular ballots.

Also, the BBC acquired video of blatant ballot stuffing, which can be viewed on their website here:

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Voting results: Qasr el-Nil district

Here are the facts & figures of the Qasr el-Nil election:
  • There are 76,000 people registered to vote in the district. 6,235 votes were cast, making voter turnout less than 9%.
  • Of those votes, only 5,851 were valid.
  • According to the 'official' tally, Hisham Mustafa Khalil received 3,300 votes and Gameela Ismail 1,300. Abzulaziz Mustafa, candidate for the workers' seat, received 3,900.
In order to be declared the winner, a Parliamentary candidate must receive at least 50%+1 of the valid votes in his/her district. In the case of Qasr el-Nil, that would be 2,927 votes.

Gameela Ismail submitted reports contesting the validity of the votes in 8 of the 102 ballot boxes in Qasr el-Nil, which accounted for 1,200 votes. Of the reports, the judge overseeing the district approved one. He did not rule on the other 7. If the judge had accepted her contentions, Khalil would have officially been awarded 2,100 of the votes, which is not 50% of the votes.

There would have been a run-off election between Gameela and Khalil. As it stands, Khalil will be announced the winner of the seat.

The ballot boxes contested by Ismail included boxes from the Cairo Tower polling station, where Gameela's representative as well as representatives of candidate Hamada Morsi witnessed ballot stuffing by Khalil supporters.

Election Updates

9:37am: Gameela is number 14 on the Qasr el-Nil ballot, not 17 as she was initially listed

12:00 noon: Voters at the Maaruf & Tahrir polling station at the Chemistry Authority on Ramsis Street say they have been told to write their full names on their ballots rather than check off the candidate they are casting their vote for. Gameela Ismail has been arguing with the authorities for about half an hour. More security is showing up, no resolution yet. I've spoken with women who say they did write their names and signatures on the ballots. Controversy over whether those votes will be counted or not.

7:50pm: I don't even know where to begin. For now, the facts as I know them: rigged votes were placed in boxes at the television station and the polling station by Cairo Tower. Candidate Hamada Morsi has a bag full of supposed bribe money. Morsi also confronted security and others at the voting locations while they were trying to add votes to ballot boxes. He and his supporters attempted to break the ballot boxes so rigged votes could not be counted.

12:00 midnight: An officer came outside the counting station in Qasr el-Nil to look for some of the election officials. Supposedly they are checking into inconsistencies with certain ballot boxes. Otherwise, all is calm.

First photos of the day: ballot boxes

Here are my first photos of the day, perhaps the first photos of Egypt's 2010 Parliamentary Elections.

Gameela Ismail and I stopped at Salem School in Bulaq at 2:30am. Salem School is the polling station which was mysteriously discovered to have been added to the Qasr el-Nil district yesterday, despite being physically located in Bulaq district rather than Qasr el-Nil.

Outside the school, Gameela's banners and posters were the only ones from Qasr el-Nil which appeared. The other banners were all from Bulaq candidates.

Seventeen voting boxes are supposed to be located at the school. Here you can see the covered ballot boxes in one of the classrooms:

In another classroom we found ballot boxes that had not yet been covered. On the right, the ballot box for the women's quota, which is on a completely separate voting scheme than the regular seats.

On the left, the regular ballot box.

We hurried through the different parts of the school, while the elderly bawab called half-heartedly for us to come back down, that there was nothing to see. Shortly before leaving we encountered the two men who were arranging the classrooms. They insisted emphatically that there would be no voting for Qasr el-Nil at Salem School. One of them even got a superior on the phone, and after a long conversation again relayed that only voting for Bulaq would take place at the school.

Gameela was doubtful, the head police officer of Qasr el-Nil had informed her the school was indeed a polling station. Additionally, it was on the official list of polling stations for Qasr el-Nil.

Later that night, another candidate visited the Bulaq police station and found two ballot boxes already full of votes. More information to come as soon as I get my hands on it.

Stay tuned for updates.

Update 8:22am: From what I have gathered, the person who found the prepared ballot boxes was unable to file a police report over them because they were wrapped in cellophane. Essentially, he couldn't prove what was inside them, although it was obvious what they were. Journalist Ian Lee has reported a similar story from Alexandria: he saw packages with wax seals leave a polling station about an hour ago. A man holding one said they were t-shirts.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Egypt: On the Eve of Elections

Gameela Ismail campaigning before elections
Tomorrow Egypt will hold parliamentary elections. The world is watching and the government is ready. Reports of irregularities are already making local and international news. Everyone wonders what will happen - will the opposition win any seats? What about the Muslim Brotherhood? Perhaps most importantly: will the vote be fair?

It's important for observers to realize what appears on Egypt's surface and what happens under it are two entirely different things.

One of the best pieces of advice I received back when I was doing research for a capstone thesis on current Egyptian politics was to try to be as Egyptian as possible when looking at what was happening around me. It sounds simple, but it is both difficult and vitally important. It's like looking at an orange and breaking it open to find an onion.

Here are a few quick facts about Egyptian politics:
  1. Egypt is a dictatorship. Egypt's 82-year-old president, Hosni Mubarak, has held the position for thirty years.  This makes him Egypt's third-longest ruler ever, including the pharaohs of old. One way Mubarak holds onto his power is through the army. Egypt has lived under Emergency Law - essentially military rule - since Anwar Sadat was assassinated thirty years ago.
  2. Egypt does not have a pluralistic political system. Many outsiders look at Egyptians politics, see the names of many political parties, and come to the conclusion that there is a vibrant, pluralistic political life. In reality, nearly all of Egypt's "opposition" parties have deals with the government whereby they act like opposition for the media in return for certain political or other benefits.
  3. Egyptian elections are neither free nor fair. Egyptians know this. It contributes to the extreme apathy most Egyptians feel. Additionally, Egyptian politicians buy votes. Outright. Egyptians know this as well, and some even call candidates to find out who will pay the most for their vote.
  4. Egyptians are terrified of their government. There are exceptions of course, but many Egyptians would literally start shaking in their boots if someone confronted them with criticism of the government. They whisper that there is always someone listening - and usually, they're right.
Gearing up for tomorrow's elections, the regime has already made it difficult for candidates or observers to expect a fair race. In 2005, the elections were spread out over a period of time to ensure each polling station would be overseen by a judge. This year, all the elections will take place in one day - meaning there is no possible way for judicial oversight.

Secondly, the government waited until a month before the election to announce its official date. It also stipulated that campaigning would only be permitted starting fourteen days before the election. The campaign period was strategically scheduled during a major, week-long Islamic holiday.

More recently, the government has stated that journalists will need special passes to report on the elections and that Egyptian civil society has the right to observe the elections, but not the right to monitor them.

Getting around the restrictions
There is always an exception to the rule. In the case of this year's parliamentary elections, that exception may well be independent candidate Gameela Ismail (for more about Gameela, check out my earlier post about campaigning with her).

"I am outside the regime's calculations," Gameela told me a few weeks ago, just after she had submitted her papers to run for parliament in Qasr el-Nil, a strategic district in downtown Cairo. To outsiders, it may seem impossible an impossible battle.

Yet Gameela may have exactly what it takes to get around the regime's restrictions. Gameela has battled Egyptian State Security for years and knows exactly what it is capable of.

The combination of Gameela's knowledge of State Security's tricks and their strong desire to keep her at arm's length could serve her well in Sunday's polls. Gameela knows how to deal with State Security and State Security knows better than to make her mad. She'll sit in their offices or keep them standing in the street until she gets what she wants - I've witnessed both tactics.

Over the past few days, many independent and opposition candidates have found their petitions to have representatives in the polling stations on Election Day denied outright. Gameela had a day-long verbal battle with State Security in Qasr el-Nil, but at the end of the day she got what she wanted: permission for her representatives to be in the polling stations.

(Representatives are allowed to remain inside the polling stations to keep an eye on the ballot boxes and watch for irregularities.)

Will it be enough to win her the election? Maybe not, but she has a fighting chance.

Voting stations changed, Ismail considering withdrawal

Less than 24 hours before Egypt's Parliamentary elections, authorities have rearranged which polling stations voters should report to in the strategic Qasr el-Nil district in downtown Cairo. The change was discovered less than two hours ago when independent candidate Gameela Ismail arrived at the Qasr el-Nil police station to file her list of representatives for the district. Representatives are permitted to remain inside polling stations and watch for irregularities.

Representatives may only observe in the polling station to which they are assigned to vote. The last-minute rearrangement means many of Ismai's representatives - and those of other candidates - are no longer valid, as they are now assigned to different polling stations.

The woman in charge of the lists at the Qasr el-Nil station told Ismail it would be impossible to provide her with a copy of the new lists by 5pm, the deadline for turning in the paperwork for representatives.

"How can I communicate with people quickly to find new representatives?" Ismail asked.

She threatened to withdraw from the race if the issue was not resolved before five pm. "I will not run if there is no judiciary oversight and no representatives watching the boxes," she said.

UPDATE: By late afternoon, authorities at two different police stations sorted out their issues and assured Gameela that there was no problem and voting lists had not been changed. She held her press conference - late - and confirmed that she would be running in tomorrow's elections.

In other news, it has just been discovered that there is another polling station in Qasr el-Nil, which no one knew about. Who is supposed to vote there is still unclear. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Campaigning with Gameela: Day Two

Gameela speaks to residens of the poverty-stricken
Bulaq neighborhood
A dozen young men and women spread down the street, handing out pamphlets and holding large, black-white-and-red posters. Not far behind, a woman with bright, smiling eyes followed, shaking hands and speaking with shopkeepers and residents. Four television cameras and a half-dozen journalists and photographers observed her every move, capturing her interactions on film.

Yesterday was my second day following the parliamentary campaign of prominent public figure Gameela Ismail. Gameela is running for parliament in Qasr el-Nil, a key district in downtown Cairo, against seasoned ruling-party politician Hisham Mostafa Khalil (Khalil's father was once Prime Minister of Egypt).

Gameela has seen and experienced more in the way of dirty politics than most Americans or Europeans could imagine. She learned how to deal with campaign tricks when she ran for Shura Council in 2001, and again when she ran Ayman Nour’s presidential campaign in 2005. When Nour was imprisoned under false pretenses, Gameela managed to raise their two sons and keep the political party running for the next four years, despite constant harassment from the government. She received phone calls late at night threatening the safety of her children, and was even caught inside the party headquarters when a rival faction attempted to burn them down. Gameela survived these trials and became known and respected throughout Egypt for her strength and courage.

After everything she has faced in her fight for democracy and civil rights in Egypt, Gameela is running for parliament against a strong government force. Why? Because she refuses to stand by and watch a parliamentary campaign with no worthy candidates in the district where she has spent her entire life.

And she thinks she has a chance to win.

Gameela speaks to media outside the
Gezira School in Zamalek
The morning began outside Cilantro cafe in Zamalek at 7:30am. More than twenty State Security officers were prowling the area when Gameela’s car pulled up. As her son and sister-in-law covered the car with election posters, Gameela spoke to the already waiting media – CNN, another television crew, German and Japanese reporters – and a half-dozen of her supporters.

The morning was spent visiting schools in the Zamalek area. Soon, a total of four television cameras were following Gameela – CNN, BBC, and two programs from Dream TV – in addition to reporters and a dozen of Gameela’s supporters.

The group then headed downtown to the Mugamma. The Mugamma is a giant, Soviet-looking building smack in the middle of Midan Tahrir, one of Cairo’s most important squares (also home to the Egyptian Museum and the old campus of the American University in Cairo). Gameela considers the Mugamma to be the biggest mark of the State – and she is right. Everyone, from Egyptians needing identity cards to foreigners obtaining visas, must pass through the Mugamma’s doors at least once during their lives in Egypt.

Outside the entrance the thirty or so people now in Gameela's entourage set up camp – supporters passed out Gameela’s pamphlets while reporters filmed Gameela’s interactions with security outside the Mugamma, who were reluctant to let any of the group inside the building and were extremely uncomfortable with the presence of TV cameras. Finally Gameela entered the building with a dozen or so supporters, but without the television crews.

Hanging Gameela's poster on a
wall inside the Mugamma
She headed straight for the Ministry of Education, where she knocked on every door and introduced herself to everyone she encountered. Even here, in this important Government building, the people were receptive to her. They hung her posters on their walls. “The people were so brave,” Gameela said later. “They spoke up loudly against the government.”

Eventually the group made its way out of the Mugamma and moved to one of the poorest areas in Gameela’s district. That is where my story began – as Gameela moved through the streets speaking with potential voters. It’s a hard battle here: the people like Gameela, and many would support her. But unlike the other candidates, Gameela refuses to buy votes.

“A few days ago, this woman’s sister called me,” Gameela told the group, referring to a woman she had just met. “She said, we like you, we want to support you. How much are you paying?”

Gameela's poster hangs over a
shop in Bulaq
The woman's query literally meant, how much money will you give us to vote for you. In many ways it is endemic corruption. Candidates offer poor Egyptians 500 Egyptian Pounds – less than US $100 – for their votes. Half is paid up front, the other half after they take a picture of their ballots with their mobile phones. Then, whoever wins disappears for the next five years.

Gameela wants to change this. “I want the people to understand that I will not pay them for their votes, but that if I win I will work for them for free for the next five years,” she said.

It will be a difficult battle, and only days remain before the elections take place. Bizarrely, the Egyptian government only allows fourteen days of campaigning before elections take place.

Surrounded by a mixed group of journalists, supporters, and potential voters, Gameela pauses to look up at someone speaking to her from their window. Behind her, a young man holds her election poster high, creating a backdrop. She smiles, and the expression on her face echoes the one on her poster – she is looking toward the future with hope, and perhaps that is the key that will help her effect her vision for Qasr el-Nil, and perhaps, eventually, for her country.