In Alexandria, rain sweeps away Egyptian parliamentary run-offs

Dina Ezzat , Tuesday 27 Oct 2015

Parliamentary elections in Alexandria (Al-Ahram)

At the entrance to the Mohamed Ali School for Technical Teaching in Sidi Gaber in rain-hit Alexandria, accountant Hani Ibrahim was waiting for the afternoon break to end at the school-turned-polling-station so he could cast his ballot in the run-offs.

Ibrahim, who is in his mid-30s, was going to lend a vote of support for the same candidates he had chosen in the first vote last week: former members of National Democratic Party, which had dominated prior to the 25 January Revolution.

“Those are the candidates that I had already voted for along with the list of ‘For the Love of Egypt’… why, well because in all honesty they would support the president and the state and because they are opposed to 25 January,” Ibrahim said.

Ibrahim is not hesitant about expressing his opposition to the 2011 revolution.

He calls it “one of the worst things that could have happened to this country; one of the most destructive things ever.” And he insists that it was the election of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi this year “that started to take things back to where they were – and to where they should have stayed: a strong leader and gradual reform.”

The supporters of the former NDP members and of the pro-Sisi 'For the Love of Egypt' list are not all opposed to the 2011 revolution, says Mohamed Ali, a retired civil servant from Kom Al-Dekka, part of the lower-middle-class constituency of Al-Attarin.

But, “of course they are all supporters of the head of state; this is why we want to give him a parliament that would help him implement his plan so that the situation could get better for the next generations.”

Ali was having a coffee at the Borsat Sayyed Darwish Café in the heart of Kom Al-Dekka, while waiting for a friend, also a retired civil servant from the same neighbourhood. The pair were planning to go together to vote in the run-offs.

“It is not going to be a big deal because unfortunately the polling stations are empty and people are not voting as they should; they are letting down this great president of ours, for whom we must be grateful to for having spared us from the fate of some tormented neighbouring countries,” Ali argued.

The turnout of voters in Alexandria and other governorates was reportedly lower than in the first phase, in which the nationwide turnout was 26.5 percent.

Fifty independent candidates hailing from different political camps will be competing for 25 individual seats in Egypt's second-biggest city, which has a population of around 4.8 million and around 2.5 million registered voters.

The total number of candidates in the first stage stood at 298, reflecting the high diversity of political parties competing in the city.

(Photo: Dina Ezzat)

Worth voting in the rain?

On the first day of the run-offs in Alexandria, Ibrahim was one of the few who were willing to venture out on a relatively rainy day to vote – either in favour of what seems to be a winning “For the Love of Egypt” list or some of the independents who come from the heart of the ranks of the NDP.

Neimat Salah, a housewife in her late 70s

“I will try to go tomorrow if I find someone to take me to the polling station – providing that it does not rain so hard again, because if it does then it would be impossible for me to even step out of the house,” said Neimat Salah, a housewife in her late 70s from the doorstep of her house in Kom Al-Dekka.

But those were the unusual voices in this neighbourhood where more people of different disciplines were not showing much enthusiasm for the voting process.

“Well, let me be frank and say it outright: I don’t think that my vote makes any difference because I know that at the end of the day we are talking about a parliament that seems to be elected, but this is only what it seems to be; in reality it is a parliament that is being selected,” said Mahmoud Hassan, a plumber in his early 50s.

“Why selected? I think it is very obvious because those set to be winning – with the exception of some rare candidates like Haitham Aboulezz El-Hariri – are essentially either former members of the corrupt NDP, or retired army and police officers,” argued Hassan.

According to Hassan “there is no point in trying to contest this reality; yes, it is the reality that we have to look in the eye: the revolution is over and we are back to the [political parameters of ousted president Hosni] Mubarak”.

Sayyad Mostafa, a worker at a small fishmongers in Kom Al-Dekka (Photo: Dina Ezzat)

And in the view of Sayyad Mostafa, a worker at a small fishmongers in Kom Al-Dekka, “there was no point to start with in having these elections; it is a waste of money and time; they are going to get the president a parliament that he likes, but they could have ignored this parliament matter altogether and saved the money to improve the rain drainage system in Alexandria.”

In his late 40s, Mostafa is still angry about the recent floods, which killed five in Alexandria on Sunday. “I live in a ground floor apartment and my entire flat, which part of an old house, was completely inundated,” he said.

“Now, if you ask me what the point of having these parliamentary elections is, I would tell you it is a show for the outside world and that is it; I personally did not take part in it and I don’t even care about its results.”

Pro-Sisi, NDP-dominant

Speaking while feeding some hungry cats with fish parts as he prepares the fish for the grill, Mostafa said that he was convinced that the whole purpose of the new parliament is to “clap for everything the president does or says.”

He himself was a supporter of El-Sisi “until a few months ago when I started to see that things are not happening the way he had promised; who would have thought that Alexandria, this old great harbour, would be inundated this way, even though the rain was particularly heavy this year?”

These kinds of sentiments are not unusual from El-Sisi's supporters. Others told Ahram Online in Alexandria that the president needs to “reconsider his priorities” and to worry more about fixing the ailing infrastructure rather than to keep plunging into mega-projects like the Suez Canal extension.

Defying NDP figures was actually one of the reasons that some young men and women, in the middle class electoral constituency of Moharam Bey, cited as behind their decisions to vote in the run-offs, despite not voting in the first vote.

Hala Hamdy, a recently graduated engineer, said that she was going to vote for Haytham Aboulezz El-Hariri, who made a considerable breakthrough “despite his limited financial means compared to those running with the obvious support of the state – with its money and security apparatus.”

“I think this is one of the very few signs that the spirit of the 25 January Revolution was not completely stifled; I am hoping that we will be able to have a few MPs who could represent the revolution in this parliament, which is surely promising to be anti-revolution in every aspect,” Hamdy said.

The campaign of El-Hariri, the son of a former prominent parliamentarian, had tried very hard during the last few days to lobby as many eligible voters to end their boycott on the basis that there is a chance for at least some supporters of the 25 January Revolution to enter parliament.

'Real setback'

“Even with a few faces that represent the revolution, I think the next parliament is going to be predominantly an NDP parliament; it is a real setback,” criticised Ashraf Thabet, a leading figure of the Salafist Nour Party, a group that suffered a major defeat in the first phase in Alexandria, considered its stronghold.

Nour, a firm political partner of the regime of President El-Sisi, had expected, according to statements shared by some of its leaders, to secure a significance share of the Alexandrian seats. One top leader stated that “Nour will take over Alexandria.”

Thabet openly blamed the intervention of “pro-state agents” who have been working to strip the next parliament of any Islamist presence. “This is very unfortunate – not just because this was done through the direct financial means to influence the will of voters but because a parliament without a significant Islamist presence cannot be seriously taken to be a representative parliament,” Thabet told Ahram Online.

At the Alexandria downtown tearoom of Le Trianon, Mahmoud Abdallah, a medical doctor, said that “the people have turned against Islamists; this is a fact that the members of Nour Party might not see, but it is a reality; we tried them and they failed us – why should we elect them again?”

Abdallah, however, is not voting. He is not willing to vote for a former NDP member.

“They have wrecked the country economically and politically,” he said.

He is also not willing to vote for an Islamist:

“I voted for the Muslim Brotherhood and their performance was very poor - apart from the allegations of treason and so on.”

And he has not found a candidate who could represent “the good about the 25 January Revolution, which is the call for change, reform and democracy.”

“I don’t wish to just have an opposing voice; I wish to have an opposing constructive voice, but unfortunately there isn't one,” Abdallah said.

(Photo: Dina Ezzat)

(Photo: Dina Ezzat)

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