As voters headed towards the ballot boxes to cast their vote in this year's parliamentary elections, the battle was ongoing between the National Democratic Party (NDP) candidate Hesham Mustafa Khalil, the son of former prime minister Mustafa Khalil, and independent candidate and former TV announcer Gamila Ismail--who is also the former wife of political activist Ayman Nour--over the downtown district of Qasr El Nil.
From the entrance of the Gezira Club, to the tree-lined north end of the island, Zamalek's streets are lined with posters bearing the smiling face of Qasr El Nil candidate Khalil. The banners and posters are everywhere, not only in Zamalek. They can also be found all over the neighbourhoods of Garden City, Al-Mounira, El-Sayeda Zeinab as well as Qasr El Nil itself. They carry upbeat slogans such as “Together for Egypt: With work we will achieve our hopes,” and, “Your vote is the beginning.”
Having mounted an unsuccessful campaign for the district's professional seat in the 2005 parliamentary elections as an independent candidate, Khalil is the front-runner in this year's contest. Khalil’s position has been strengthened by influential supporters, as well as ordinary citizens who are being paid LE20 each to vote for him.
“He is always there for us," says Abdullah Imam, a voter who supports Khalil, "The constituency suffers hundreds of problems, if he solves half of them, then he is working hard for us.”
"I have known Khalil for more than 30 years. He is better than 100 men," says 50-year-old car mechanic Gamal Mohamed, another Khalil supporter.
Khalil believes that the legislature is the main force capable of driving change for the better.
It's about time that [the legislature's] negative image is changed," says Khalil.
Khalil expects victory in the first round of the elections.
"The candidate who can solve the problems in the constituency will win a seat in the People's Assembly," says Khalil, " Why should the people vote for an opposition figure, knowing that he or she cannot help them in that way?"
Khalil says that such support of an opposition candidate is an indication of political backwardness, but, he adds, "this is the way things are done in Egypt."
Though Ismail’s banners are fewer in number, her supporters are many, especially among the poor. Ironically, some voters wearing t-shirts with photos of Khalil hail Ismail whenever they see her.
Ismail faced many obstacles as she began her campaign today.
“Authorities changed my electoral number from 17 to 14 abruptly, and without any prior notice," says Ismail, " Police officers provided me and my voters with incorret information regarding the location for voting. I might lose thousands of votes.”
The Qasr El Nil constituency was not very quiet, however, despite the low voter turnout. Police officers, according to Ismail, deliberately provided voters with misleading instructions.
“There were [directives] to inform voters that they must sign their name on the ballot after completing with their vote. This makes their votes null. They kept doing this for three successive hours,” complains Ismail.
Ismail decided to file a complaint with the prosecutor general over all the violations she claims to have witnessed.
“I will take all necessary legal action against all violators in an attempt to reduce the losses,” says Ismail.