In Assiut, on the second day of elections, voters were still not very forthcoming with casting their ballot, despite intensive attempts, from the state and candidates, to improve the turnout.
In the heart of Upper Egypt, Assiut is a governorate that has a little under three million voters who are entitled to cast their ballots across nine electoral constituencies.
However, on the second day of elections in Assiut, a governorate that has seen endless development challenges, was still reluctant to act upon selecting candidates.
At a café in the the middle of the city of Assiut, next to one of the key polling stations, Hussein, a civil servant in his early thirties, said he was not very keen to go to the polls during the last hours of voting.
“I don’t think I will go, I know it’s very easy and I know that the ballot stations are almost empty but this is not the point. I would stand in a long queue to vote if I had faith in any of the candidates, but in fact I don’t,” he said, as he sipped tea in intervals between scrolling through his Facebook feed.
Hussein said that of all the 32 candidates of which he had to choose two for his electoral constituency, there were “none” who could live up to his expectations.
Hussein is “not seeing anyone” who would care to end the many grievances that he suggested people suffer from at the hands of security for what he qualified as political opposition of the state and the head of executive.
“I would not want to go through this, but even in terms of services, basic services, like having relatively decent hospitals and schools, I am not seeing anyone who would be able to deliver,” he said.
Hussein was not the only one either in Assiut city or in neighbouring constituencies of the governorate who complained about the “re-emerging old faces of” the previously ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). He is probably more pessimistic than most of the other critics because he insists that “the candidates we see are perhaps the worst in the ranks of the NDP.”
“This is not a parliament that is being elected, I don’t have a good word to use for what is going on, plus I don’t care what they do very much because I have given up and I am finding myself a job in Dubai soon,” he stated.
Elizabeth Shaker, a medical doctor and a leading official at the health ministry in Assiut (Photo: Dina Ezzat)
Elizabeth Shaker, a medical doctor and a leading official at the health ministry in Assiut, who is running on the “For the Love of Egypt List”, said that she had often heard this complaint.
“I hear it often, especially from the younger generation, they keep saying that the candidates are either NDP or members of security bodies,” Shaker said.
She added, “but I tell them if you wish to eliminate all those who were members of the NDP then you may have to exclude far too many people, we cannot dismiss everyone who was with the NDP and we cannot be ready to stigmatise all retired security officers. This is unfair, if people are honest and honourable then they have they right to be party to the public sphere.”
Yehiyah Kedwani, a candidate running on the For the Love of Egypt list (Photo: Dina Ezzat)
According to Yehiyah Kedwani, a candidate running on the For the Love of Egypt list as well as a political advisor to the chairman of the Suez Canal Authority and a former intelligence officer, former security officers are legally able to run and “practically speaking they are in a position to have a direct understanding of many of the problems that their constituencies face.”
Both Shaker and Kedwani argued that it is frustrating that these allegations are promoted by “enemies of the state” that have in turn dissuaded legitimate voters from casting their ballots.
“They used social media aggressively to spread these rumors and at the same time, the media failed miserably to lobby for the nation to go and vote,” Kedwani critiqued.
He added that the failure to secure a considerable level of voting might partially be attributed to frustration over socio-economic issues, but “it is essentially the failure of the state to get the media to rally for participation.”
Kedwani would have also wanted to see the government acting more wisely by giving civil servants at least a day off to make sure they have the time to go and vote and to get the universities to suspend the academic programme for the two days of elections to lobby students to vote.
“Unfortunately, this did not happen or it happened too late on the second half of the second day of elections,” he lamented.
On the second day, “the voting picked up somewhat and we hope that it would continue to pick up until the closing of the voting stations in the evening,” Shaker said.
In Abou Tigue, an electoral constituency to the southeast of Assiut City, there were some signs that the turnout was improving according to Boutros Helal, a member of The Open Door, an NGO that is observing the electoral process.
“I would say that today we are seeing more people but I have to admit that for the most part we are talking about candidates who send cars and other vehicles to potential voters to get them to come and cast their ballot,” Helal said.
Helal would not confirm or contest the 15 per cent assessment that the governor of Assiut offered for the turnout of the first day. Nor would he share an assessment of the expected final turnout.
Speaking to Ahram Online next to the Mahmoud Basha Textile School for Girls, Hanniyah Said acknowledged that she has been “helping” with getting women to come and vote.
She said that she was approached by “members from one of the lists” – she would not say which – to go door knocking to neighbours and relatives to encourage the women to vote. She also acknowledged that she would be paid for her “work and time” and that she pays for the transportation “to get the women from their houses to vote.”
Hanniyah, however, categorically denied that she or whoever had hired her was paying any money for the women to vote. “We are not paying or giving anything to anyone. We are just driving them to the voting stations and back home,” she insisted.
Hanniyah also said that a central part of her job was to explain to the voters “how to vote because it is a very complicated and very confusing system that even the educated people are lost with it.”
People pose for a picture in the village of Bakkour (Photo: Dina Ezzat)
In the village of Bakkour, in the same electoral constituency of Abou Tigue, Mohamed Abdel-Fattah, a merchant in his late sixties, agreed that on the second day of elections “big families” and “notables of the villages” worked in coordination with the “state and the security services” to “encourage” reluctant voters to cast their ballot.
“We have so many issues to attend to in our villages here – especially the poor quality of health services, the lack of sewage and the poor quality of potable water, among other things. We better pick up a candidate who can help with these problems rather than just sit around and complain that things are not improving,” he said.
Abdel-Fattah proudly announced that he voted “For the Love of Egypt” because he thinks it is close to President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.
“We need to help this man [the president] and to get him a parliament that would help him execute his plans to improve things for the entire country,” he argued.
Alaa Khier-Allah (Photo: Dina Ezzat)