Egypt election: Long queues in first post-Mubarak vote

Lyse Doucet visited a Cairo polling station to see why voting is so complicated

Large numbers of Egyptians have turned out to vote in the first elections since former President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in February.

Voting was extended to cope with the high turnout and few security problems were reported.

There had been fears the vote might be delayed after deadly protests against the interim military rulers who replaced Mr Mubarak.

Protesters occupying Cairo's Tahrir Square have boycotted the vote.

The protesters fear the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces led by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, which is overseeing the transition to democracy after decades of authoritarian rule, is trying to retain power.

At least 41 demonstrators have been killed and more than 2,000 wounded in the past 10 days, as tensions have flared in the Arab world's most populous state.

Voters 'energised'

At the scene

As the day wore on, queues still snaked around street corners. At one station, elderly Egyptians, some with crutches, climbed several flights of stairs to reach the ballot boxes. Young people did too.

"I want to be part of the change," said Fatma, 22. Gesturing in the direction of Tahrir Square, she added: "It's played an important role but now it's time to move forward."

Voting was extended because some polling stations did not open on time. It also took a long time to vote.

Ballot papers show a bewildering range of symbols in a country with high levels of illiteracy - everything from a basketball to a blender. You run out of relevant icons when there are thousands of candidates.

Most queues I saw were orderly. But at one, some Egyptians started shouting: "Why is it so slow? We need to go back to work!"

Party workers were still in action, still distributing leaflets, in violation of campaign rules. When I asked one Muslim Brotherhood official about it, he put it down to an excess of enthusiasm.

Early on Monday, queues formed outside polling stations in Cairo before the official opening time of 08:00 (06:00 GMT).

A high turnout was reported in many areas, and in places queues were said to have stretched up to 3km (two miles).

"Before we knew in advance who was going to dominate, so apathy was the order of the day," Alexandria taxi driver Etimad Sameh told Reuters news agency. "Today we don't know what the outcome will be. Voters are energised."

The BBC's Jon Leyne in Cairo called the scene at a polling station there a "chaotic celebration of democracy", as people pushed to cast their votes.

Elsewhere, more orderly queues formed.

Officials blamed a delay to the voting in some Cairo constituencies on the late arrival of ballot papers and a shortage of ink and administrative officers.

The head of the Supreme Judicial Committee for Elections, Judge Abdel Moez Ibrahim, said voting would be extended until midnight in all constituencies affected by a late start.

Later, the military council said all polling stations would remain open an extra two hours until 21:00 to accommodate the high turnout.

In a violation of election rules, pamphlets for some candidates were distributed outside some polling stations.

State-run TV reported that 25 people were injured in election-related violence.

In Assiut, in the south, the army said it had regained control after a shooting incident. Officials denied reports that voters there had attacked polling stations.

There have also been reports that in Cairo and Port Said, candidates' numbers on voting cards had been changed.

Leftist candidate Al-Badry Farghali, in Port Said, told the BBC this had happened to him and another candidate, George Ishaq, a well-known activist.

Egypt's complicated vote

  • Three separate polls over coming months
  • Elections to 508-member People's Assembly (lower house) - 28 Nov-10 Jan 2012
  • Elections to 270-strong Shura Council (upper house) - 29 Jan-11 March 2012
  • Presidential elections due mid-2012
  • Two-thirds of members for both houses elected by PR
  • One-third chosen by first-past-the-post system
  • Provinces divided into three groups, voting on different dates
  • More than 40 political parties compete, fielding more than 10,000 candidates
Lengthy process

Voters in nine provinces, including Cairo, Port Said, Alexandria and Assiut vote on Monday and Tuesday in the first stage of a process extending until March.

Other provinces take their turns through December and early January for elections to the 508-member People's Assembly.

Voting for the upper house, or Shura Assembly, of parliament takes place after that and the presidential election is supposed to be held by mid-2012.

About 50 million people are eligible to vote out of a population in excess of 85 million - with candidates from 50 registered political parties.

The new parliament is likely have a strong Islamist bloc led by the Muslim Brotherhood, liberal groupings and some reconditioned relics of Hosni Mubarak's old party, says the BBC's Kevin Connolly in Cairo.

Official results from the first phase of voting should be announced on Wednesday, but the final make-up of the lower and upper house of parliament will not be clear until March.

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