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.