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Sayeda Zeinab: Sure win for Parliament speaker

Despite tailored promises and well-worked out platforms from candidates and parties running for election in El-Sayeda Zeinab district, many voters are less than keen on voting

Dina Ezzat, Thursday 25 Nov 2010
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“El-Doctor Sorour. There is nobody here other than him, and we are all behind him,” said Ahmed as he sold freshly baked date-rolls at a bakery in the heart of Sayeda Zeinab, in West Cairo.

“El-Doctor” Fathi Sorour, parliament speaker and the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) candidate for Sayeda Zeinab district.

A resident of the posh neighbourhood of Garden City, the PhD holder in law Sorour runs comfortably and almost uncontested in Sayeda Zeinab, the poorer neighbourhood of his birth. And by the account of residents, civil society observers and the political opposition, Sorour wins fair and square.

Hardly anyone in the ruling party or in the opposition -- from the liberal Wafd Party to the leftist Tagammu or the Muslim Brotherhood -- can claim to command as much confidence with the voters as Sorour does.

Indeed, Sorour is announced by supporters in posters put across the main districts of Sayeda Zeinab as “the fourth pyramid” and “eighth wonder of the world”. This despite the not so distant memory of the 2007 tragedy where by hundreds of residents of Qalaat El-Kabsh -- a shantytown in Sorour's district -- were rendered homeless as their houses burnt down.

The anti-Sorour backlash at the time was difficult to avoid, and according to one NDP associate of Sorour, the latter does not discount that he may have lost votes due to the “slow” reaction of the Cairo governorate in response to the human tragedy.

Still, according to the same NDP source, Sorour is not worried about winning, as the majority in his electoral district is willing to rally behind him for the services he secures them.

“In this district we only know Fathi Sorour. He is our MP and he is the one who gets us all our rights,” said the head-to-toe veiled Hala.

Hala credits Sorour for much more than the clean streets -- a truly tough challenge to keep across the capital. She credits him from sparing her neighbourhood from frequent cuts in potable water and electricity services; she credits him for the well-lit streets that have become almost a rare scene in Greater Cairo; and above all she credits him for the sense of security that exists and is widely praised by inhabitants of the neighbourhood.

This said; Hala is not planning to vote for Sorour in the next elections. “I don't vote and I don't even have a voting card. I don't have time for these things. I have six children and I have to provide for them, since my husband has almost abandoned all responsibilities towards us when he took up his second wife,” she stated.

In Heliopolis, the middle and upper middle class neighbourhood of East Cairo, Amira echoes the same reluctance to take part in the electoral process.

Elegantly dressed and speaking mostly in French and English, Amira also says that she is more preoccupied with her family than with politics. And unlike the case of Hala, she is not sure who are the nominees for the People's Assembly elections in her district. “What is the point?” she says bluntly in English.

Amira has little faith in political scene. “What does it serve?” she states in French. The daughter and granddaughter of lawyers, Amira is not at all belittling politics “in principle,” but she insists that are prerequisites for politics to be relevant: “The elections have to be truly fair and transparent; this does not happen here,” she said.

Amira is convinced that it is more worthwhile for her to invest her time and effort in better bringing up her children and better serving her society through a charity she is associated with. “At least I know I am doing something that is worthwhile, but if I go to vote I am never sure that my vote would be counted in the first place,” she argues.

It is this lack of faith in the electoral process that Manal Aboul-Hassan, a Muslim Brotherhood candidate for Heliopolis, is working to counter. A professor of mass media communication, Aboul-Hassan says she does not restrict herself to mobilised sympathisers of the Muslim Brotherhood, but that she is also targeting a wider constituency.

Aboul-Hassan says people should vote for the candidates who offers a solid platform and who can deliver on promises made. “Many [candidates] promise so much and only deliver little. I am going to be telling voters that you have to choose the candidate who could best serve your interest, even if his/her political affiliation is not what you would subscribe to,” she said. She added that she met “people with a traditional affiliation to the (NDP) that said they would vote for [her]”.

Leading figure of the NDP Mohamed Kamal, however, rejects suggestions of a desertion of traditional supporters from the ruling party, saying that party candidates have been able to deliver, and also that the style and content of the NDP platform is particularly appealing this year.

Each candidate, according to Kamal, has a shared national platform and a local platform made to measure for each district. “If a particular district is in need of an extra school or an extra hospital, we will make sure that the local platform of the candidate addresses this need,” said Kamal, insisting that clear benchmarks for implementation will also be set.

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