Reporters Notebook: A Return to Cairo

CAIRO, Egypt-- It was a bit strange being back. And different. But immensely satisfying.

The last time I was in Cairo was in late January and early February, the heady first days of the revolution here. It was all fighting in the streets and clashes between citizens and authorities. Egyptians versus Egyptians.

And sometimes versus journalists. My tour was abruptly ended when I had a run-in with the mob in Tahrir Square.

The revolution would continue, leading to the fall of Mubarak.

In the days before I returned to Cairo the talk was of Tahrir II. More deadly violence and more demands for change. This time the folks wanted the Generals to go.

In fact, by the time I returned, the ugliness had settled down. And it became a different story. A political one. But that was still good.

People here decided to take a break from fighting in the street to try their hands at democracy. And it was remarkable.

I’ve seen it before in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. But it never ceases to amaze me to witness how much people enjoy being able to decide their fates themselves.

On the first day of the first round of parliamentary voting lines stretched around the block at polling stations. People put up with all sorts of inconveniences. And the most complex and lengthy electoral system I’ve ever seen. To cast their ballots.

After years of not participating in dummy fake elections during the Mubarak era, people turned out in droves. I can’t tell you how many times people told me this was the first time they had voted. Even the elderly.

One young girl summed it up for me : “It’s about democracy,” she said. “It’s all about democracy. It’s about a way forward.”

Turn-out on the second day was a bit thinner, but all in all it was a record showing. And it was calm. “It’s so secure,” one woman marveled to me as she left the polling place, “It’s so peaceful.”

The lengthy counting process leading up an announcement of results that really wasn’t, was in fact a sign perhaps of the long road ahead. There are weeks and even months of polling to come No doubt a lot of political jockeying. And maybe even, once again, violence.

But for now at least, it’s ballots rather than bullets, in yet another corner of the Arab world. And I’m glad I witnessed it.