Faces, faces, and more faces meet the eye wherever one looks on the streets of Giza and in other parts of the country, where voters are heading to the elections in the first stage of the parliamentary polls.
Candidates' pictures dominate the streets, staring down from billboards on top of multi-storey buildings, or hung haphazardly from lampposts and trees. Cars and buses emblazoned with election posters can be seen circulating around the streets, sometimes accompanied by loud endorsements of the candidate's merits via a megaphone.
The money spent on these campaigns across the country presumably reaches millions of Egyptian pounds; but it was not always like that. In fact, election campaigns did not start with Egypt’s first parliament in 1869, during the reign of Khedive Ismail, because he depended on heads of tribes and clans who were already popular and did not need to campaign.
“The real election campaigns, especially banners and publications, first appeared in Egyptian villages after the 1952 revolution,” explains researcher Francis Amin, adding that in the period after World War II until the 1952 revolution, campaigns were limited to seminars that were transcribed and handed out as booklets.
“Due to the lack of awareness and literacy among the majority of Egyptian population after the 1952 revolution, political candidates focused on the small educated percentage and addressed them via souvenir photographs and printouts of their speeches, a trend that flourished throughout the thirties and forties,” says Amin.
After the revolution, the first banners started to appear. Unlike today's massive billboards, these adverts were made of white cloth, with script drawn on via local calligraphers using blue ink.
The banners also displayed the symbol of each candidate next to his name; just like today, candidates are assigned a simple visual symbol to help voters identify them on the ballot paper.
Ali El-Garboai, head of an advertising agency in Upper Egypt for over 25 years, says that the calligraphy “needed to be simple and not too decorative so as to be understood clearly by people on the street.”
“The early seventies were a kind of high season for calligraphers, who would write up to 40 metres of cloth per campaign. After the elections, the banners were cleaned and reused by the underprivileged in each village,” he said.
Nowadays, due to the complexity of signs and the abundance of candidates, computers, plastic and paper have replaced ink and cloth.
Photos courtesy of Mahmoud Dossoki