As Egypt votes on its new constitution, this picture sums things up very well. Shortly before polls opened an unknown individual drove past a courtroom in Giza and threw a small bomb. No one died and injuries were few, and turnout in the nearby polling stations was reported afterwards as stronger than usual.
This is a testimony to Egyptian voters, but the picture captures a different image. Across the street from the courtroom is a local cafe, and customers sit stoically smoking shisha amid bomb debris scattered in the street. It is unknown if they cast a ballot.
Early reports say that nine have died in scattered protests, but that they day has generally proceeded calmly. There have been many pictures of long lines outside polling stations; there have also been many pictures of empty ones. Conventional wisdom says turnout in support of the constitution will be strongest in urban areas, while rural ones may be more inclined to boycott.
But perhaps these shisha smokers represent the nation in general, sitting idly by despite the turmoil. If the turnout is impressive, this characterization will have to be revised. If the turnout is poor, Morsi supporters will say the country rejected the ‘coup’. But throughout the past three years, waves of protests and politicians have jostled over slogans of change and promises of stability, while Egypt soldiers on.
At this moment, I have no estimate of turnout. The polling station on the way to Layla’s preschool had a long line at the beginning of the day, but was empty by her pickup in early afternoon. Whether large or small it will offer a political message, an important indicator that pundits will analyze.
The constitution will pass – that is not in question. It will provide a legal basis for continuing the transition and lead into presidential and parliamentary elections. Will the promised stability come? Or is more trouble on the horizon?
Either way, these two men will sit there, emblematic of the mass of Egyptians who want life to get back to normal. May they soon be offered that privilege, enjoyed by so many around the world.