Egyptians flock to polls to vote on amendments


Los Angeles Times

CAIRO

They waited for hours in long lines, but they weren’t impatient. They knew that when they emerged from polling stations and proudly waved fingers stained with pink ink, they would have freely expressed their will at the ballot box. At last.

More than 45 million Egyptians were eligible to vote Saturday on a set of constitutional amendments designed to pave the way for parliamentary and presidential elections this year. Many said it was a cathartic moment that began to purge years of pent-up political frustration during the decades of former President Hosni Mubarak’s rule.

“Finally, we have our moment to speak our mind,” said 22-year-old college student Mohammed Abdel Ghani, who grinned widely as he waved a sign for passing cars that read: “It doesn’t matter whether you vote ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ just vote!”

Ghani was among hundreds crowding a polling station in a section of Cairo’s Nasser City, where many live in cramped government housing. They waited three hours to vote, and when they emerged, waved inked fingers signifying they had voted.

In interviews, the voters were deeply divided on the merits of the constitutional amendments, but they expressed almost uniform confidence that the process would be fair.

The balloting took place in full view of independent election monitors, and an estimated 16,000 members of the judiciary had ultimate authority over the counting procedures at more than 54,000 polling stations nationwide. An additional 36,000 security personnel were meant to ensure that voters faced no intimidation.

“This is a historic day for Egypt,” Deputy Prime Minister Yahya Gamal told reporters after casting his vote in Cairo. “I had never seen such large numbers of voters in Egypt. Finally, the people of Egypt have come to realize that their vote counts.”

The proposed amendments limit presidents to two four-year terms, ensure judicial supervision of elections, eliminate restrictions on the formation of political parties and require a popular referendum before the country’s controversial emergency law is used for more than six months. The law has been used to detain political dissidents and others without charge.

Without reliable polling, no one could predict how the results would turn out, but the onetime opposition Muslim Brotherhood and remnants of Mubarak’s former ruling party were strongly in favor of the amendments.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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