A microbus full of veiled senior women in the quiet streets of Giza approaches an electoral polling station at Nasr Al-Din Primary School and parks, where the young driver can be heard instructing “choose ‘For the Love of Egypt’; you have two voting cards”.
As Daily News Egypt visited polling stations in the working class area of Omraniya, the microbus, which was covered in posters of Waleed Zakaria Abdel Aziz, unloaded the voters in front of the heavily guarded gates of the school, and waited at the end of the street.
“This is common for older people to received guidance from certain candidates outside the station. However, the judge has no authority outside. He can physically control things from inside the school and within 50 metres of its vicinity,” an aide at the Supreme Electoral Commission (SEC) told Daily News Egypt.
As the voting took place, a common scene dominated of senior citizens arriving on their own with a piece of paper with numbers and shapes. An illiterate 56-year-old woman, Fawzia, entered a polling station in Nasr Al-Din Primary School to be met by a female judge who got used to asking voters: “Do you know what you are doing here?”
Fawzia replied in a loud voice: “I want to elect the [logo of] star and the [logo of]…” The judge had to take Fawiza to the voting booth to help her mark her choice.
This is very common, the judge said. “Although the logos are there to help illiterate citizens in the elections, people still face difficulties. According to the HEC, only handicapped citizens, especially the visually impaired, are allowed to dictate their choices to the judge. But we are often surprised that more people as us for assistance,” she noted.
“While the majority of the voters know their candidates of choice, some don’t have a clue,” the judge told Daily News Egypt,
In the same school, a former ministry of agriculture employee who came accompanied with her daughter said she will choose “whoever will do better for the country”, without giving more information regarding the criteria for judging this. Her daughter could be seen carrying a paper with candidate’s pictures.
Another woman told Daily News Egypt that she does not “read or write, and I came because I was told to vote for the logos of the elephant (Ramzi Gerges) and train (Ihab Mansour, ESDP), and for Mostafa Bakry”.
Another 43-year-old man told Daily News Egypt that he studied the candidates’ CVs for individual and independent candidates. “For the lists, I checked which political parties were in each list and what were those parties’ political agenda and programmes, like ‘Fi Hob Misr’[For the Love of Egypt].”
In the Al-Kholafa Al-Rashdeen School, when asked whether this indecision can lead coordinators or campaigners to “exploit the voters”, the SEC aide replied: “The judge responsible is in control of the operation. Any violator observed ‘inside’ the station, the police are allowed to intervene. The judge has already reported that some shop owners have computers who ‘guide’ the voters, but in vain.”
A judge in the school said: “Many of the voters are illiterate. I noticed that they came accompanied by a son and daughter or younger relatives who are supposed to read the voting cards for them.
“However, when I surprise them that each voter is only allowed to go inside the polling station alone, I can see their confusion. I just tell them how many voters they are supposed to select and that is all.”
Another incident that is considered a violation in the SEC was observed by Daily News Egypt, where an elderly woman entered the polling station and received the empty voting cards, but used a mobile phone on loudspeaker, asking: “Whom should I choose?”
When the judge saw the incident, he physically intervened to end the call and ask the voter to choose according to her discretion. Confused, the woman randomly chose more than two candidates.
Senior citizens have dominated the electoral scene so far, with an obvious absence of young voters. Critics of the regime, as well as the strong and organised Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates, are absent from the scene, citing lack of choice, presence of Mubarak-era figures, and lack of “legitimacy”. The latter is always cited by the Brotherhood, and the pro- Morsi Anti-Coup Alliance and many Islamist parties, which have boycotted the political scene in Egypt since the ouster of Morsi in 2013.
In the latest presidential elections, senior citizens were also the majority of voters. Moreover, voters saw a low turnout, which pushed the government to extend the voting into another day.