How crazy has the presidential election in Egypt gotten? A rumor that 180,000 pens filled with ink that disappears after a few hours had been shipped into the country prior to the vote this weekend was causing headaches for election officials and spurring voters to go to extremes to make sure their vote counted.
The rumor was apparently started a couple of days before the vote by a flamboyant talk show host,Tawfiq Okasha:
"I warn everyone. I warn the Shafiq campaign. I warn all voters," Okasha shouted on his show on the satellite channel he owns. "The voter will make his mark on the ballot with it and four hours later the mark disappears. The vote counters will open the ballot and find it blank."
A Brotherhood spokesman, Mahmoud Ghozlan, denied the claims.
The rumor gained further ground when officials suggested the plot was a reality, though they did not accuse the Brotherhood or any other group.
Speaking to journalists Saturday, the interior minister in charge of security forces warned that the pens had indeed been brought in from abroad.
Farouq Sultan, the head of the presidential election commission, said that "once the rumor" spread, the commission asked the Interior Ministry to provide 50,000 pens for the polling centers to use. He and the interior minister said that election workers had been instructed not to let voters use anything but the official pens. Sultan said that "as far as he knew," some vanishing-ink pens had been discovered in circulation.
An anonymous SMS sent en masse to some mobile phones Saturday repeated the accusations the Brotherhood were passing out the pens.
At a polling center in the Cairo district of Shubra el-Kheima, the supervising judge was tearing his hair out over voters fussing over pens. One woman brought a pen from home because she didn't even trust the official one. Another wanted to take her ballot outside to wait to ensure her checkmark didn't disappear, said the judge, Mohammed el-Minshawi.
Egyptians already have a paranoid political culture, seeing a "hidden hand" controlling events, and even themselves. Now the hidden hand has an invisible pen that erases votes within hours of marking them.
It could get worse. Someone - either the representative of the old regime or the Islamist candidate - might win.