Egyptian media figures, familiar politicians fight over two seats in 'celebrity constituency'

Zeinab El-Gundy , Wednesday 14 Oct 2015

Ahram Online takes a look at the so-called ‘celebrity constituency’ in Agouza and Dokki and the attention given to its controversial candidates

Egyptians cast their vote
File Photo: Egyptians cast their vote in the 2014 constitution referendum (Reuters)

As the first of stage of Egypt’s parliamentary elections approaches, some constituencies are catching more attention than others due to the media buzz around the candidates running in these areas.

With the Giza governorate considered a particularly large voting bloc with more than four million voters, its Agouza and Dokki constituency is standing out in this election with its controversial candidates. 

Labelled the “celebrities constituency”, there are currently 34 candidates competing over two individual seats in the House of Representatives. The candidates are facing the challenge of winning over more than 400,000 registered voters from diverse backgrounds.

The poor, working class areas in the constituency are the focus of all the well-known candidates, who are promising residents an improvement in the quality of life in these areas.

Houttia, a working class area in the middle of the otherwise upper-middle class Agouza, is attracting the attention of many of the candidates, with the neighbourhood’s buildings seeing more campaign posters than the nearby upper class buildings.  

"We are a balancing power in Agouza when it comes to elections, which is why we are attracting many candidates in this election," Mohamed Hassan, a 60-year-old mechanic from Houttia, told Ahram Online, adding that he will vote for Ahmed Mortada Mansour. 

Mansour is one of the more recognisable faces running in the elections. A Zamalek Sports Club board member and the son of its controversial chairman Mortada Mansour, the 34-year-old lawyer is a regular guest on TV and radio shows, often speaking about the club and its problems.

A particularly young candidate, Mansour made a buzz after announcing that he would represent the Wafd Party in the elections before leaving it and joining the Free Egyptians Party. 

Houttia resident Hassan says that his voting for Mansour has nothing to do with the Free Egyptians Party’s neoliberal platform or the fact that Mansour is a board member in Zamalek club.

"I will support Ahmed Mortada because I love how his father Mortada Mansour was bold with the government in the 1990s," said Hassan, recounting how the Zamalek club chairman used to attack and criticize the government and the police in Giza. Although he is less critical of the government now, Mansour still maintains his fierce attitude.

The veteran lawyer ran for the People’s Assembly in the 1990 elections representing Agouza and Dokki, but lost to leading National Democratic Party (NDP) figure and long-time minister of social affairs Amal Othman.

Ahmed Mortada Mansour, who uses football as his electoral symbol, is taking advantage of his father’s fame in the elections despite claiming that he is a different person.

Mansour was accompanied by his outspoken father at a large rally near the Zamalek club in the working class Meet Oqba neighbourhood, where the senior Mansour said his son is devoted to serving his constituency despite not yet having a specific programme.

However, Mansour’s famous father and his connection to football are not the only reasons Houttia residents are considering voting for him.

“[Mansour] has been visiting the area frequently and cares to help it,” 25-year-old Houttia mechanic Mohamed Abdullah told Ahram Online.

Abdullah’s friend, Mina George, who also lives in Houttia, told Ahram Online that two weeks ago the poorly maintained water pipes in the area burst, endangering nearby houses, and that no one from the municipality addressed it.  

"But when Mansour was made aware of the problem, he scolded the responsible officials and got them to fix the pipes,” George said. 

Other candidates have also been visiting Houttia, with Hassan saying that prominent TV host Abdel-Rahim Ali has been visiting the area for a year.

The controversial Ali earned his fame by, among other things, smearing prominent 25 January revolution activists like Wael Ghonim and politicians like former vice president Mohamed ElBaradei.

Ali is currently running as an independent in this election, and is competing fiercely against Mansour in Agouza and Dokki, which have two new seats in the House of the Representatives, a fact that many Houttia residents who spoke to Ahram Online were ignorant of or confused by, along with the fact that they have to choose an electoral list. 

Houttia residents also did not appear to care much for partisan candidates other than Mansour, whose name is more recognisable in the area than that of his party.

Old faces from old times 

Aside from the media and sports celebrities running in the elections, parliamentary veterans are also throwing their hats in the ring, including ex-NDP MP Sayid Gohar.

Running as an independent candidate, the long-time Agouza and Dokki labour MP is focusing all his rallies in working class areas like Houttia and Meet Oqba.

Hussein, the owner of a construction supplies shop and old time resident of Houttia, told Ahram Online he was going to vote for Gohar. 

"I am going to vote for Gohar, as he has served Houttia for a long time and has never abandoned us," Hussein said, insisting that all the people of Houttia will vote for him, although not everyone in the neighbourhood agrees.

“We are definitely not going to vote for that man. He never cared for us or helped us in all those years in parliament,” Mohamed Hassan angrily told Ahram Online.

For nearly 20 years Gohar was the NDP's labour seat candidate in the Agouza and Dokki district, forming a famous duo with ex-minister and leading NDP member Amal Othman.

Amr El-Shobaky, the independent liberal MP for Agouza and Dokki as well as Imbaba in the 2011 People's Assembly, is also running in this election.

In the 2011 People's Assembly elections, the renowned political science professor and analyst won the constituency seat after a fierce battle against Amr Darrag, the prominent leading figure in the Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm the Freedom and Justice Party. 

Although Darrag had support from the Muslim Brotherhood's large media machine, El-Shobaki was supported by the revolutionary, liberal and anti-Islamist constituencies, along with prominent 25 revolution figures.

Despite El-Shobaki’s liberal history, Abdel-Rahim Ali has accused the former member of the 2014 constitution committee of being supported by the Muslim Brotherhood along with other accusations including speaking against the president and the state abroad. 

Gohar has indirectly accused El-Shobaki of being an elitist who speaks in a manner which the average working class people whom he served for decades do not understand.

El-Shobaki also has to contend with angry voters in Houttia.

“Amr El-Shobaki seemingly changed his phone number after being elected in 2011,” said Mina George, claiming that El-Shobaki has yet to visit the area. The same sentiment was shared by others in the area who spoke to Ahram Online.

Nevertheless, El-Shobaki is making his rounds in Agouza and meeting with people in other areas including Dokki and Meet Oqba, where he has an office to serve the citizens there.

The not so absent Islamists 

There are no prominent Islamist candidates running in the Agouza and Dokki constituency except one; Tarek El-Malt. 

The former Al-Wasat member was the Agouza and Dokki MP in the short-lived Shura Council of 2011. He recently resigned from his party and declared that he would run when Al-Wasat Party announced that it would boycott the elections. 

El-Malt is depending on his strategy of making visits to the different neighbourhoods and areas to sit with people in cafes.

Although his campaign has not gained much profile, El-Malt is already being accused by other candidates including Abdel Rahim Ali of being a supporter of former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

El-Malt has not denied being a supporter of Morsi or joining in Islamist protests.

"I respect the 30 June protests against Mohamed Morsi but I reject what happened on 3 July 2013," El-Malt said in an interview with Masr Al-Arabia earlier this month, referring to Morsi’s ouster after mass protests against his rule. 

El-Malt says that he wants to continue his career in politics and will not stop like other Islamists “until things change,” adding that he wishes to serve the citizens and defend the 2014 constitution that he once opposed. 

El-Malt’s name does not seem to ring a bell in Houttia, however, although the people there appear to still regard the Muslim Brotherhood positively despite the group being named a terrorist organisation.

"The Muslim Brotherhood had an outlet selling meat for cheap prices here for about a year until the ouster of Morsi. Although we did not vote for them in 2011, they were nice and good," Mohamed Abdullah told Ahram Online. 

"I do not know about other areas thought," he added.

The Muslim Brotherhood is absent from the Agouza and Dokki constituency for the first time in 30 years. 

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