PURPLE FINGER COMPATRIOTS

Last Saturday 8.5 million Egyptians were required to dip their finger into permanent purple ink!

The reason was to prove they had voted in a referendum on a draft constitution and could not vote again at another polling station!

The incredibly long lines – from dawn till after 11 pm – were proof of deep concern over the implications this constitution has for the nation. Some stood in line for more than three hours!

I went early in the morning to check the lines and reported to Rebecca that we should wait until they were shorter. But to our surprise when we went to vote hours later, it was just as crowded, if not more so! Then we remembered! “Senior citizens” were allowed to go to the head of the line! Thus we were finished in only a few minutes! We met many friends and neighbors who stood patiently in the long lines determined to make their voice heard (before the 2011 “Revolution” Egyptians never went to the polls, believing it made no difference!).

Initial results for this first phase (the rest of the country votes next Saturday) are that 57% voted yes. While this is a disappointment to moderate Muslims, Christians and many women who feel the Constitution does not sufficiently protect their rights and freedoms, it was a remarkable show of solidarity against it. In many ways it was also a vote against the present administration and indicates that a significant proportion of those who voted do not approve of our government.

Fortunately, there was no significant violence at polling stations. This is remarkable considering the strong emotions among the “Yes” and “No” camps.

Is this the beginning of our worst nightmare? Is Egypt becoming another Iran? Some doomsday prophets say so. But others, including us, believe that the new spirit of freedom of expression in the media and on the street will not be totally snuffed out, even by the most repressive regime. The human spirit, once allowed to express itself, resents any form of oppression. Yes, there may be hard times ahead, but the millions of Egyptians – from all social classes and of all ages -who did and will vote “No” will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.

When I was a child, living in this same neighborhood, most of my close friends and playmates were Muslims. Over the years a deep rift developed between Muslims and Christians so that few today have close friends from the other religion.

But with the ascendance of a right-wing Islamist government, moderate Muslims and Christians have worked closely together to oppose what they believe are incursions on their basic rights. During the past year friendships have been built again between Muslims and Christians who have found that they are much closer to one another than they had known. As Rebecca and I chatted with friends and neighbors who were waiting in line to vote, most of whom were Muslims, we realized what a strong bond we have with them.

In spite of the deep differences in opinion between voters, the very fact that they took the trouble to vote demonstrates that everyone who did so is deeply concerned about the future of their country.

In any dealing among each other since Saturday, Egyptians look to see if the other person is a purple finger compatriot!

Image Image Image