By late morning it was all over. The menfolk had endorsed their new leader at the local schoolhouse polling station and headed for the cotton and corn fields that set the rhythm of this farming village in the fertile Nile delta.
It was not a hard choice. Under a photograph of President-designate Hosni Mubarak were two circles, one marked "agree" the other marked "other than agree." Although the votes had not yet been officially counted, it was clear to the village notables standing around the schoolhouse that Mubarak won resounding approval from the people of Mansha Ganzour.
"They are saying yes, yes, yes, yes," one of them shouted, just after a stray donkey was shooed from the schoolroom voting place. "Everyone agrees it should be Hosni Mubarak."
In fact, it already was Hosni Mubarak. Designated by the ruling party and groomed by the slain Anwar Sadat to succeed him, Mubarak has been the effective leader of Egypt since Sadat's heart stopped beating. The voting today was less an election -- or even a referendum by Western standards -- than the constitutional cheer giving the people of Egypt a chance to show approval for the new president.
As far as a foreign visitor could determine, the residents of Mansha Ganzour cheered loud and clear for Mubarak. Here, as elsewhere across Egypt, voters seemed willing -- even eager -- to give their endorsement to Sadat's successor, if for no other reason than because they saw no alternative. "We don't know yet what is coming down the pike, but Hosni Mubarak is the heir of Sadat," said Ramadan Abd, who was tending his fields near here after voting "agree."
Abd, 56, owns a quarter acre of rich farmland and works another half acre that he has rented. As the father of two boys, he is grateful to Sadat for reducing chances that their military service will include war against Israel. He also applauds Sadat's alliance with the United States because, villagers say, a U.S. aid team brought electricity to Mansha Ganzour four years ago for the first time.
So when the television that now graces nearly every home hammers out as it did today that Mubarak is the successor to Sadat, Abd and his fellow villagers are glad to "agree." The 4,000 residents here -- not counting what villagers call "the harem and the children" -- seemed far from the determined Islamic fanaticism that apparently led to Sadat's assassination or from the street-wise cynicism, and salon leftism of Cairo that helped give rise to spreading discontent against his ways.
The only visible security as villagers voted today was composed of two turbaned civil guards, armed with pre-World War II shotguns left over by the British and ostentatiously oversized combat boots that stuck out from under their dusty galabiyas as they marched through the dirt lanes between houses.
Mohammed Mohammed Rizq, a schoolteacher in charge of Mansha Ganzour's polling station, said nearly all the 1,300 registered voters of the village showed up this morning to add their voices to the total. Aside from a delay on the way to the fields, however, the vote is likely to have little effect on their everyday lives.
Under Mubarak as under Sadat, the farmers of Mansha Ganzour will tend their fields, reap their crops and send them off to Cairo markets. Although the style of government in Cairo, 90 miles to the south, can affect their village in the long run, the voters here seem to feel the choice is not really theirs. The fact that Egyptian referendums seem always to produce "yes" from 99 percent of the voters makes them smile -- disabused perhaps, but not angry at this very particular form of democracy.
Egypt has never had a functioning Western-style democracy, even in the days before Gamal Abdel Nasser's 1952 revolution when political parties enjoyed some influence under King Farouk. Partly as a result of that tradition, Egyptians are no more used to the idea of exercising a genuine vote than are residents of most other Arab countries.
Among Cairo students and educated professionals, however, this has produced friction. Sadat's officially tolerated opposition, the Socialist Labor Party, and the more leftist and strongly anti-Sadat Unionist Progressive Party regularly criticized Sadat for proclaiming the form of democracy without allowing its actual practice.
Although these two main leftist groups had only a limited following, many newspaper-reading Cairenes shared their cynicism about Sadat's willingness to give the people a real voice in running the country. Judging from street conversations, their doubts have carried over to Mubarak. And for some the doubts escalated into angry opposition when Sadat cracked down last month on his Islamic fundamentalist opponents.
"Sadat arrested the preacher at my mosque," one Cairo worker complained bitterly. "Can you imagine? A man who was proclaiming the word of God? We are just Moslems . . . do you think I would vote in this referendum? Hah. I will tell you what it is. It is a cooked-up scheme. And the chief cook is Interior Minister Nabawi Ismail. Anyway, they all have bank accounts in Switzerland. The minute the soldiers come to power, they start it. Sixty percent for the Army and themselves. And what is left for the people? Not much."