Long queues snaked through Cairo and other Egyptian cities yesterday as its citizens voted in elections for the first time since the disposal of dictator Hosni Mubarak.

Despite concerns that the elections would turn into a violent affair — after weeks of heavy clashes with Egyptian military — it was a relatively peaceful day, apart from some minor delays and political parties hassling voters as they lined up (and even in polling booths). Voting was even extended until 9pm after turn out was higher than expected.

Cairo’s streets were full of hope, writes Anthony Shadid in The New York Times:

“Tethering Cairo’s toiling and privileged, its Islamists and less pious, its worldly and street smart, July 26th Street was named for the era of a long-ago revolution. Another one played out Monday along this rollicking thoroughfare, where Egypt’s divides were bridged, for a moment, by the simplest of ideas: a chance at self-determination.”

Women were turning out in force to vote, reported Malika Bilal and Evan Hill for Al Jazeera:

“At the Sayyid Mohammed Korayib girls school in the Smouha district, women began queuing shortly after 7am at the female entrance, and by 8am, there were more than 100 waiting in line, with longer queues forming at other polling stations and male entrances around the corner.”

Christina Boyle in the NY Daily News painted a nice word picture of voters in line:

“Several parents had their young children in tow, saying they wanted the youngsters to experience democracy first-hand.

“Separate lines, some up to two miles long, formed for men and women and voters were from all sections of the diverse secular society – from observant Islamic men with heavy beards and women covered head to toe to other females wearing fashionable outfits and stiletto heels.”

Many of the young Tahrir Square protesters have decided to boycott the elections. But six of the core 17 members of the Revolution Youth Coalition — leaders of the Tahrir Square protests — have stood in the first elections. The New York Times profiles Zyad Elelaimy, one of the young leaders hoping to be elected:

“He joined a secret communist youth movement at age 16 and was soon arrested, the first of four short jailings — the last being for three days during the Tahrir uprising. The police often seemed to single him out for beatings because he stood in the front row, his 6-foot height and burly frame making him seem older than his years.

“Mr. Elelaimy defied even his mother’s authority by marrying his college sweetheart before graduating in 2002. The couple are now divorced, but he lives down the street from his ex-wife and young son, Nadim, named after a 19th-century anticolonialist.

“In 2003, security forces beat him badly, breaking his arm after arresting him at a march against the American invasion of Iraq. After opening his own law office, he dedicated his practice partly to human rights cases.”

Trying to figure out what each Egyptian political party stands for? The Guardian put together a clever interactive infographic which shows all the different parties in the elections and where they fit on the political spectrum. Just like they have during the year of protests and demonstrations, journalists and young demonstrators continued to share their experience of the elections on Twitter, tweeting updates and photos:

Adam Makary, a producer for Al Jazeera, tweeted news and the views of voters in Assiut:

“#EGYPT FACTS: 17.5 million eligible voters, 9 governorates voting, 3809 candidates running, 9841 judges monitoring, 168 MPs will be chosen”
“#Assiut female voter: Here in Upper #Egypt, we vote for our elders. I have no idea who these new comers are and they’re not getting my vote”
“#Assiut male voter: Today’s high voter turnout shows just how much the people in #Tahrir don’t represent us and if they cared, they’d vote”
“Female voter tells me the Muslim Brotherhood is the only party that has the know-how and these elections are different from the rest #Assiut”
“Here in the last hour stretch and there are still dozens of people showing up to give their vote #Assiut #Egypt”

“#Assiut polling station for women, this line like the great wall of china (not really)”

Another of Al Jazeera’s producers, @mmbilal, tweeted pictures of the campaign posters and election handouts:

“Kids on the street passing out campaign flyers for the Reform and Development party outside polling station in #shoubra”

“1 Noor candidates symbol is knife. Another simply gets a graphic of the nile instead of pic. She’s female #egyelections”

Each candidate was represented by a symbol to help make voting easier, explained Wendell Steavenson at the New Yorker:

“There were middle-aged men in suits and ties, some clean-shaven, some with reading glasses, some with beards, some with mustaches and prayer calluses, and a man leaning against his big motorcycle with a pirate skull painted on the engine casing. We walked down an alley lined with election posters. Each candidate and party has a symbol to help people identify them on the ballot papers: a key, a butterfly, an apple, a mango, a knife, a fork, a screwdriver, a megaphone, an electric blender, a camera, a motorcycle, a car, a ship, a train, a firetruck, a light bulb, a chandelier, a lighthouse, a lantern, a sunflower, a gold bar, a basketball hoop, a football, a cactus, a guitar, a violin, a ruby.”

The military still controls Egypt for the time being, but these elections were important, writes Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher:

“Turnout across the country is reported to be high, but the reality is that this election will put in place a parliament with very little power.

“Even after the politicians take their seats, the country will still be run by an unelected military council.

“But still, this election is a small step in Egypt’s transition from the Mubarak years. A small but historic step.”

Peter Fray

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