CAIRO: It’s the question on everybody’s mind; who will you vote for? Or better yet, will you vote at all?
With the 2011 presidential elections on the horizon, campaigns are abound to encourage Egyptians to issue voting cards on social networking websites as well as through efforts by civil societies and some political parties.
The deadline for registering to vote was even extended this year from its original Jan. 31 date. Last month, an administrative court verdict allowed voters’ registration throughout the year.
The court also ordered LE 3,000 in compensation to any citizen denied the issuance of a voting card.
But the question remains whether it was enough to push citizens to make their votes count.
According to statistics by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), around 40 million Egyptians are registered to vote.
Mohamed Helmy is one of the creators of the Facebook group titled “Go Issue a Voting Card, aimed at raising awareness about the issue.
“After [former IAEA chief] Mohamed ElBaradei said that he may run for president if the constitution was amended, I thought that most Egyptians from different backgrounds do not have a voting card, said Helmy.
“With the deadline for issuing a voting card approaching and knowing that most [people] don’t even know what a voting card is, how, when and where to issue one, I collected the data [and posted it on the group page], he added.
Other campaigners explained that Egypt has been going through a stagnant phase for a long time and that it was time for change.
Online campaigns are aimed at reaching as many people as possible in a short period of time.
“If I made a group with 2,500 members and others made other groups…we can gather a large number of people, Kyrillous George, also from “Go Issue a Voting Card, said.
“Facebook offers a new platform where you can discuss [the latest issues], explained Kyrillous.
“If you want people to talk, give them an area where they can talk, he said, adding that the social networking website helped boost online activism.
“My dream in the next elections is to see the percentage of participation over 85 percent, said Kyrillous.
Rowaida Magdy launched an online campaign titled “The voting card is now all year round, also aimed at informing people about the issue.
She explained that it is an individual’s right to vote despite his or her political background.
“People totally dismissed the idea [of issuing a voting card] thinking it’s useless or a long procedure or it might get them into trouble, she said.
“I thought I should do my part and spread the word and be positive and in the end, people make the change, to the worse or better… it’s in their hands, she concluded.
The most prominent campaign operates under the title of “Souty Mattlaby or “My Call, My Voice, initiated by activists including George Ishaq, former coordinator of the Kefaya movement.
The campaign has four main objectives, as stated on their website www.soutymatlaby.com, including creating electoral schedules according to national IDs, facilitating electronic voting, amending articles in the constitution pertaining to political rights and the international monitoring of elections.
Ishaq said they launched the campaign in an attempt to motivate people and avoid any manipulation with voters’ cards.
“People have been facing problems issuing voting cards . which several times led them to lose their temper and leaving, said Ishaq.
“If we get 40 percent of the people’s votes, than this is an achievement in itself, he said.
Daily News Egypt polled 90 people, 64 percent of which said they do not have a voting card, while 26 percent said they are planning on issuing one.
Respondents who hold voting cards said they are registered to allow them to positively participate in building Egypt’s future, changing the country for the better and have a voice in the political life.
They explained that it is the citizen’s responsibility to vote for the next president emphasizing that it’s the only way Egypt can develop.
“I issued my voting card to contribute to making a better future for my country, and because I’m being positive, Mohamed Nashaat, a 22-year-old student, said.
In Alexandria, Mina Wagdy, 23, said he is planning on voting because he wants to select the best candidate to be the president in the upcoming elections.
Most respondents said they are registered because they want to play a positive role in their country and because they wish to exercise their rights in voting. They agreed that they are “trying to make a difference and hoping for change.
“My voice means my existence in Egypt and I can’t imagine not existing, said a 23-year-old respondent from Mahalla.
21-year-old Islam Abdel Hamid from Cairo said he will vote to “actively contribute in achieving democracy in my country.
Ahmed Abbas, a 23-year-old medical student, thinks of it as his “duty.
Apathy and skepticism looms over others who did not register to vote. Almost half of the respondents polled by Daily News Egypt who do not have a voting card believe the elections are going to be forged.
Some respondents said they did not believe in the integrity of elections, casting doubt on democracy under the current regime.
The other half said they simply did not have the time to issue one, while a few other respondents said they did not know when the deadline to register is.
“I tried to go to the police station and the officer in charge was not there so I had no other time to go, Eman Helal, a 32-year-old accountant, said.
Others are discouraged, saying going through the process can be a hassle. An official at the Nozha Police station first told this Daily News Egypt reporter that the deadline for voting cards had passed. Then the official asked for a birth certificate, but upon insistence, eventually handed over the registration form.Mahmoud Yousry, a 24-year-old student said, “Bureaucracy is what prevents me.
Another respondent claimed that the police station told him he can’t register until May.
“Some applications were refused, asking applicants to submit a lot of documents; some argue the need for the birth certificate when they already have their national ID card, he said.
Calling for free and fair elections
While some activists are eager to make their votes count, they still cast doubt on the integrity of the elections.
This drove the “Egyptians for Fair and Free Elections movement to call for international monitoring of the elections, sending requests to the Carter Center, the African Union and the European Union.
Last month, the movement held a seminar at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), where its official spokesperson George Ishaq highlighted the need for international monitoring.
“The European Union sent a request to the Egyptian authorities in order to allow foreign monitoring bodies next elections, he said.
However, Michael Ryan, first counselor Political Affairs, Delegation of the European Commission in Egypt, said that while the EU offered to help in the upcoming elections for example by updating the voters list and helping in civil awareness, it “cannot monitor any elections at which we were not invited.
So far, he continued, the EU’s proposal hasn’t been rejected. “We are still engaged in the discussion over the table with the Egyptian government.
Ishaq maintained that “the international monitoring of elections doesn’t violate a state’s sovereignty.
“In the MENA region the EU has already monitored [elections in] Sudan, Palestine and Lebanon which was a very successful experience, Ryan said.
Last October, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) also announced the formation of a human rights coalition comprised of 148 rights groups and organizations to monitor elections in Egypt to ensure its integrity.