Egyptians complete the voting Sunday for their first-ever freely elected president. But whether the choice is Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, or Ahmed Shafiq, a former prime minister of Hosni Mubarak, the new president will have the support of a very small segment of the people.
While only 46 per cent of eligible Egyptians voted in the first round of balloting last month, this time, in the runoff between the top two vote-getters, fewer people are casting votes – far fewer.
In Cairo and across the country, not many people passed through the yawning doorways of schools set up as polling stations, at least not for large parts of the day.
In Imbaba, for example, a poor working-class district in northwest Cairo, the breadlines Sunday morning were longer than the voting lines.
At one polling station, people had to walk around the body of a dead horse left on the garbage heap beside the entrance to the school.
While 40C heat explains the absence of many voters in the middle of the day – particularly with the smell that comes from rotting animals – not that many more are coming to vote in the cooler early morning.
Only after 5 p.m., people say, will there be more voters.
Some districts did report participation Saturday evening, the first day of voting, as comparable to the turnout in the first round last month. But that was not the case everywhere.
In the Abbasseya district in central Cairo, for example, only a trickle of voters came out to vote Saturday evening, far fewer than came to vote in the previous round.
This isn’t too surprising since neither of the two men still on the ballot for president was the top choice of Cairenes in the first place. The greatest number of votes on the earlier ballot in Cairo (and in Alexandria) went to Hamdein Sabbahy, a left-wing follower of Gamal Abdel Nasser, who urged his supporters to vote for neither of the two remaining candidates, but to abstain from balloting or to spoil their ballot. Judging by the non-existent voting lines, most people appear to have taken the easier route of not voting rather than spoiling their ballot.
Indeed, most people in the big cities want neither a more Islamic state as offered by Mr. Morsi, nor a return to the ways of the old Mubarak regime represented by Mr. Shafik, a former commander of the Air Force.
Even among those voting, there is little enthusiasm for either of the final choices. Most people say they are simply voting for the lesser of two evils.
It is hardly the excited electorate one might have expected from people casting ballots in a new democracy.
The mood is somewhat more gung-ho outside of the two main cities.
Voters in Suez, for example were far more emphatic in their choice of candidates, and just as fearful of the candidate they weren’t supporting.
And people in Bahada, an agricultural town in the Nile Delta, are keen voters. Throughout the day Saturday and Sunday, there was a steady stream coming to cast ballots, with greater concentrations in the cooler morning and evening times.
A block away from the polling station, an organizer for the Muslim Brotherhood sipped tea with some of the local lads.
Almost all of them say they voted for Amr Moussa in the first round. The one-time foreign minister hails from this town and the guys think he distanced himself far enough from the regime to be a credible choice. “He’s not a felloul,” said one man, using the derogatory Arabic term for remains of the old regime.
Now, with Mr. Moussa off the ballot, all the men say they are voting for Mr. Morsi.
“He’s the only way to continue the revolution,” said Mohamed abdel Hakim, 24.
“Even people who don’t support the Brotherhood still respect the work they do and the good they will bring to the country,” said Mr. Abdel Hakim, who is very happy just to be able to vote.
The people of Ezbet el Haganna, a squatter settlement on the outskirts of Cairo, aren’t so fortunate.
This community of about one million people doesn’t officially exist. The people have come from other places, looking for work in the capital, and have grabbed what land they could from a former military area. Over the years, buildings have grown and many new arrivals rent flats from those who came before.
But still the community is not recognized by the authorities, which means there are no schools, let alone polling stations here.
The only residents who can vote are those with identity cards showing a real address somewhere else. Of course that other place is where they must vote.
In many cases those places are too far away and too expensive to reach. Thousands of people are effectively disenfranchised.
A Salafist group is taking advantage of the situation by chartering small buses to take people to polling stations elsewhere in the country.
All day long the buses have rumbled down the broken dirt lanes in the community filled with men and women on their way to vote.
“Of course they’re expected to vote for Morsi,” complained an angry woman who glared as one of the buses drove past.
The woman, who would only give her name as Hanaa, proudly showed her own purple ink-stained finger that showed she had voted.
Hanaa, a mother in her 30s, had made her way across the capital to her old neighbourhood just to spoil her ballot.
“I don’t want either of these guys to win,” she said, “and I want them to know it.”