Food, buses, and cash: Getting out the vote the Egyptian way

At polling station in Cairo's Nasr City, guided by men in plain clothes, dozens of women and a handful of men wearing rural garments marched out of a voting station, waving Egyptian flags and then singing for 10 minutes.

By: Reuters | Published: March 29, 2018 2:47:06 pm
vote the Egyptian way Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, File)

The going rate for a vote in Egypt’s presidential election was 50 to 100 Egyptian pounds ($3 to $5), but heading down to a polling station could have also landed you a box of groceries or even half-price tickets to an amusement park. Authorities pressed for a high turnout in a vote set to give President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi a sweeping victory in the absence of real competition. Sisi urged people to vote, hoping a large turnout will give him a strong mandate.

There is no evidence that authorities were behind vote buying or other inducements. Reuters correspondents have witnessed multiple cases of state institutions, lawmakers, private businesses, and pro-Sisi individuals seeking to reward voters or make it seem turnout is higher than it actually was. Diaa Rashwan, the head of the State Information Service, did not deny such cases could have taken place but said they would not affect the election results, were “not systematic” and would have been “carried out by individuals and not the state”.

At the office of a logistics company in Cairo’s working class Ward estate, employees collected national ID cards and informed people where they could vote. Tuk-tuks (rickshaws) then took voters there. After casting their ballots, voters would be picked up by the same tuk-tuks and returned to the office, to receive payments of 50 pounds. “I drive people to their polling stations, wait for them, and then take them back to collect the money,” said one driver.

A Reuters correspondent made the journey with one voter and spoke to three others who said they took the money. All spoke on condition of anonymity. Islam Mostafa, 25, said he was offered 100 pounds to vote but declined. “I will not vote, vote for who? Sisi will win anyway. This is not a real election. What will 100 pounds do anyway?” Rashwan said offering or receiving electoral bribes carries a penalty of up to one year in prison and authorities would jail anyone caught doing either.

BAGS OF FOOD

Some women in working class Cairo neighbourhoods told Reuters they were promised bags of food in exchange for voting. One woman said a man went around her neighbourhood knocking on doors and gave people slips of paper. He told them to go vote, come back with the paper which they can exchange for a bag of food items. She declined to be identified for fear of reprisal and said she did not know the man.

A Reuters correspondent saw a man in the working class Helmeyet al-Zaytoun area of eastern Cairo gather photocopies of national ID cards from women there and give them papers with Sisi’s face printed on them. One woman told Reuters she got the paper stamped by individuals inside a polling station as proof she had voted, before returning it to the man in exchange for box containing rice, vegetable oil, and sugar. Civil servants and other state employees were encouraged to vote by their bosses and even private businesses got in on the action.

Dream Park, a popular Cairo amusement, offered half price tickets on election days to those who voted.

SINGING AND DANCING

At polling station in Cairo’s Nasr City, guided by men in plain clothes, dozens of women and a handful of men wearing rural garments marched out of a voting station, waving Egyptian flags and then singing for 10 minutes. They then boarded a convoy of buses and left for 15 minutes, only to return and recreate the same scene. The ritual went on for five hours, a Reuters correspondent observed. The buses had no licence plates. The voting line never had more than 10 people at a time.

There were similar scenes in other polling stations, Reuters correspondents observed. Rashwan said such incidents were not illegal and did not affect actual turnout figures or the election results. In working class Imbaba overlooking the Nile, lawmaker Ihab al-Khouly sat amongst supporters outside a group of polling stations before getting up to dance with pro-Sisi voters. Khouly denied he was organising buses to bring voters in when asked by Reuters but was later seen helping women on the busses himself.

Rashwan said that lawmakers providing transport for voters is not illegal and is in fact a service to their constituents. Mohamed Mahmoud, an official at the Free Egyptians Party which backs Sisi, said his party had chosen to educate voters about the importance of participation instead of resorting to such tactics. “There is a difference between those who are working for the country and those doing things for personal gain,” he said.

He said it was unlikely security services played any role in amassing voters.

Start your day the best way
with the Express Morning Briefing

For all the latest World News, download Indian Express App

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement