Rami Lakah, the suave multi-millionaire businessman who fled the country a few years ago to evade debt repayments, is running for election in Shubra. Some see him as the savior of Shubra -- a man whose wealth will breathe life back into the poverty-stricken area. Many dub him "the invisible moving bank”, for his elusive presence yet pervasive use of money to win votes. No one can deny that Lakah is a major contender in Sunday’s elections.
Yesterday evening, Lakah, running as a member of the Wafd Party, tried to give his electoral campaign a last oomph by holding a bountiful event in Shubra’s Mohamed Farid Street. Supported by fellow Wafdists, including fellow business billionaire El-Sayed El-Badawi, head of the party, Lakah told the crowd that the Wafd Party would lead the change that Egypt badly needs.
“In the name of God, who we all believe in and worship,” began Lakah. “In the name of the Wafd Party, the party of all Egyptians both Muslim and Christian.”
Standing on a podium with the Cross and Crescent engraved on its front, the fair-skinned catholic Lakah, clad in a designer suit, looked somewhat out of place. Yet, when he announced that if elected he would remove corruption in Shubra, the gathered crowd -- estimated by observers at 3,000 -- erupted into blaring applause.
Lakah focused much of his speech on the importance of national unity in light of the events at Omraneya Church in Giza that left two dead, dozens injured, and over a hundred people detained. He called on the government to release all those arrested and insisted that the events are a direct attack on the nation’s stability.
The evening began with a 15-minute recitation of the Quran by a local imam before Lakah, and his fellow Wafdists, took the podium one by one.
“If you choose me on Sunday, I will be the first defender of national unity in parliament in your name and in the name of the beloved Shubra,” Lakah told the crowd, enthusing that Shubra had 753 martyrs in the 1973 October War against Israel. “From here we send a message to Israel and Tel Aviv that we will chop the hands of all those who touch our national unity in every place in Egypt, starting from Shubra."
In attendance clapping in response, were Wafd candidates Taher Abu Zaid, the famous Ahly footballer who is running in the area’s El-Sahel’s constituency, and Tarek Sebaq, running for the Rod El-Farag seat.
El-Badawi, the party's leader, rose to the podium to speak to the crowd about the party’s programme. He insisted that the unity of Christians and Muslims has always been one of the main values of the Wafd Party, since its founding days under Saad Zaghloul in 1919.
“We have come back to introduce ourselves again and extend our hands to the people of Shubra,” El-Badawi said, appealing to the crowd by invoking Shubra, which has a large number of Christians, as the epitome of national unity -- one of the most important achievements of the 1919 revolution in the wake of the exile of Saad Zaghloul and other Wafd leaders, he said.
Amidst the speeches, the crowds erupted into fervent chants.
“Long live the Crescent with the Cross,” they said, referring to the slogan used by the Egyptians who took to the streets in the revolution of 1919.
Against the backdrop of this week's clashes over the church in Omraneya, El-Badawi slammed the Egyptian government for not being able to institute a unified law for the building of places of worship.
Throughout the event, young men dressed in green shirts with the Wafd logo distributed flyers to the crowd as others held up papers with Lakah’s photo on it. On large loudspeakers, a song dedicated to Lakah and the Wafd Party was repeatedly played between orators.
“There are 5,000 people here today,” Lakah beamed proudly to the audience. “And I would like to challenge the NDP (National Democratic Party) which has failed in Shubra to bring more than 100 supporters to any of its events.”
Despite the large number of attendants, and the raucous cries of support, not all of those present were actually Lakah supporters. Mohamed Adel, a mechanic in attendance, is not a big fan.
“He thinks he can buy us with his money," said Adel. “But the people here are not stupid; they are just using him, trying to get as much out of him before the campaign is over.”
Among Lakah's lavish gestures, was the slaughtering of more than 50 sheep for Eid Al-Adha -- the meat of which was distributed to the poor. It has also been reported that he has been handing out cash. This, in addition to 10 social service offices he opened in Shubra two months ago to serve the area's residents.
Lakah, a French-Egyptian multi-millionaire, won a seat in parliament in the Daher district in 2000 but then fled the country shortly after when his debts piled up. A few months later, his membership was declared null and void due to his dual citizenship. Today, Lakah claims he has dropped his French citizenship and wants to help Shubra.
His claims of patriotism are questioned by some. Many of the area’s residents believe he has no connections to Shubra, and in fact, just wants the political immunity that a seat in parliament will offer him.
“It is so obvious what he is after,” says Emad George, an engineer and lifetime resident of Shubra. “He’s not even from here, and we don’t see him. We call him the invisible moving bank, because he keeps giving money to residents to vote for him, but does nothing else.”
Two days earlier, Lakah’s campaign slogan, the “Shubra Intifada,” was mocked at an event held for General Fady El-Habashy, the NDP candidate who is running against Lakah for the Professionals seat in Shubra and Mehmasha.
“In Palestine, they call it an Intifada because they are occupied by Israel, because they are killed and humiliated,” the speaker told the crowd, mocking his rival. “Is this what is happening to you?”
Abdel Fatah Doweidar, an independent from Shubra, is also running for the seat. He ran last time, but was unsuccessful. This time, Lakah’s presence is a threat to his aspirations.
“I didn’t even know that he was going to run until very recently. It came out of thin air,” says Doweidar.
A young accountant, Doweidar does not have the means to compete with Lakah and is disgusted by his display of wealth. He feels that as one of the locals he is able to understand the needs of his neighbours, unlike Lakah, whose lavish lifestyle and abundant wealth is far removed from the reality and struggles of Shubra.
“Look how he has drowned the area with his flyers,” says Doweidar, pointing to numerous banners in the street. “He is using his money and the fact that the people here are poor and starving to win votes.”
As he laments, a car passes by blaring a remix of the famous song “Arab dream” -- the words, in this version, substituted with Lakah’s name. Its lyrics now to the tune, “He is our dream, Rami is our dream.”
“He’s our dream is he?” laughs Doweidar. “I think he’s our nightmare.”