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women waiting in a long line to cast their vote at a poll station for Nov 28th parliament elections in Egypt

As the day for elections loomed nearer and my decision to go vote fluctuated between to vote or not vote due to the instability and safety of Cairo and Alexandria during the second wave of the revolution. I finally made up my mind and bought my train ticket and made my way up to Alexandria Sunday evening.

You could sense the excitement and anxiousness in the air in both cities. There was a state of confusion and worry among the citizens of this country. Numerous questions echoed everywhere you went; will it be safe to go and vote? Will thugs have been hired to attack polling stations? Will it be rigged like last time? Who do we vote for; we don’t know half the names that will appear on the ballots? There are over 60 -100 names to choose from on the ballot, how am I to know which person I want to represent me? These were just some of the questions that had been asked over the course of the past couple of weeks and on the train ride to Alexandria.

Once I got home a very heated debate and discussion ensued. The house was divided as to what to expect at the polling station and who to vote for in the Attareen area. None of us were familiar with any of the names of the political candidates, their parties or what their beliefs are. In the end I had to call up on a friend who was in the same boat as I was. We are both Alexandrian, from the same area and although we have very similar views of how the country should be run, we both come from different religious backgrounds, but at the end of the day we wanted the same thing, liberal civilian government. We talked about our options, he gave me a summary of the different parties’ beliefs and then when it came to the candidates, we were both stumped… There were far too many to choose from. He said that a friend of his was voting for 2 of 3 guys and that is what he was going to go with too. When I relayed the information I had just learned to my family, it was decided that we would go with the party that Naguib Sawiris backs, ‘El Kotla El Masreya’, whom are (supposedly and hopefully) liberal, they have both revolutionaries, young and old people. As for the candidates, I still know very little about them and found it hard to find any information on them so, I just followed the heard as they say. I had decided that I was going to give my vote for one labor and one professional and luck would have it, both belong to the same political party that I had decided to choose.

My Dad, God bless him had figured out where my Mom, Aunt and I had to go vote, got our registration numbers and which poll booth we belonged to. (A Great Time SAVER!)

Monday morning, when I woke up for a brief moment I had forgotten what day it was. Waking up in my room in Alexandria caused a brief moment of disorientation and confusion, being there usually meant that it was a weekend or a holiday of some kind. Memories of the night before came flooding back and I leapt out of bed and got myself ready for to go vote.

The weather wasn’t the best it could have been, it was over cast with dark gloomy rain clouds, the wind had a cold chilly bite to it but it didn’t dampen people’s spirits or deter them from coming out to vote. I was lucky, I didn’t stand for as long as other people did to cast my vote, other people stood in line for hours in the rain and cold. Their sheer determination to make their voices heard is uplifting as well as inspiring.

The poll station wasn’t too far away from where we lived but we did find it quite odd that we weren’t closer to our house, when there were other polling stations nearby. The school that we went to was the marooseya school, near the Raml area. It is down a very narrow and hard to find passage way, if my dad and I hadn’t done our research ahead of time I doubt we would have found the place. It was literally wedged between a cluster of buildings and a church. If you walked by you wouldn’t know there was a school there. (Thank you Google Maps!)

We got to our designated area fairly early and there was a cue of women waiting patiently in line. There were two lines set up, one for the elderly and those in need of assistance and a line for the younger and more able voters. There was a very noticeable and heavy security presence. Police officers and men in blue uniform, I believe either a sect from the navy or military police, I am not certain.

The poll station didn’t open on time due to the tardy arrivals of those who were in charge of the station or were meant to be working there. As we all waited patiently in line a man shouted out instructions but I couldn’t hear him well to be able to understand or pass on the information, which lead to people getting more and more confused.

Once the officials who were working at the poll station arrived things were slow going. My mother, who is still recovering from hip replacement surgery and is on crutches along with a few other elderly women were the first of a handful of people to enter the premises to begin the voting process that morning. My aunt and I had to wait in line for another hour while we waited for our turn.

I have great admiration for military in general and other security forces, but it is with great regret that I cannot say that my admiration extends to Egypt’s. They have shown their true colors over the past year and it is one that disturbs me greatly, having said that they showed a very polite and softer side of themselves on Monday. They were very helpful and respectful when addressing people when asking them not to take pictures or to stand in line. They were being too nice… which made me very skeptical. (It also made me ponder… if every poll station across the nation had this amount of security, where were they in January when civilians had to defend their neighborhoods and businesses?)

Things got a bit tense twice when I stood in line, a woman from the back of the line walked up to one of the high-ranking officers and yelled at him for not opening the station on time and inadvertently accused him of foul play, by this time it was 8:30. They apologized and tried to explain that it wasn’t them who were holding up the process. The second time was when screeching of tires was heard and guards ran to the main street to see what the cause was. thankfully a False Alarm!

As I stood in line tweeting away my eyewitness accounts of what was going on, people in line were talking and communicating with strangers about what they think about the revolution, who they are voting for and why and what the results of this election might mean for the future of Egypt. As I stood listening and tweeting I heard a women confess that she didn’t vote during the referendum last spring and she had now wished she had. She said that this time she was determined to have a say and to vote for what she believed in. At this polling station there were women of all ages and social classes standing in very close proximity of one another and it was in that brief moment that everyone looked equal. There was no division of class, rank or education; we were all just women, who had finally been given a voice.

Although many have mixed feelings of those who are standing their ground in Tahrir Square and in other areas around the country, one thing is for certain, that our presence at voting stations today would not have been possible if they hadn’t stood up to corruption, poverty, injustice and demanded their given right to have their voices heard. Many lost their lives so that we would have that chance today, others bare the wounds of the battle that may heal and then there are those who will have the wounds that serve as a crippling reminder every day of their lives a price they were willing to pay for us to have a chance to make a change and a difference. As I stood in line listening to the women around me conversing, I recalled a conversation I had, had with a former president’s nephew years back. I told him that the day will come when another revolution will happen and the people will rise up either because the poor are getting poorer or the mentality of the people will change and Egypt will become a religious state like Iran. He laughed at me and said he doubted it would happen… I wonder if he’s laughing now?

As I gazed around at the hodge podge of women, it became apparent that there was quite a strong Muslim Brotherhood following at the station I had been assigned to. One I find worrying, but not as worrying as Salafi supporters. I have to give them credit though; they have been the most organized party and have been promoting themselves well, so if they get voted in, they would have earned their places. After all they have been working towards this moment for decades. I do not endorse nor support them in any way, if they do get voted in, then I fear for Egypt’s long term future. If the country turns in to another Saudi Arabia, Iran or Afghanistan, that I will have to abandon Egypt with a very heavy heart and move elsewhere. I lived in Saudi Arabia for 10 years, I do not want to have to watch women’s rights wash away and be forced to cover up again.

After an hour of waiting a desk was brought out and a man sat at it with booklets of photocopied papers, with people’s names and ID numbers, he was trying to speed up the process and tell people which room they should go to, to cast their vote and to ensure they were waiting in line at the right place.

The were two  highlights to my day, the first was seeing my mum emerge from inside the school with a victorious look of satisfaction on her face. Although she is not of Egyptian blood, she got the nationality from being married to my Dad for (well) over a decade and she made it a point to go and vote! The other was the feeling of self accomplishment after having voted.

When, I was finally allowed to make my way in to the school, which was a lot further in than any of us had thought, we had to walk through the school playground (square patch of sand) and up almost 2 flights of stairs. 3 classrooms were designated for voting rooms; luckily mine was empty, so I spent less than 10 minutes waiting, while other people had to wait longer because they would only allow two people in at a time, which slowed down the process. The officials in the room wore vests that indicated that they were overseers of the voting station and checked our IDs, had us sign and gave us our ballots. There was a small cubical for you to go and cast your vote. The ballot boxes were made from glass and had wooden frames encompassing the glass and a big padlock on each one. Things seemed to be in order.

The ballots were 2 different colors and 2 sizes. The ballot to vote for the political party was a light salmon pink and was slightly smaller than A4. The ballot of individual’s names was an A3 paper, with numbers, symbols and names of the political candidates. I checked the back of both my papers to ensure that they had the official stamp on the back to make sure that my vote would be counted, otherwise it would have been void and I would have had to insist that the judge of the polling station sign it.

Knowing who I was going to vote for and what party made things really easy, otherwise, you would have had to read through the entire list of names and that is what took people a long time! By the time I left with my Aunt the line where we had been standing hand quadrupled in numbers and went around the block in 2 directions.

When I got home I continued to follow the elections on twitter across the country and to tweet my accounts. Some of the accounts that were coming in were very hopeful and others were not. A lot of people had to blow the whistle on many polling stations, politicians and parties for not following procedures. There were reports of poll stations not opening on time, ballots not being stamped, judges refusing to sign the ballots to make them valid, polling stations being closed without an explanation, party members trying to buy voters votes are just some of the things that were made. There are still mixed feelings about the elections in general. Some people believe that this is a step towards democracy and change. Others see it as a scam and that it won’t matter what people vote, the decision by security forces has already been made. In all honesty, I am not convinced that this will work, but I had nothing to lose by voting today. If I am wrong and this is legit, then my vote counted for something. If it is all just a smoke screen for what is to come, I didn’t lose anything by trying. I know one thing for sure though, if I hadn’t come to Alexandria, to be here today, I know I would have regretted it for a very long time.

Now all we can do is wait and hope…

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Egypt is mainly known for its ancient history but aside from that it is also rich with talented musicians and artists

Satruday, 16th of January 2010 was the one year anniversary of the Hafaninaha Studio Gallery was taking place in Zamalek. I was eager to go and see the exhibit because 3 colleagues of mine were showing their works of art and I had never been to the Hafaninaha gallery.

 The invite to the event read;

“We would love to invite you to our one year anniversary on Saturday the 16th of January 2010, celebrating the arts and artists of Cairo. This group exhibition is a joint effort between a select number of carefully chosen talents, that we guarantee you’ll enjoy.
Live music, delicious cupcakes, creative jewelry and lots of interactive art, are all part of our opening night so make sure not to miss it.

Opening Reception, Saturday January 16th 2010, 6:00 – 10:00 pm.
Open daily Sat- Thu, 12:00 to 9:00 pm.

Exhibition Concludes on the 30th of January, 2010.”

I have to admit that I am very glad that I did go to the Gallery. I arrived quite early and was able to get a very good look at the pieces of art that had been put on display. The gallery isn’t like the ones you are probably accustomed to abroad, where there large floor space and wall space. This gallery was split in two. The first section was a long rectangular area where the painting were hung and displayed. The second section is a room on the ground floor of the villa where the hand-made jewelery was displayed.

Art Gallery;

There were a few artist who were exhibiting their work. I have to say that some of the pieces were very intriguing. What I enjoyed about the exhibit is that the art reflected the city they lived in. More specifically ‘Usr El Nil Street’.

Marwa Afifi who is an art teacher at  Hayah International Academy, the school I work at surprised me with her art work. I had seen her jewelry but never her painted canvases. The mix media she used for her pieces gave a malanged appearance reality and dream. The vibrant colours of oil paints and water colors painted along side the cut out pieces of photographs made a very nice contrast.

Tasneem El Mashad, a talented young lady, who has painted colorful murals and had her art displayed in a few exhibitions is also another member of the Hayah Academy Staff. The last exhibition of Tasneem’s that I went to was about a year ago. The lively and bright colors that she used to interpret the scenes of Cairo, were a mirror reflection of the cheerful bright individual that she is. In this exhibition I was surprised to see that she had put aside her yellows, greens and reds and adopted different shades of grey. I am no art expert but if my interpretation of her art is right, from her work I would have to say that she is confused and depressed. The work looked busy which made me think that she’s really confused. Her art work never the less is still eye-catching.

Perihan Abou Zeid is another member of our teaching staff, her display of her art work was in my opinion a mix of traditional oriental egyptian scenes with a modern twist. The choice of media and colors that she used is the kind that I am drawn to. Simple yet expressive.

This what Perry had to say to describe her work;

“When I first reflected on the idea of down town (kasr el nil) I immediately visualized layers, maybe because I am fond of the concept of layers but it’s also because this how I see down town. An assemblage of layers made out of textures, colors, images, spirits, blocks, shapes, bodies and even noises created through years and years and which are often ignored in our busy lives.

Through my close observation I managed to reveal a remarkable diversity of which I tried to apply in my presented art pieces where I mixed various medias one of them is collage

In my pieces I tried to focus on the matters that caught my eyes the most like the buildings, the women and the ironic combination of this district. I also combined news paper with most of my pieces ,the printed words small and big reflects in my opinion  the feel of the sounds of down town, incorporated some words that we usually hear ,lyrics from an old forgotten song .I used stenciling and graffiti like calligraphy & painting style to add some roughness and texture to the work.

Mixed media gives me a lot of freedom and a bigger space to experiment specially when am working on a rich theme like down town (kasr el nil).”

Sarah Rafae a talented photographer had an interesting collection of photographs that she had taken down town. Her images had been taken with a shutter lense with a 5sec gap between each photo leaving  ghostly images of people and vehicles. It reminded me  of photos that some people have taken where images of ghost appear.

Artists Basem Samir and Hala Sharouny had a different approach to the theme of Kasr El Nil, they thought of the people walking through the city and the shoes that they wear. Which brings to my mind, ‘Walk A Mile In My Shoes’. The painted a pair of stiletto heels and in side the out of the heels were buildings. The colors were formidable and eye-catching. It also reminded me of a well-known chocolatiers in New York City, also a former employee of Ralph Lauren who  decorates, designs and makes edible chocolate high heel shoes. Each shoe is authentic colorful and original! I just loved Bassem and Hala’s interpretation of the theme! They got my vote for most creative.

I truly enjoy going and visiting museums and exhibitions. The artists there see things from a different perspective and some times we are too busy or blind to see what is that they see. When I am out and about walking along the pavements, driving by in a car or at an exhibition I tend to see another side to the amazing city I live in and I fall in love with it and its people all over again.