Amr Nabil  /  AP
Egyptian street newspapers vender calls as he holds up a copy of Al-Ahram Al Massa'i newspaper with the headline, "A day that Egypt will never forget, Presidential election day," and a picture showing President Mubarak waving for supporters, in Cairo on Thursday. 
By Producer
NBC News
updated 9/9/2005 2:04:14 PM ET 2005-09-09T18:04:14

CAIRO — For the first time since independence, Egyptians were able to vote for more than one candidate in a national election this week.

And despite the fact that President Hosni Mubarak won a fifth six-year term with 80 percent of the vote amid allegations of election irregularities, many consider the process itself an irreversible step forward.

“Many Egyptians see it in a positive way, the impact of the overall process had been the politicization of Egyptian society, which had been depoliticized for decades,” explained Dr. Gamal Abdel Gawad, senior political analyst at the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.

“Now there is a kind of vibrant political debate and activism. There is a wider political space,”  Gawad SAID.

No turning back
The weeks and months prior to the election witnessed unprecedented criticism of President Mubarak, his son, his policies and government in the media and the street.

“The campaign has brought politics back to the people, and brought the president down to human size,” Gawad said.

He contends that political opposition groups must value and take advantage of the changes that have taken place. 

“The president is now criticized openly in the media, and holds an office others can aspire to and contest him for. The campaign gave the opposition parties a chance to reach the people, spread their word and improve their organization,” Gawad said.

“The government no longer has a monopoly on reaching people. No government, no matter how bad or dictatorial can switch back again.”

Rise of new parties
Political parties, personalities and organizations have risen up to challenge the ruling regime plan and are using the election as a springboard to expand their hard won political space. 

“It is a process, that doesn’t end with the elections,” said Hisham Kassem, the vice president of the opposition “Al Ghad,” or “Tomorrow” party. The party’s president, Ayman Nour, was the strongest candidate running against Mubarak.

The party will now focus on expanding its representation in parliament in the November elections. Although Nour has demanded a re-vote — citing widespread abuse reported by poll monitors on election day —  Kassem contends that that the Al Ghad party has truly done something for the country. 

“We have initiated the democratic process. Change will be brought about by the new generation. We have shown that we are a bigger force than the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Kassem. Nour plans to run for president again in 2011.

People have had ‘Enough!’
Egypt’s first popular movement for change saw the election as a chance to expand its base.  The “Kefaya” or “Enough!” movement was the first group to defy emergency law by boldly protesting against Mubarak in the street. 

The group’s leader, Abdel Halim Qandil, called the elections “legally and politically false” and contends Mubarak has used the election to expand his power and to help ensure that his son, Gamal, will succeed him. Qandil’s answer: to bring more people to the street.

“We will have a big demonstration in a few months with 100,000 Egyptians to see that measures will be enough to end Mubarak’s era,” Qandil said.  He said that the Kefaya movement, now in its second year, will try to establish the right to demonstrate for all political powers.

Kefaya has already opened the door for other groups, such as the banned Muslim Brotherhood, to demonstrate openly. He believes many more people will be inclined to join Kefaya and protest because they think the election results were “forged.” 

Qandil also plans to work within the system by calling for opposition candidates to unite against the ruling party in the upcoming parliamentary elections. 

Human rights
Hafez Abu Saada, secretary general of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights explained how this is a “very good political environment” for groups like his and that now "people understand how the human rights movement is important.”

The election has inspired many students and young people to get involved in the process, according to Abu Saada.

“We asked for volunteers to work as election monitors. Hundreds volunteered. They feel this organization has integrity which will help our position to grow and achieve our objectives.”

Abu Saada also noted that the traffic on his group’s website jumped during the election – with over 100,000 hits on the website the day after the election compared to 60,000 a month ago.

The election was a first small step, perhaps not enough to herald a new era of democracy, but Abu Saada believes that the government cannot reverse the trend toward democracy while the world is watching.

“Now the train has run, and has not reached the station,” said Abu Saada. “People have crossed the red lines in this election. Newspapers have talked about everything. People are not afraid to criticize President Mubarak and his government. All people are asking for constitutional reform and democracy. The election was a good opportunity for new groups to grow and flourish in the future.”

Election monitors
“Shayfeencom” or “We See You” is just such a group. The organization was created just three months before the election to monitor the polls. 

On election day, it witnessed a wide range of irregularities and investigated many more complaints, but members said they remain optimistic and see this election as only the beginning.

Dalia Youssef, co-founder of Shayfeencom, explained the group also will monitor the parliamentary elections and intends to become Egypt’s first consumer advocate group. 

“We will monitor anything that goes wrong with community services or public service.  We will encourage Egyptians not to accept substandard products or services,” Youssef said.

The election, flawed though it was, has helped to empower people politically and increased expectations for more reform.

Most significantly, within the regime itself, there is conflict between those who support reform and those who seek to undermine it.

“There is now a big chance to reduce the influence of the old guard,” said Gawad.

Charlene Gubash is an NBC News producer based in Cairo, Egypt.


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