Egypt military rulers boosted by big vote turnout

By Sarah El Deeb

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 29 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Egyptian men wait to cast their votes on the second day of parliamentary elections in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011. Polls opened Tuesday for a second day of voting in Egypt's landmark parliamentary elections, the first since Hosni Mubarak's ouster in a popular uprising earlier this year. The Arabic writing on top of the door reads, "be a teacher or be taught."

Manu Brabo, Associated Press

CAIRO — The surprisingly heavy turnout for Egypt's first parliamentary elections since Hosni Mubarak's ouster boosted the ruling military, which pointed to the crowds of voters as proof of popular support for their democratic transition plan in the face of protesters demanding they surrender power.

Long lines formed at polling stations for a second day of voting Tuesday and the head of the election commission, Abdel-Mooaez Ibrahim proclaimed that the turnout so far had been "massive and unexpected." But he did not give figures.

The generals, who took power after Mubarak's Feb. 11 fall, did not field any candidates. But they were clearly hoping their successful shepherding of Egypt's freest election in living memory would deflate the wave of protests against them that erupted 10 days ago. The protests, which drew more than 100,000 people to Cairo's Tahrir Square, galvanized growing anger among some Egyptians against the military, who they accuse of perpetuating the old regime's autocratic rule.

Maj. Gen. Mukhtar al-Mulla, a member of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, said the vote for a parliament "responds to all those who were skeptical that elections will take place on time."

He called the turnout "unprecedented in the history of the Arab world's parliamentary life."

The protesters argued that elections were meaningless under the military rule, though they did not call outright for the postponing of the vote. They demanded the military step down in favor of a civilian government immediately, warning that the generals seek to hold power despite promises that elections will bring democracy. A crackdown by security forces on the protests killed more than 40 people over nine days.

But the crowds at polling stations Monday and Tuesday suggested Egyptians were less concerned with protesters' warnings than with the possibility of having their votes count for the first time. Many were hopeful the elections will start the country on a path to real change.

"I am voting for this country's sake. We want a new beginning," said Zeinab Saad, 50, who brought her young daughter to a polling station in Cairo on Tuesday. "It's a great thing to feel like your vote matters."

Egypt's state dailies Tuesday trumpeted the military as the guardians of democracy, running pictures of troops protecting polling centers. The biggest daily, Al-Ahram, showed two soldiers carrying an elderly woman to help her get to the polls.

The generals have sought to isolate the protesters, saying they don't reflect public opinion. "Tahrir is not Egypt," one general said sharply several days ago. Now they point to the turnout as proof that the "party of the couch," as many have called the population that didn't join the protests, is fine with the army's timeline for the transition to civilian rule.

Speaking to the state-run daily Al-Ahram Al-Massai, al-Mulla said the vote was the "first step in the path to a new democratic state" followed by the drafting of a new constitution and elections for a new president by the end of June.

The protests, which erupted Nov. 19, forced the council to move up its timetable for surrendering power to a civilian government to mid-year rather than late 2012 or early 2103. But many fear the generals will continue to dominate the government even after the handover.

Already, the parliament that emerges from the current voting could have little relevance. It's not even clear whether the parliament will last past the drafting of the new constitution in the coming months. The generals have said the legislature will have no power over the military-appointed civilian government. The parliament's powers to form the assembly that is to write the next constitution are also likely to be limited

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