Despite recent violence, Kafr El-Sheikh ready for smooth Egypt elections

Osman El Sharnoubi, Monday 28 Nov 2011

Kafr-El Sheikh, which recently saw violent family feuds and an influx of weapons, is a worrying point for security flare-ups during Egypt's historic voting today, but so far so good

The electoral scene in the city of Kafr El-Sheikh during Egypt’s parliamentary elections today is in full throttle as parties scramble to gain as much support as they can muster throughout the large Nile delta governorate.

Events that unfolded in the Kafr El-Sheikh city of Baltim in October and November cast doubts over the security situation within which the elections will take place.

A scuffle in the one-time popular resort town between families celebrating a wedding and a tuktuk  (a cab supported by three wheels) driver grew into a large-scale feud between the families’ hometown Souk El-Talat, which neighbours a larger town called Baltim.

Hired thugs attacked Baltin, including Souk El-Talat shop owners, leaving tens wounded and three dead from random gunshots. Egypt’s army finally intervened and took control of the situation. The police started the investigations after Baltim residents blocked main roads in protest to the state’s slow reaction.

The incident, which took days to unfold, aroused fears over an already fragile security situation nationwide. Political parties in Kafr El-Sheikh, however, seem to discount such apprehension, believing – albeit due to different reasons – that the election process should take place unhindered by security threats.

Ahmed Helal, member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Kafr El-Sheikh secretariat, blamed the crisis on an intentional security vacuum created by Egyptian police. He said the situation got under control days after when the Brotherhood’s general secretary, along with other political forces called the governor, which then led to the army being deployed.

Nevertheless, the feud needed resolution and Helal claims the Muslim Brotherhood took a leading role in reconciling Baltim and Souk El-Talat residents.

When asked if they expect more violent outbreaks during the elections due to the security vacuum, Helal insisted that this feud was an isolated incident and that the security situation is stable.

The Freedom and Justice Party (the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm) tops the Democratic Alliance electoral coalition, along with the Karama Party, headed by Hamdeen Sabbahi and the Ghad Al-Thawra Party headed by Ayman Nour. The Freedom and Justice party is strong in Kafr El-Sheikh as is Karama, Sabbahi’s birthplace.

The Salafist Nour party, contesting seats in the Islamist Bloc, along with other smaller Salafist parties, such as Al-Asala Party, had a different take on the issue. An elections coordinator in the party headquarters in the city of Kafr El-Sheikh, the capital of the province, who preferred to remain anonymous, didn’t lay much significance on the Baltim events.

The coordinator said the security situation would not be a problem in the elections, claiming that the Baltim incident is merely a tribal conflict, similar to the types of things that occur in Upper Egypt.

The Salafist party coordinator said Kafr El-Sheikh is known as the “city of security safety,” recalling that it was relatively quiet during the 18 days between the eruption of Egypt’s revolution in January until Mubarak stepped down. He showed no worries regarding security during the electoral process.

While the Islamists seemed mainly occupied with their campaigns, not manifesting much apprehension about election-related security woes, others seemed to harbour a different view.

“What happened in Baltim was due to administrative failure. I hold the governorate of Kafr El-Sheikh and local councils to blame, which are useless to this day,” said Mohamed El-Nahhas, a lower house candidate for the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, part of the Revolution Continues electoral coalition.

El-Nahhas isn’t optimistic, reading much insecurity into the Baltim events. Besides the extremely slow response of authorities to bring security to Baltim, El-Nahhas said ex-regime remnants played a principle role in the events.

El-Nahhas said the proliferation of weapons – including automatics – in the days that followed the initial row were supplied by ex-regime elements. He claims NDP supporters supplied the weapons and exploited the situation as it led bloodshed, terrorising people into voting for their associates who are running for parliament.

Yet, the Socialist Popular Alliance Party founding member believes that their attempts will be futile, given that the Kafr El-Sheikh villages and towns are small enough that everyone knows who the ex-regime members and their associates are.

El-Nahhas insists that the Mubarak system is still functioning. Therefore, his electoral circle, El-Borollos, is taking efforts to circumvent the Mubarak regime and to deal with the lax security and poor state-level governance, mentioning that residents established a parallel local council to provide services.

Another candidate for upper house elections in Kafr El-Sheikh, Essam El-Tombagi, running on behalf of the Reform and Development-Misrona Party, headed by Mohamed Anwar Esmat El-Sadat and business tycoon Ramy Lakah, believed the people will defend against any security crises.

The Reform and Development-Misrona Party is another prominent contender in Kafr El-Sheikh, fielding 18 individual and list candidates.

El-Tombagi attributed the security vacuum in the Baltim incidents to a police force, frightened since the January revolution of civilian retaliation, however, like the Islamists, didn’t seem worried about the disruption of elections.

Vehicles roll through the province capital, clad in posters and booming speakers promoting the various candidates. The streets are hardly distinguishable from one another, as they are all plastered with abundant campaign banners.

The city seems ready for a calm electoral race and the contenders doubt a repeat of intimidation and distraction tactics, common in previous elections, will occur.

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