Azam Lotfy took a $7 cab ride just before noon on Monday to his polling station in downtown Cairo. In one pocket of his green jacket, he carried a crumpled piece of paper that listed the party and candidates he intended to vote for. In the other, he carried a photo of his dead son.
Lotfy Azam Lotfy was just shy of 29 when he was shot and killed 10 months ago as he filmed police cracking down on a protest during the winter uprising that brought down President Hosni Mubarak. As he cast the first vote of his life, Azam Lotfy, 59, said he was thinking about his son and hoping that his sacrifice would be honored with the election of the country’s first truly representative parliament.
Lotfy voted for the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and said he chose the Islamist party based on the recommendation of a kind doctor in his neighborhood who treated him after a stroke brought on by grief.
He said he wasn’t sure the election of a parliament, after three decades of Mubarak’s autocratic rule, would bring any real improvement to his life. But he had no doubt that if his son were alive, he would have been in the next voting booth.
“I don’t know if these elections will stabilize this country or set the country on fire,” Lotfy said just before he cast his ballot. “All we want is justice. My son hated injustice. I never voted before because the whole system was corrupt, my vote was valueless; but now it has a price.”
Egyptians turned out in greater numbers than expected for the first stage of parliamentary elections. But some, like Lotfy’s wife, are staying away from the polls.
“Why did you vote?” she asked her husband when he returned to the house they share with their daughter and the two young children their only son left behind.
Reda Mohamed Kenawi’s home town lies in another province, and, under Egypt’s complicated voting rules, she won’t have the chance to vote until the second stage of the election, in two weeks. But she refuses to participate, despite the government’s threat to impose fines of just under $100 on those who fail to vote. “I can’t tell the honest from the liars anymore,” she said.
After Mubarak’s ouster, Kenawi said, she thought “things would be better.” But now, seeing how little has changed, she reflects the mixed emotions many Egyptians have toward the revolution. “It turned out most people in the country are not good.”
When Lotfy walked into the polling station, he passed an information table set up by the Freedom and Justice Party. Nearby he saw young men handing out fliers for the Egyptian Bloc, a leftist and liberal coalition.
He tapped a policeman on the shoulder and explained that he couldn’t see well. The officer escorted him inside, then poll workers gave him two ballots — one for selecting a party slate, and one for choosing individual candidates — and helped him read the paper. When he was finished, he dropped the ballots into wooden boxes and dipped his index finger in blue ink.
“I voted, but I’ll only feel comfortable when I see the results,” he said, worried that many politicians are simply opportunists.
The full results of Egypt’s parliamentary elections won’t be known for months, and the new parliament won’t convene until the spring.
But every day, Lotfy’s family struggles with its loss.
Lotfy Azam Lotfy worked in a printing house and was the family’s breadwinner. Just before his death, his father remembers him saying he’d buy an air-conditioning unit to help them all get through the summer. The family buried him before summer came. But two months after his death, men showed up to install air-conditioning units. Lotfy, it turned out, had made the purchase before his death.
On Monday, Azam Lotfy recalled how he begged his son not to join the protests. But on Jan. 29, his son was in the working-class neighborhood of Imbaba and was shot twice in the heart as he carried his camera, his father said. Police officers accused of killing him are on trial, with the next court hearing set for Dec. 5.
“What’s the point?” Lotfy Azam Lotfy’s mother asked her daughter, Basma, a nurse in the armed forces, as she considered the election and the resurgence of violence that has gripped Egypt over the past week, as security forces sought to quell protesters demanding the immediate departure of the ruling military council.
“You are wrong,” Basma told her mother. “When I left work this morning, I saw the lines and I cried. I knew that people were finally voting for the future of Egypt.”
“I voted to see what they’re going to do,” her husband explained. “Let’s just see what they’re going to do.”
“But will this bring my son’s rights back?” the mother asked.
He had no answer.