Egyptians tweet, film and message to monitor poll

CAIRO Tue Nov 29, 2011 8:31pm IST

A man shows his ink stained finger after casting his vote at a polling station during parliamentary elections in Cairo November 28, 2011. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

A man shows his ink stained finger after casting his vote at a polling station during parliamentary elections in Cairo November 28, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

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CAIRO (Reuters) - Standing in long queues as Egyptians wait to cast their vote, many are tweeting, filming, and relaying their every observation, bringing a new dimension to election monitoring in the Arab world's most populous nation.

Egypt's first parliamentary vote since Hosni Mubarak was ousted began on Monday and the first round of voting is being held over two days watched by judges, international monitors and local observers.

Using twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to offer live broadcasts of everything they come across, voters -- many of whom are heading to the polls for the first time -- are also providing detailed descriptions of their experiences.

"In the past I used to go down myself to monitor the elections, now everyone in the country is doing it. Isn't this something to be happy about?," Bothaina Kamel, Egypt's first female presidential candidate and activist, said on twitter.

Many activists are networking with official monitoring groups, distributing numbers for rights groups and some have even set up a twitter hashtag "sharek" or participate.

"Voters, be ready with your mobile phone cameras to capture any violations," voter Mourad Ghareeb wrote on twitter.

Keeping with the trend, widely-read newspapers like Masry al Youm and Shorouk have launched online portals to exclusively cover the elections and offer their readers a chance to upload videos and written reports of violations they see.

They report violations ranging from polls not opening on time to unstamped ballots to parties illegally campaigning outside polling stations.

Their grievances are taken up by the judicial election commission responsible for the vote or other rights groups networking with local observers.

The participation has in turn helped the media keep closer accounts of a range of election violations across the country.

But the Internet isn't just the space for voters. Parties from the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party to the liberal Kutla alliance are using the Internet to campaign and to also monitor how the vote is proceeding.

HAVE YOUR SAY

Google (GOOG.O) launched an election landing page as a hub for election information, aggregating news and videos from various sources, produced both by parties and voters.

It also started a YouTube channel "Sayyed Qararak" or "Have your Say" to give Egyptian politicians the space to discuss the election. That includes some 400 videos with answers from candidates on some of the most important election issues.

Weeks before the elections, activists were making great use of the Internet to spread awareness on the vote.

Dozens of videos on YouTube sprung up every hour to provide some tips and guidance on how the election will work over a staggered three-phase vote.

Online initiatives offered questionnaires for voters to help them identify which parties they are ideologically aligned with.

"Be bold and protect your voice like us. The dream starts from here," one online initiative said. "Your voice matters."

Groups uploaded articles and pamphlets that highlighted party platforms and used songs, cartoons, and endorsements from public figures to encourage people to vote. They enlisted volunteers and distributed mobile numbers for rights groups.

The online technology contrasts with some of the most basic methods of campaigning at polling stations, where picture symbols used to identify candidates among a population with high illiteracy rates can be more important.

Chairs, trains, whales, washing machines, rifles, cycles, military tanks and motorcycles are just some of the images.

But in the vote, which has brought what initial indicators show could be an unprecedented turnout, Egyptians are determined to take a part in shielding their voices from manipulation.

"My voice matters and I am not afraid to report any violations I see around me. Those days are over," one Susan Fathy, a 53-year-old housewife in Cairo said.

"I don't need to use the Internet to tell the world when something wrong is happening. I can shout right here if I want."

(Editing by Peter Millership)

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