Video: Egypt votes nearly a year after revolution

  1. Transcript of: Egypt votes nearly a year after revolution

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: And now we turn to Egypt , where this is a history-making day, the first election day since Mubarak fell. And tonight our chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel , is in Cairo , where there may be reason for the US to be worried about the outcome of this vote.

    RICHARD ENGEL reporting: With every vote cast, every finger dipped in ink, Egypt today moved closer to democracy.

    Unidentified Woman #1: For the first time we feel that we can really make a difference.

    ENGEL: Four thousand candidates are running for parliament from more than 40 political parties. Voting stations so crowded, soldiers had to keep order. But voting was largely peaceful. It didn't seem possible even a week ago when protesters clashed with security forces. Tonight those protesters stayed in Tahrir Square , boycotting the vote, saying it's not democratic enough, that the military still has too much power.

    Unidentified Man #1: I don't trust in this elections.

    ENGEL: But the boycott could benefit their main opponent, Egypt 's Muslim Brotherhood , banned under Mubarak . At one of Cairo 's busiest polling centers, most people told us they support the brotherhood.

    Unidentified Man #2: The most organized party in Egypt and make good deeds for the people here.

    ENGEL: Do you think Americans should be worried about the Muslim Brotherhood ?

    Unidentified Woman #2: No, no. Why?

    ENGEL: Because people in the US think maybe they're extremists, they want to change Egypt into a Islamic state .

    Woman #2: They want -- they must have a chance. They must have a chance.

    ENGEL: The brotherhood is powerful, rich, often anti-American and definitely anti- Israel . The group is taking advantage of this opportunity, handing out leaflets as voters go to the polls and recording exit polls on laptops, the only party we saw doing that. This democratic transition may be flawed, but the Muslim Brotherhood isn't letting that get in its way. Elections will be taking place here, Brian , over the next several months, but the potential political fallout could be severe. Egypt has long been a close and reliable US partner in the Middle East . That could be changing.

    WILLIAMS: Richard Engel watching it all tonight in Cairo . Richard , thanks

updated 11/29/2011 6:13:29 PM ET 2011-11-29T23:13:29

Egypt's military rulers were quick to take credit Tuesday for a strong turnout in the first elections since Hosni Mubarak's ouster, a vote that appeared to be the country's freest and fairest in living memory.

The military did not field candidates in the parliamentary vote. But winning bragging rights for a smooth, successful and virtually fraud-free election would significantly boost the ruling generals in their bitter struggle with youthful protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square calling for them to transfer power immediately to a civilian authority.

"When we plan, we execute and, at the end, we succeed," Maj. Gen. Ismail Etman, a member of the ruling military council, said in a television interview. He compared the elections to one of the Egyptian military's proudest moments — when they battled Israeli forces across the Suez Canal in 1973.

"The armed forces pulled off this election like they pulled off the crossing in 1973," he said.

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Even before two days of voting began Monday, protesters were accusing the military of trying to cling to power and safeguard its interests under any future government. Now, they warn the ruling council will try to use the success of the election to cement its hold on power.

Already, the ruling council's perceived success seems to have taken the wind out of Tahrir protests, at least temporarily. The square that was the center of the anti-Mubarak uprising had as many vendors as protesters on Tuesday. Several small groups of older men intensely debating politics was the only sign of political activity.

"I voted yesterday and returned to Tahrir. I found it empty except for the vendors," said Samer Suliman, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo and one of the founders of the Social Democratic party.

"I think the military won big from the elections," he added. "The soldiers at the polling stations with their big smiles and politeness are giving the impression to the people that they are carrying the country on their shoulders. No doubt that they are dancing right now."

The generals, who took power after the 18-day uprising that pushed Mubarak out, were clearly hoping their successful shepherding of election would deflate the wave of protests against them that erupted 10 days ago. The protests, which drew more than 100,000 people in Tahrir at their height, galvanized growing anger among some who accuse the military of perpetuating the old regime's autocratic rule.

Etman estimated the turnout for the first round of voting at 70 percent and the head of the elections commission said it was "massive" but gave no figures. There will be two more rounds of voting for a parliament in the coming months and a series of run-offs. The process will not be completed until March.

Another member of the ruling council, Maj. Gen. Mukhtar al-Mulla, called the turnout "unprecedented in the history of the Arab world's parliamentary life."

Egypt's state media lavishly praised the military as the guardians of democracy, splashing on their front pages pictures of troops protecting polling centers or soldiers carrying elderly women to the polls.

Video: Egypt holds 1st elections since uprising (on this page)

"The ballots of the freedom parliament under the protection of the army," announced a headline in Cairo's Al-Ahram Al-Masai.

Al-Malla said the turnout was a message of solidarity from Egyptians to their armed forces.

"Our response to that message is: We are with you," he said as a small crowd of supporters gathered around him while touring polling centers in the Mediterranean city of Port Said, northeast of Cairo. "The army and the people are one hand," they chanted — invoking the mantra of the uprising earlier this year, when Tahrir protesters enthusiastically welcomed the military's takeover of power.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon commended "the enthusiastic participation" of Egyptians in the voting and the calm and orderly manner in which it took place, deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey said.

But there are other frustrations playing into the hands of the military. Egyptians are increasingly impatient with the persistent protests, the deepening economic troubles and a crime surge. For many, it is the military, rather than the revolutionaries, who are best equipped to deliver the stability and security they long for.

"The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces doesn't really want to be in power but they are the only ones keeping us from chaos," said 24-year-old Kareem Ahmed in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria. "I voted today for the stability of the country. ... Those in Tahrir don't represent me or the revolution and it is high time they just get out of the square."

But the die-hard protesters were not prepared to admit defeat.

Slideshow: Protests continue in Egypt (on this page)

Amie Sultan, 30, said going ahead with the election was an insult to the memory of the 43 protesters killed, mostly in Cairo, in last week's deadly clashes with police. Nearly 900 more were killed in the uprising earlier this year.

"When innocent civilians are brutally murdered and their corpses are dragged into a pile of trash, then we, when we vote, are complying with the orders of the very people responsible for that."

Late Tuesday, fights broke out between food and tea sellers and activists who tried to kick them out of Tahrir Square, witnesses said. The two sides fought and threw rocks at each other on the square's northern edge. At least 10 people were lightly wounded, according to security officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information.

Video: Freed American student: ‘It was very scary’ (on this page)

The success of the voting has also lent strength to the military's argument that it has a legitimate claim to power and it is sincere about its public assurances that it has no intention to keep ruling indefinitely.

The argument about whether the military council had a right to rule the nation has been at the heart of an ongoing battle of wills with the activists. The protesters say the military's legitimacy as rulers came from the square. In response, the generals have said Tahrir does not represent the whole of Egypt.

"I think the Tahrir people should leave," said Alexandria carpenter Mohammed el-Sayed minutes after the polls closed. "We should have enough trust in the army, After all, they proved themselves these past two days. We need stability now."

With such a small number left in Tahrir, there is talk of ending the sit-in.

Islam Lotfi, one of the founders of the Egyptian Current party that was born out of the uprising, said talks were already under way among youth groups to leave the square.

"We can't win all at once. We do it bit by bit," he said. "The streets and squares will remain a way to extract our rights. Popular pressure is needed."

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Elections in Egypt

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  1. Election officials count ballots for the parliamentary elections in Cairo, Egypt, on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011. Egypt is holding its first parliamentary elections since longtime authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising in February. The vote is a milestone many Egyptians hope will usher in a democratic age after decades of dictatorship. (Amr Nabil / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. An election official classifies votes for the parliamentary elections at a counting center in Cairo on Nov. 30. The head of the election commission proclaimed that the turnout so far is 'massive and unexpected'. (Amr Nabil / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A man smokes a waterpipe while reading news on his tablet as a TV channel broadcasts live election coverage at a cafe in the Zeitun neighborhood of Cairo on Nov. 30. (Odd Andersen / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Electoral workers count ballots after voting closed at a counting center in Cairo on Nov. 29. (Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A policeman stands guard as election officials collect ballot boxes from a polling station near Tahrir Square at the end of the voting day in Cairo on Nov. 29. (Odd Andersen / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Two women are seen in voting booths on the second day of parliamentary elections in Cairo on Nov. 29. (Ahmed Ali / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Coptic Christian women help voters find their registration numbers outside a polling station in the Manshiet Nasser district of Cairo on Nov. 29. (Mahmud Hams / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A soldier takes a picture at a polling station in the Cairo neighborhood of Shubra on Nov. 29. (Mohammed Hossam / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A woman casts her vote at a polling station during the second day of parliamentary elections in Alexandria on Nov. 29. (Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A boy uses a megaphone to support a candidate outside a polling station in Cairo on Nov. 29. There were numerous reports of election violations by party activists, most over campaigning close to polling sites while voting was under way. (Amr Nabil / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A solider gestures as a lady helps an elderly woman at the entrance to a polling station in Alexandria on Nov. 29. Long lines formed at polling stations for a second day of voting Tuesday and the head of the election commission, Abdel-Mooaez Ibrahim, proclaimed turnout so far had been "massive and unexpected." (Tarek Fawzy / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Election officials wait for voters inside a polling station in Old Cairo on the second day of voting on Nov. 29. 45 million Egyptians are eligible to vote in the first round of six. The complicated process will take four months to conclude. Presidential elections are expected to be held in 2012. (Peter MacDiarmid / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri waves to voters on the first day of parliamentary elections in Cairo on Nov. 28. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. A woman waits in front of election posters after voting in Cairo on Nov. 28. (Bela Szandelszky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. People line up outside a polling station in Cairo on Nov. 28. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. An Egyptian woman reads a ballot before casting her vote during parliamentary elections in Cairo on Nov. 28. (Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A voter shows her inked finger after voting at a girls' school on Nov. 28 in Cairo. (Peter MacDiarmid / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. People wait outside a polling station to vote in parliamentary elections in Cairo on Nov. 28. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Soldiers maintain order as people wait outside a polling station in Alexandria on Nov. 28. (Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Tahrir Square is occupied by only a few hundred protesters on election day on Nov. 28 in Cairo. (Peter MacDiarmid / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. A voter reads a ballot at a polling station in Cairo on Nov. 28. (Peter MacDiarmid / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Egyptian women wait behind the door of a polling station in Cairo on Nov. 28. (Bela Szandelszky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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