Morsi's hometown divided on day of mass protests

Bel Trew, Sunday 30 Jun 2013

Residents of the president's birthplace praise his administration, while in Zagazig, the Nile Delta governorate's capital, many complain of chronic shortages and a struggling economy

President Morsi's street in Nile Delta village El-Adwa (Photo: Gregg Carlstrom)

Campaign posters of President Mohamed Morsi, bleached in the sun, line the walls of a dilapidated building in tiny Nile Delta village of El-Adwa: the only sign that this might be the street that Egypt's president grew up on.

Morsi's family still live in the area on a farm, but as far as anyone there can tell, the president rarely visits. Especially after he lost what was once a Muslim Brotherhood stronghold to rival candidate Mubarak-era minister Ahmed Shafiq in the presidential elections last year.

Nevertheless those who live just down the street from Morsi’s birthplace remain fiercely loyal to the beleaguered president.

"He's the most respectful person in the whole world, Wednesday was the best speech I've heard," says Umm Hussein, a 62-year-old housewife, referencing Morsi's televised Wednesday address to the nation.

The president admitted he had made mistakes and that the last year had been difficult, but attracted criticism when he named and shamed opposition figures and slammed the grassroots signature campaign Tamarod, or 'Rebel’ - who are largely behind Sunday's nationwide anti-government rallies - as "illegal."

For her part, Hussein vehemently attacked the 'Rebel' initiative, which announced Saturday that it had gathered over 22 million signatures calling for the ouster of the president.

"Since Morsi took over, we've had a better life. He gave us everything bread, healthcare, money. I want one of the Tamarod lot to tell me what the president did wrong?" she asks emphatically.

Despite crippling youth employment, which this year reached a staggering 77 percent according to national statistics agency CAPMAS, the gathering crowd of young boys in Al-Adwa insist that they do support Morsi, saying he is one of them, particularly as he grew up in the same area. Tok-tok drivers zoom past hooting their support for the president.

The one voice of dissent, Mohamed Mohamed Youssef, a 53-year-old vendor who voted for Shafiq, is not well liked in the village.

"He didn't do anything to remember, he hasn't changed anything at all, " Youssef says, sitting in front of a sparsely-stocked, rundown shop. "It's affected my job, the electricity goes off sometimes twice a day, which is a nightmare."

Vendor Mohmaed Youssef, from the president's hometown, says Morsi has done nothing to improve Egypt (Photo: Gregg Carlstrom)

The fuel shortages, he adds, have bumped up the prices of goods, as suppliers are loathe to transport them out to far flung villages like Al-Adwa: "I have to sell things at more expensive prices so my percentage loss is high: I'm making a lot less, than last year.

Mohammed Fahim, a 28-year-old driver, tentatively admitted that "nothing has changed" but emphasised that rather than coming to the streets and demanding Morsi's ouster, "we should leave him alone to fix it."

It is a different story in Zagazig, the capital of Morsi's home governorate. As you enter the city, graffiti slamming the Brotherhood and ironically calling for Morsi to "go home" is scrawled across the walls.

An enthusiastic pamphleteer decorated an entire tunnel and round-about with stickers of Morsi's face reading "Erhal" or leave.

At a 100s-long queue of cars at a gas station, anger against the president is mounting. Twenty-six year-old Abdel-Rahman sums up his sentiment in a single phrase: "Have on mercy on us, Morsi." His friend, Ismail Ismail, likened the Muslim Brotherhood to Hosni Mubarak's much-hated National Democratic Party, as he believes they're slowly taking over and suffocating the country.

In the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) headquarters, local leader Ahmed Shehata presents a very different Egypt.

He claims from his calculations that the "real revolutionaries" who will protest peacefully on 30 June will amount to no more than 20,000 people.

"If you take away the thugs, there won't be more than 300 protesters on the streets of Sharqiya,” he adds, slamming Tamarod as criminals.

Despite weeks of anti-government protests, and with millions expected to fill the streets again Sunday - citing economic woes, fuel, water and electricity shortages, a bread crisis and a lack of reform - Shehata painted a picture of an Egypt moving forward.

Posters reading "leave" plaster a roundabout in the Nile Delta's Sharqiya, Morsi's home governorate (Photo: Gregg Carlstrom)

The Muslim Brotherhood-led government, he says, has increased public sector salaries, the minimum wage, and social insurance for women who don't work and are heads of households, while wheat farmers will be paid more for their crop.

"The people expected change would happen overnight post-revolution, but it needs time after the mess the old regime left the country in," Shehata tells Ahram Online, pointing to the fact that they won a majority of seats in 2011 parliamentary elections as proof that the FJP have not lost support in his Nile Delta governorate.

The presidential elections, where Morsi lost Sharqiya to Shafiq by about 160,000 votes, were a result of corruption and intimidation by paid thugs, Shehata concludes.

"Egypt has had five decent elections, we changed the country from being under the army, and the media is more free: all this in just one year," he claims, though on a local level, the only improvement he was able to point to was a road in nearby Bilbis.

"People are not protesting for the country but for money," Shehata concludes, "30 June without thugs would not be 30 June."

Nonetheless, the Freedom and Justice Party is still plugging the gaps left by a chronic failure of the state at a local level.

Dr Hanaan Amin, a paediatrics professor and advisor to the FJP on women's issues, listed a number of projects for women that the Islamist party is running in the impoverished governorate. These include putting over 1,500 women through Brotherhood-run literacy classes, operating mobile healthcare clinics and providing financial and training support to small businesses.

"The FJP is the link between women and the big supermarkets… we've helped women set up jewellery and dairy businesses, providing them with a stable place where they can work," she tells Ahram Online, "We coordinate with village doctors, mosques, schools and nurseries. We're trying to improve people's lives on a local level."

"Morsi have mercy on us" says Abdel-Rahman in 100s-long queue for fuel in Sharqiya (Photo: Bel Trew)

Despite this, the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party is feeling the heat. Just hours after Ahram Online left the Islamist group's headquarters in Sharqiya, it was attacked by armed assailants.

A 21-year-old student, Hossam Shoqqi, an office worker who made tea for Ahram Online reporters during the interview, was gunned down that evening and died from the bullet wound to his chest.

FJP offices across the country are bracing for further assaults.

With little change at a local and national level, thousands are expected to descend on Sharqiya's streets Sunday.

"Everything we're going through with the traffic, electricity, water, everything," Nadia Mohamed, a local chemist concludes to Ahram Online. "I'm very worried all the time. We're going from the worst to the worst." 

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