Popular ex-governor challenges Brotherhood in Alexandria

Dina Ezzat , Wednesday 24 Nov 2010

The Muslim Brotherhood expect to trounce the NDP in their stronghold of Alexandria, but face a serious challenge from Al-Mahgoub, the port city's popular ex-governor.

"It was a very smart move on the part of the National (Democratic Party) to run Al-Magoub against Sobehi Saleh," said Ahmed, an Alexandrian civil servant. "This is a serious challenge for the Muslim Brotherhood," he added.

Al-Mahgoub is Alexandria's former governor, Abdel-Salam Al-Mahgoub, whose popularity in Egypt's second largest city earned him the nickname 'Al-Mahboub' (the loved one). Al-Mahgoub is credited by Alexandrians, especially its lower classes, with having stoodfast against Cairo's plans to demolish the Chatbi Children's Hospital, a government hospital providing low cost service, in order to expand the green space surrounding the famed Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

The Muslim Brotherhood's Sobhi Saleh  is equally well-liked by Alexandrians who know him mostly for his popular Friday Sermons, which have been attracting a weekly attendence of some 50,000 people.

A lawyer by profession, Saleh is widely known as Al-Saleh (The good man) for his association with many charities – a typical Muslim Brotherhood exercise.

Al-Mahgoub and Saleh are contesting the parliamentary seat for the district of Al-Raml,  a middle to upper middle class district in Alexandria.

For Ahmed as for many other Al-Raml constituents it is a tough choice to make, between two very popular Alexandrian figures.

But according to Saleh's campaign managers the ruling party is acting in a way that could undermine the popularity of its Al-Raml nominee.

"When Al-Mahgoub is allowed early campaigning, and when his electoral rallies are held at government buildings (schools and administrative offices), and when Sobhi Saleh is at the same time denied to even have his electoral posters put up in the streets, then people are bound to conclude that this is an unfair competition," said Mohamed Nasr, a leading media coordinator for the Muslim Brotherhood candidates in Alexandria, Saleh included.

Apart from the case of Al-Raml, the other seven candidates fielded by the Muslim Brotherhood in Alexandria – including Boshra Al-Semni who is contesting the women's seat – don’t appear to be facing tough competition from the NDP – at least not according to their campaign managers who insist that with the single exception of Al-Mahgoub, the ruling NDP would not stand a chance against their candidates, especially in the economically underprivilaged districts, which are Brotherhood strongholds. They add one qualification, however, which is that the elections be "fair and transparent".

"People here know us very well. They see us among them every day, and they come to us whenever they have a problem, and they can always find us," said Hamdi Hassan, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate for the district of Mina Al-Bassal, a lower to middle income neighbourhood of Alexandria.

Having served as MP for his district in the 2005-2010 parliament, Hassan is confident that he peformed well enough to be re-elected. Along with other members of the 88 strong Muslim Brotherhood block in parliament, Hassan has spoken up for socio-economic rights and for political liberties. And in the brochures and CDs his campaigners are distributing throughout constituency, Hassan is sure to remind everyone of the details of each issue that he raised and every bill that he drafted during the past five years.

"Of course I will vote for the Muslim Brotherhood," said Tayssir, a plumber from working class district of Al-Wardiyan. "Why should I vote for the NDP? What has the NDP ever done for me?"

"Our main issue is not about platforms but about guarantees for the fairness and transparency of the elections," says Hassan. The consecutive waves of arrests of Brotherhood members and sympathisers is, according to Hassan, a clear indication that the government has made up its mind to substantially cut down the Brotherhood's share in the coming parliament.

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