Nine months after President Hosni Mubarak was forced from power, Egypt is in the midst of a hotly contested and unusually complex parliamentary election. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the country’s interim ruling body, has faced mounting criticism over its heavy-handedness and reluctance to surrender power, even after the new parliament is seated. In the lead-up to the election, an attempt by the SCAF to enshrine its elevated position in certain “supra-constitutional” principles has provoked intense backlash, leading to days of rioting in Tahrir Square. Yet for many, the vote -- which will determine who appoints at least some members of an assembly tasked with drafting a replacement for Egypt’s 1971 constitution -- is part of a larger battle to define the new Egypt.
The growing consensus is that Islamists are winning that battle. Better organized and more experienced than their secular counterparts, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and other Islamist parties are expected to form the largest bloc in the new parliament. But the success of Islamist groups in building on their preexisting political infrastructure is only part of the story. In coffee shops, office buildings, and art galleries across the capital city, secular forces are gearing up to make their own mark on what promises to be the country's first free and fair election. This November and December Ty McCormick talks with artists and writers who are just now beginning to flex their creative muscle after decades of forced self-censorship.