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An inside look as Egyptians head to the polls.
CAIRO – In the aftermath of a week of violent protests in Tahrir Square, Egyptians head to the polls Monday hoping to take a step closer to establishing a new democracy.
A protest movement in January may have led to the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak, but most Egyptians are left wondering how much has actually changed. Were the heady days of street demonstrations truly a revolution or a popular uprising that has resulted in a military takeover?
Political reform has moved at a snail's pace. Some of the most brutal hallmarks of Mubarak’s autocratic regime have returned, including arbitrary detention, military trials and torture.
And an already stagnating economy is deteriorating amid ongoing workers’ strikes and sporadic violence.
Many now blame the country’s ruling military leaders, the once revered Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which assumed power in the transition following Mubarak’s departure.
“We are all united with one hand against the military,” said Ahmed Gheith, a 22-year-old Muslim Brotherhood member who was at a recent protest in Cairo's Tahrir Square. “Egyptians should be able to choose whomever they want to lead our country.”
For the most part, Egyptians are optimistic that the final stage of their revolution will take place at the ballot box. The hope is that these elections will be a departure from the Mubarak-era, when voting was often marred with violence, ballot box stuffing, and other fraudulent activities.
But at the first polls on November 28, they will encounter a new electoral process that observers have called convoluted, confusing, and mismanaged.
About half of Egypt’s population of more than 80 million residents are eligible to vote in the upcoming elections.
Voter turnout is expected to be much higher than in any election during the Mubarak regime. Earlier this year, a record 40 percent of Egyptians over the age of 18 voted in a referendum on amendments to the nation’s current interim constitution.
There will be elections for both houses of Egyptian Parliament in 2011 and early next year — the People’s Assembly, or lower house parliament, and the Shura Council, or upper house.
Egypt's next parliament will nominate a constituent assembly that will one day write the nation's new constitution.
The People’s Assembly (PA) election will consist of three phases across Egypt’s 27 governorates, and will take nearly two months to complete.
The first round begins on Nov. 28, and will take place in Cairo, the Fayoum oasis, Alexandria, Damietta, Kafr El Sheikh, Port Said, Assiut, the Red Sea in Sinai, and Luxor.
The second phase is scheduled to take place on Dec. 14 in Giza, Beni Suef, Ismailia, Sharqia, Menoufiya, Suez, Beheira, Aswan, and Sohag.
On Jan. 3, the remaining governorates will vote - Qaloubia, Gharbia, Dakhliya, North and South Sinai, Marsa Matrouh, Qena, Minya, and the New Valley in Egypt’s Western Desert.
Each round of voting will take place over two days, according to new rules implemented by Egypt's transitional government only this weekend.
Voting for the Shura Council will begin shortly after the three rounds of PA have been completed.
The Electoral Process
A total of 498 seats are up for grabs in the upcoming PA election.
How the seats will be chosen has changed substantially since the Mubarak era, and has been the subject of much debate and confusion among political parties since the departure of the former president this year.
In past elections, individual candidates were elected from their parliamentary districts.
This year will feature a mixed-system election, including proportional representation party lists as well as individual candidates. Two-thirds of the PA’s seats will be chosen by party list plurality. The remaining third will come from independent candidates in a so-called ‘first-past-the-post system.’
Political parties are required to field at least one woman. From the individual candidates, at least half of the PA will be filled by “farmers and workers,” a throwback to a 1950s-era quota law.
The complex election laws of 2011 were implemented by SCAF, based mostly on recommendations from Egypt’s civil society and political groups as a way of leveling the playing field by reducing the likelihood of a sweep by remnants of Mubarak’s disbanded National Democratic Party (NDP). Mubarak’s former ruling political party maintains a large grassroots movement that was left mostly intact following the uprising.