Sunday’s papers: Egyptians flood polling stations in first free election

Sunday’s papers document a historic day. The significance of Saturday's referendum on the package of proposed constitutional amendments is not only that it constitutes Egypt’s first free elections, but also because of the large voter turnout due to the perception that the elections would genuinely reflect voters' will.

People waited for hours in queues described by the independent daily Al-Dostour as exceeding those witnessed in recent bread crises, underlining the symbolic significance of Egyptians being as hungry for democracy as they have been for bread.

State-run daily Al-Ahram headlines with, “The people said ‘yes’ to participation and ‘no’ to fraud.” The newspaper says the turnout reached a 60-year high and notes the high participation of Copts and women in particular.

Independent daily Al-Shorouk features an image of kilometers-long queues. Accompanying the picture is the headline, “The queues of freedom announce the success of the revolution.” Al-Shorouk also mentions on its first page that members of ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s family did not cast their own votes this time around. Al-Shorouk publishes an exclusive statement from Mamdouh Shaheen, deputy defense minister for legal affairs, saying that if the amendments pass, the modified articles will form the political foundation for the coming period and presidential and parliamentary elections will be scheduled. In case the people reject the amendments, a constitutional decree will be announced with general guidelines for the transitional phase.

Al-Ahram denies the existence of secret coordination between the Muslim Brotherhood and the remainders of the formerly-ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) to push for ‘yes’ votes. Al-Shorouk, meanwhile, describes Brotherhood violations, alleging that they campaigned inside polling stations.

The liberal daily Al-Wafd published civil society reports on voting day, which concluded that the thugs that were a fixture in recent elections disappeared and that voters were influenced in the name of religion instead. Al-Wafd says that the Brotherhood surrounded polling stations with banners supporting the amendments, a practice the paper depicts as a threat to democracy.

Certain voting day scenes stood out. Prime Minister Essam Sharaf’s display of respect to the people as he apologized repeatedly for cutting in in the line to vote was featured in every newspaper. Al-Shorouk also reports verbal confrontations in Manial district when Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie entered the polling station without waiting in line. Al-Wafd reports the voters’ attack on the car of former speaker of the People’s Assembly Fathy Sorour. The incident forced him to turn back without casting his vote. The paper also reports shouting at Cairo Governor Abdel Azim Wazir, when he voted without waiting in line.

The attack on presidential hopeful Mohamed ElBaradei, which prevented him from casting his vote, was reported in state-owned newspapers as an attack by citizens who threw rocks and water at ElBaradei and announced that they rejected his presidential campaign. Most independent newspapers overlooked the incident. In Al-Shorouk, writer Fahmy al-Howeidy described his experience voting for the first time in half a century and said that the scene witnessed yesterday shows a new awareness in Egypt that should ease the concerns of those worried about the Muslim Brotherhood and the remnants of the NDP assuming power.

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