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Those who voted and those who did not

Some of those who went to vote, and those who did not, share similar ‎hopes and fears as they speak to Ahram Online

Dina Ezzat , Monday 23 Nov 2015
An Egyptian man casts his vote at a polling station in the capital Cairo on 23 November 2015, the second day of the final round of the country's parliamentary elections (Photo: Bassam Alzogby)
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Walking by the Primary School of Shageret Mariam (the Virgin Mary Tree) in the ‎economically challenged neighbourhood of Mataraya, middle-aged Fadiah looked with ‎contempt at a group of women hanging around and haggling with a young man who was ‎giving out mobile charging cards.‎

She stepped to the other side of the street – not minding to walk next to huge piles of ‎trash with dogs and sheep eating from within it.‎

‎“But I don’t want to be seen with this crowd, I have a reputation as a decent lady and a ‎good teacher,” Fadiah said. “Why would I want to be seen with a crowd of people who are getting bribes ‎to vote?”‎

Having reluctantly agreed to talk, this preparatory school teacher said that she was not ‎going to vote. “I voted for the constitution, yes in early 2014, and of course I voted for ‎President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi… but not for these parliamentary elections,” she stated ‎unequivocally.‎

Putting her hand to the little cross hanging around her neck as she spoke, Fadiah explained that ‎‎“most, I am not saying all, but most of the people who went voting in this neighbourhood, ‎sorry to say, have been getting bribes. I would not want people to think this either of me ‎or my family.”‎

Moreover, she added “I don’t really know any of the candidates and I would not have wanted to have voted blindly. I know friends who consulted – well, they consulted with the church, ‎you know… but I thought that I would rather not go this time.”‎

Had she not been so overtly skeptical, Fadiah said she might have voted. “I’ve been with ‎every step of the way since President El-Sisi came on the scene. I believed in El-Sisi and I ‎knew who I was supporting and my support was genuine, but I cannot just go to vote ‎especially that I am not sure about the benefits that this parliament would bring about,” ‎she argued.‎

In the analysis of Fadiah, a parliament of  “A group of people with no clear experience – you ‎would not know most of the names really, so what is the point… I mean how would they ‎help fix our problems if they don’t have serious experience.”‎

The problems that Fadiah wants solved are, as she said, “very obvious. Look at the ‎mountains of garbage, look at the leaking sewage that is going through the trash and the ‎obnoxious smell, it is very obvious what we, and I think most other people want: clean streets, ‎clean water, affordable prices, health services, decent education conditions, jobs, ‎transportation… it is very obvious,” she said.‎

Fadiah is “not really sure” how a parliament with such subdued MPs would help solve ‎these problems. “Even those people that we know are fighting with one another – I ‎honestly think that this parliament is not particularly purposeful,” she concluded.‎

It was precisely her wish to see these problems attended to that prompted an equally ‎reluctant middle aged Faten to go to the polls in the working-class Boulaq neighbourhood.‎

‎“Life is so hard, we are fighting to make ends meet, we have been hoping for better to ‎come since we supported the ouster of Mohamed Morsi,” in the summer of 2013.‎

Still, Faten said she is waiting for an end to what she qualifies as “the endless decline in our living ‎standards and everything around us.”‎
“I kept telling myself it would happen, I kept telling myself that there will be measures,” ‎Faten stated.‎

One time after the other, she went to the polling stations: for the constitution and then for ‎the presidential elections.‎

Every time the state promised a better day, she kept her faith. However, Faten has been ‎repeatedly disappointed “especially with the economy.”‎

Grateful as she is for not having lost any of her income – “Thank God, my husband and I ‎work for the public sector and our salaries are promptly paid, unlike some of our relatives ‎who work for factories that have not been paying the salaries for months,” she stated.‎

Still, Faten has been forced to give up on some limited assets to provide money to cover ‎the “very basic expenses because everything is getting so much more expensive.”‎

Despite this story of dismay, she is still hoping that things might pick up. She said she was ‎voting for candidates she is not particularly familiar with because she wants to “help the ‎president finish his ‘road map’ and have a parliament to provide him with some ideas to ‎help fix the problems.”‎

‎“He wanted a parliament, he wanted us to vote, we are giving it to him, now it is his turn to ‎live up to his promises and to give us a better living standard -- he asked for two years – ‎so by next June I want to be able to feel a difference.”‎

Faten’s way of judging that things are getting better is very basic: she wants to leave her ‎savings that are “very limited and are there to help us cope with unexpected trouble not to count ‎on for the monthly budget,” and to make up for the assets she had to dispense with.‎

Otherwise, Faten said, it would be difficult to keep faith in the current political process.‎

She is not sure how she will voice discontent – but she is certain that she would.‎

‎“Listen, I don’t want to think that the worse is going to inevitably happen – I want to say ‎we chose this president and we supported him all the way through and that we are waiting ‎for him to live up to the promises he made,” Faten said.‎

She added that with the advice of her two sons, both university students, she voted for ‎‎‘relatively oppositional’ MPs and she chose to avoid the lists known to be directly associated ‎with the head of the executive.‎

‎“Let us hope that with the help of different views the president would have ideas on how ‎to improve this situation we are living in,” she concluded.‎

In Heliopolis, an economically privileged neighbourhood, Shadiah also decided to vote for the ‎‎”relatively oppositional voices.”‎

Speaking with her husband Kadri, the two retired bankers said that having a ‎overwhelmingly “agreeing” parliament is not exactly “what the president needs today”.‎

‎“Well, of course we have faith in President El-Sisi and we support him but honestly I have ‎several question marks on the domestic policies. I mean clearly everything is getting much ‎more expensive than it used to be and this is not the easiest time for the poor,” she said.‎

Shadiah fears that if things don’t pick up then the “deep frustration and subdued anger of ‎the very poor, which is legitimate in many ways, would explode in all our faces.”‎

‎“We are hoping that the composed opposition would help the president get the priorities ‎right so that the living standard would improve somehow,” she argued.‎

Kadry, her husband, is also hoping that “now that there is a parliament, or almost, the ‎president would give some attention to the constitution that we have voted for. I think ‎that the president is acting on his own without clear guidance from the constitution and ‎without listening to any constructive criticism is not helping,” he argued.‎

To the firmly approving nod of his spouse, he added that if the president fails to make the ‎best out of the parliament and the constitution then things “might take a regrettable ‎path.”‎

‎“We are already hearing some young people calling for new rounds of ‎demonstrations in January and we monitor a definite sense of unease, not necessarily in ‎our quarters but certainly all around us."

We don’t want to go back to the times of unrest ‎and demonstrations, we want to move towards reviving the economy and building our ‎country in a way that is different from the things we have had during the last forty or fifty ‎years,” Kadry concluded.‎

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