Sahar El-Nadi – Guest Blogger, MindfulofDreams.com
Since the first day I set foot in Tahrir during the revolution, I got addicted to the unique community feeling with fellow Egyptians. It’s transformational to experience the instant bonding with warm, smiling strangers from social levels I don’t get to meet in my everyday life; all of them open to friendly chat and behaving like one huge family.
That’s why I woke up at dawn on Election Day in anticipation of the experience, and to get a foothold in a mile-long line of women, who turned that dull winter morning into a kaleidoscope of styles and colours.
As I write this, it is estimated that 75% of the total voters actually turning up at the ballots, and some polling stations reportedly received 100% of their voters. An astonishing portion of those impressive numbers women voting for the very first time!
You’d probably think that parliamentary elections are just a boring political process, but not in Egypt. Trust Egyptians to turn any gathering into a fun social occasion, elections included.
The huge u-shaped line of voters made it clear we’d be waiting endlessly. But no one seemed to mind. In fact, the women seemed to be enjoying every minute of the 4-hour wait and they buzzed with excited conversations. Everyone cheerfully talked with everyone, no barriers between mansion owners and those who cleaned their fancy cars.
Female political activists are still a minority in Egypt, but female voters have proved in the past few days to be a political power to recon with, although they’re still amateurs at that game.
I decided to pass the time interviewing the women around me to gain new insights on why they came and which candidates they support. As a bonus, I ended up learning unexpected things from the chatter around me: from Photoshop tips, to cooking tips; and from car-theft protection, to relationship advice.
Some underprivileged women said they came to throw out the former NDP thugs, and vote instead for those who helped them and cared for their problems: the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis. On the other hand, some social butterflies were voting for the liberals in fear of losing their bikinis and their sunset cocktails if the “Islamists” ruled.
Some mothers in their 50’s and 60’s were voting for the revolutionary youth they referred to as their “children”, and girls who had just turned 18, legal voting age in Egypt, were there simply because they could. They came in their colourful clothes and glossy make up and giggled as they changed their minds last minute about their candidates under peer pressure.
One thing that really interested me was the “Queue Culture”: that social voting atmosphere which only existed in the women’s lines, turning them into inclusive social clubs.
Poor women were amused that privileged women were so excited about the novelty of standing in a long line and socializing, they explained that they wait patiently in endless lines everyday to buy almost anything from bread to train tickets, and they had to multi-task as they waited. Quickly, their “queue culture” rubbed off on everyone.
A “public information” system formed along the queue so the women at the head of the line could pass on updates of the electoral process to the rest of us. Those who voted didn’t go home, they stayed to socialize and volunteer for “delivery service”. They collected orders and went to the corner shop to buy phone cards, snacks and water for the voters standing for hours. Girls with smart phones were going on Twitter and Facebook to send and receive updates and pass on the news to those around them. Older women chatted on their mobile phones to their friends who were also waiting to vote in other districts and compared experiences.
Some of the most interesting conversations were about the candidates we were supposed to be electing into parliament. Women were not only evaluating political orientations and candidate programs, but they also applied another uniquely female scale of assessment: the same one used by fans discussing rock stars.
Young, novice politicians had sprouted all over the country after the revolution. Some of them are articulate and philosophical while others are energetic and rebellious. Since then, public interest shifted overnight from Amr Diab’s latest rock concert to adoring Amr Hamzawy instead, a long-haired, causally dressed 40’sh professor of political science. He’s the new heartthrob in town with an ever-expanding female fan club ushering him into parliament.
Young women have even turned away from movie stars; rather than Adel Emam and Tamer Hosny, they now rush to reserve seats in Mostafa Hegazy and Moataz Abdel Fattah’s public lectures instead. Both are professors of strategic politics.
As I tried to raise awareness among female voters on how to choose their candidates, I was surprised by a surreal experience: some only wanted to know whether some good-looking candidates were single; a case of female instincts overshadowing political participation.
But what really mattered in the end is that regardless of all the hurdles, including our political inexperience, we have finally managed to vote, and everyone enjoyed the experience and would happily participate again.
I have no doubt that women’s involvement in shaping Egypt’s political future is a priceless gain of the revolution. It’s certainly going to be one very interesting parliament, with an unexpected collection of candidates inside, and millions of Egyptian women outside, following each candidate’s every move, learning to use their keen feminine scrutiny to monitor politicians and change history, one lengthy Facebook chat at a time.