Canadian observers call Egypt elections 'inspiring'

Two former Canadian MPs, Audrey McLaughlin and Anita Neville, and two other Canadian political players were in Egypt this week as part of an election observer delegation.

A group of Canadians that was part of an election monitoring delegation in Egypt this week says the enthusiasm of voters was outstanding and that generally the election was held fairly and freely.

Audrey McLaughlin, former MP and federal NDP leader, said she was welcomed everywhere she went.

"We had a good overview of the process," she said in an interview via Skype from Cairo on Thursday. She said the general feeling was that the third and final round of elections in the country proceeded with no violence, it was orderly and that the procedures were "reasonably well-followed."

"People were very enthusiastic and excited and I think for all of us that was a very inspiring moment because everyone was so excited to have this opportunity after so many years," she said.

Canadians Audrey McLaughlin, Anita Neville, Robin Sears and Farah Mohamed were in Egypt this week to monitor the last round of elections there. (Khalil Hamra/Associated Press)
The other Canadian members of the election observer mission were former Liberal MP Anita Neville, Robin Sears, former national director of the NDP and former chief of staff to Bob Rae, and Farah Mohamed, a veteran staffer on Parliament Hill who also led the Belinda Stronach Foundation.

The Canadians are in Egypt as part of a delegation sent by a Washington-based organization, the National Democratic Institute. It was one of several international organizations whose offices in Egypt were raided by security forces on Dec. 29.

Equipment, documents, and money were taken during the raid on NDI's offices in Cairo, Alexandria and Assuit and nothing has been returned. Staff still managed to carry out the observer mission this week.

The group, a non-profit organization that works to strengthen democratic practices around the world, has operated in Egypt since 2005.

After the uprising that brought down ruler Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, NDI has been working on democratic reforms in the country. NDI is partly funded by the United States Agency for International Development.

McLaughlin has been part of several NDI missions in other countries. In Egypt, she said a great sense of pride was conveyed to her and the other international monitors by voters. She said they are excited about their future going forward.

Voters proud and excited

"The intervening months will show how it's really going to happen but I think people are feeling that this is really a new step and they're excited about it, as they should be," she said.

The multi-stage elections for the 498-seat parliament have been considered the fairest and freest in recent memory, in sharp contrast to the widespread rigging and fraud that had defined almost every election since a military coup in 1952.

The first round began in November, the final round began Tuesday and featured two days of voting throughout the country. Run-offs will be held next week and after the results of all rounds are tallied, the final results are expected to be announced Jan. 13.

Mubarak, 83, was ousted from power after an uprising by Egyptians and the military took power. He is now on trial facing charges of complicity in the killing of protesters. 

Neville also worked as an observer in the first round of elections in the fall and said there were improvements in the procedures this time around and that it was fair.

"The overriding feature for me was the enormous desire on the part of all aspects of the community – whether it was the election officials, those voting, those observing – to ensure that this was a successful election. And everybody seemed to be quite committed to that process," she said.

A lot of the Egyptians she met had a great feeling of excitement and a sense that they were part of making history, she said.

"Their voting was very important to them and it was profoundly moving to see that," she said.

'Amazing energy' in Egypt

Soldiers help a woman into a polling station in Shoubra, Egypt on Tuesday. Canadian election observers said Egyptians were excited and proud to cast their ballots. (Mohammed Abu Zaid/Associated Press)
Sears also said he was also moved by what he witnessed, particularly by the diversity of people he saw at the polls – young people marking a ballot for the first time in their lives, older Egyptians who thought this day would never come, judges presiding over the stations, soldiers guarding them, bedouins, illiterate peasants.

"It really is a transformative social experience for Egyptians, I think, to simply go through this process together, with groups of people who frankly would go through most of their lives without ever talking to each other in other circumstances," he said.

"You have a very complex political and social dynamic among these folks, sometimes there was friction, sometimes there were arguments," he said, and it was "fascinating" to watch.

Mohamed, who observed voting in Egypt's south Sinai region, also said the elections were very much a community event for Egyptians.

"I felt that there was an amazing energy in this country, that people were excited to be part of this process, there was a pride in being part of this process," she said.

Mohamed said everyone was welcoming of the observer team and that the security at the voting stations to guard against ballot boxes being compromised was incredible.

"Despite what we've seen in images of Egypt, it was an incredible feeling to be there to be walking amongst these people and to be then allowed access into a place where they have really come to believe, and rightly so, that this is going to change their future," she said.

With files from The Associated Press