I experienced democracy National Democratic Party (NDP)-style today in Helwan, where I watched people arguing with the police during the Shoura bi-elections.
The governorate of Helwan is right next door to Cairo, but green where the capital is grey, empty where Cairo is teeming. Both suffer air pollution, but I think that Helwan’s must be worse; virtually everywhere you look is a chimney sending out nefarious-looking clouds of smoke. Helwan is famous for its industrial district and particularly its steel factory, the biggest in Africa I am told. The giant skulking insect of the factory’s machinery dominates the Helwan horizon as you approach from Cairo.
We arrived at the El-Rassas polling station at noon, just as the sun was at its highest. Men assembled around the voting station said that they’d been denied the right to vote by police officers who told them that since they did not have voting cards, they could not vote. For our benefit they went back and tried again. You can see what happens in the video below that I filmed, which makes up for what it lacks in sound with the moment when the policeman pins up the voting regulations on the wall.
The voting regulations clearly state that voters must have in their possession “the pink [actually referred to as red] voting cards”.
The voting regulations also clearly state that where a registered voter does not possess the bloody voting card (introduced this year) he may vote using any piece of ID.
The policeman proudly hung up the poster and then triumphantly pointed to the first paragraph. Disgruntled voters pointed to the second. But then the policeman played his joker card.
“Deih el ta3limaat 3andina” [These are the orders we have]
Leaving El-Rassas we drove through Helwan’s hard, unkempt industrial countryside to a courthouse surrounded on one side by a huge heap of stinking rubbish and on the other around 150 angry men and 15 women denied the right to vote. Three small, dusty boys watched the proceedings silently.
Count it properly, count it properly, you’ll find that the result is Muslim Brotherhood (MB) protestors chanted, holding up images of the MB’s Shoura candidate, Ali Fath El-Bab.
As usual with the MB it was strictly organized and segregated, with only a minor brouhaha when someone from the courthouse wanted to close the gates resulting in the taking of umbrage by an MB member.
A cheerful man, Mostafa Mourad who my colleague Jon Jensen filmed in this video, told us, “There is no competition. We’re in competition with the police”.
He and another representative of a different independent candidate both said that they had been denied entry into polling stations in order to observe the election process, despite the fact that they had official accreditation allowing them to do this. The excuse this time was that it wasn’t stamped by the local security directorate.
Later that evening I went to a press conference about the elections given on the 27th floor of what is popularly known as the Television Building. It is the headquarters of the General Information Department, amongst other Orwellian organizations. The head of the General Information Department began the press conference.
He listed all the marvelous ways in which foreign journalists had been assisted by the General Information Department during their coverage of the elections, noting that in a limited number of cases journalists (including Daily News Egypt and The National, both of whom he mentioned) had been denied access to polling stations “because of a disturbance in these polling stations”. This was absolute codswallop. Jon spent twenty minutes trying to get into the polling station in question, and during that time there were no disturbances at all - because the polling station was empty.
Next up was the spokesman of the Ministry of the Interior, a man with a Poirot-esque moustache and gold rimmed glasses who described elections which might possibly have happened somewhere on the planet at some point. They certainly didn’t happen in Egypt on June 1 2010 - lots of MB candidates driving vehicles into polling stations and opening fire on police officers and smashing ballot boxes. None of these incidents – which were dealt swiftly and expertly by the police - undermined the probity of the elections, we were assured.
I had noticed as I entered the Television Building that there was an armed central security forces recruit standing on a sort of bridge overlooking the building’s lobby. This is in addition to the soldiers stationed outside of course. As I left, ruminating on the bullshit I had listened to for forty minutes, the weirdness of this regime again struck me. It is a psychotic librarian. With brutal exceptions, its oppression rarely has any flair or imagination. Like its figurehead, it is utterly uninteresting. It relies on administrative obfuscation and bewildering red tape. Or red voting cards. Or stupid, groundless court cases brought by regime lackeys. And while it does this it puts on press conferences given by men in sharp suits in front of backdrops with dynamic Italic lettering surrounded by majestic views of faraway Cairo.
The worst thing is that it is too stupid, or too complacent, to tie up the ends properly. But that’s ok because its footsoldiers on the ground, when confronted with the inconsistencies can always fall back on the old favourite: ta3lemaat. Instructions.