Egyptians are lining up at polling stations across their country this week to cast votes in their country’s most free presidential election in decades. They are, however, doing more than choosing a leader. The successful completion of this election will represent an enormous milestone in a country that has faced a tumultuous year following the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.
The past year has not been an easy one for the people of Egypt. Protests have continued nearly unabated as discontent brewed over the governing of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the military’s ruling body. Religious tensions have flared between Muslims and Copts and the military has reportedly used deadly force to quell riots. Nonetheless, things seem to be moving forward. A constitution has been passed, a parliament has been elected, and presidential elections are being held. In an April Gallup poll, 86 percent of respondents stated they plan to vote and 82 percent believe the elections will be honest. This represents a huge improvement in faith in elections since the fall of the Mubarak regime (up from 28 percent in 2009).
Progress is all well and good, but where are these elections heading? A recent study by the Pew Global Attitudes Survey found that even though a majority (60 percent) of Egyptians believe their laws should strictly follow the Qur’an, it is important to note that the voters are entering the polling stations with an agenda larger than religion. Western media tends to focus on the secular vs. Islamist debate but this issue may not be the most important to Egyptians.
That same study revealed that although the presence of religious parties in government and a civilian controlled military were important to many respondents, they were by no means the most important issues to the electorate. In the study’s table below, it is obvious that years of authoritarian rule have pushed issues like a fair judiciary, uncensored media, and freedom of speech to the front of people’s minds.
Another Pew poll demonstrated that improved economic conditions and law and order are “very important” to the Egyptian people, as high unemployment sparked Egypt’s transition over one year ago and maintaining security amidst an instable government has brought these issues to the fore.
It has been a challenging year for Egypt, but it seems the majority of the Egyptian people have remained confident and hopeful their country will emerge from this difficult time stronger than before.