Family and youth play major elections role

Salma El-Wardany, Saturday 27 Nov 2010

In rural areas--where everyone knows everyone else--elections can be fairer than in cities.

Young people in Armant supporting their favourite candidates. Photo:( Salma El Wardany)

Armant constituency, a small town 20 kilometres from the city of Luxor, is one of four constituencies in the governorate of Luxor, where 39 candidates are running and where family plays a major role in the power dynamics.

“Today, there is big development taking place in our village. Young people here are enthusiastic about changing their future,” says Ahmed Hamed in saeedi (Upper Egyptian) dialect while Googling electoral sites on the only laptop in a youth centre where young people gather to exchange ideas.

Contrary to the general stereotypes that people in the country's capital are more political than those in Upper Egypt, young people in Armant are well aware of the political scene and Sunday's elections.

“I think this year, Ahmed Hassan Farshouty, an independent candidate, will get in the parliament. I know he has failed for the last four cycles, but I think this time he's well-established inside Armant,” Basma Khairy, a 14-year-old student of Armant Secondary School says while pointing to a large flyer of her favourite candidate.

Khairy and her friends know they are still not eligible to vote, but they consider themselves diligent followers of the political scene.

“There's no way we won't be following the elections. It touches our daily lives. We need jobs after graduation. We need better housing, and better living standards,” says Asmaa Ragab, another young student of the same grade. “So if we give our voice to a candidate, we're well aware that our immediate future depends on that choice, and there's no way here that someone can fool us and give us vague and hollow promises, because we personally know each candidate, his history and his deeds for the whole year and not only during this year's elections.”

Everyone in Armant knows everyone. The nature of small rural community makes it difficult -- if not impossible -- for anyone to “play politics”. And so in contrast to fraught dynamics in Egypt's cities, where many believe the elections will be marked by fraud, there is something different about Armant that helps creates a real democratic experience in a transparent environment.

With 180,000 people eligible to vote, 57 election precincts, 39 candidates, among them 15 women, Armant is breaking the rule of upper Egypt family-controlled political life "The large number of candidates compared to other areas in Upper Egypt is a clear indication that contrary to the view that Saeed is controlled by families and that elections results are preknown, there is real power dynamics going on here" says Abdul Dayem Nusseir , consultant of sheikh al azhar, and one active member of the Armant political community.

‘The industrial agricultural mixed history of Armant gives it a different spirit than other cities in Upper Egypt’ adds Hussein
At the heart of Armant is The Sugar Company, located in Armant Al-waborat, as one of the very first Egyptian factories built by 1869 by an Egyptian entrepreneur and business magnate Abbud Pasha.

Few kilometers away from the sugar Company, residents of Maris, a rural village under Armant launched large series of sit-ins and strikes last March to face attempts by private investors to seize the land and build a massive luxury port overlooking the Nile. The attempt was a failure and they regained their lands.

“Along with industry went politics, and from the very first Shura council under Ismaiil Pasha in 1883 , Armant was there, actively represented, Since then the formula for a successful parliament candidate was: community work, high morals and a reputable family’ he adds ‘ Since the first parliament under the social federation 1968, descendants of the oldest political families in the constituency: Fathy Zaki an independent MP from Al Aqqad family, and Youssef Rashwan an NDP candidate from Al Nusseir family, monopolized the political arena until they died by 1998’

Today Armant is still dominated by four big political families: Al Nussairat, Al-Nababta, Al-Kholafaa, and Al- Ghawanem, all have candidates in this year’s elections.

‘Family heritage is not enough’ says Nusseir’ A candidate to succeed should have an enough history of community service within his area’

Diaa Rashwan, who`s considered the strongest candidate, is that way an exception to the formula of success inside the community ‘People of Armant look at Diaa with great respect, not only because of the history of his family, but because they are aware the guy who at the age of 17 founded Qena branch of Tagamu party, is able to serve them with his long established presence inside the political life in Cairo’

Surprisingly enough, the opposition figure Rashwan has repeatedly said that these days parliamentary elections are going to be clean. ‘Electoral fraud has no place in this year`s parliamentary election’ he once said in one of his visits to the village people of Armant, who are, though doubting the notion of free and fair elections results, willing to be part of the electoral process.

'Until this moment yes there is democracy! Everyone equally have the right to use streets and centers for fair campaigning, but let`s wait and see what will happen the day of elections’ says Ahmed Abdul Kerim, head of Armant secondary school, while sitting with his fellow villagers inside Al Nusseiry Divan, a building that`s been used by Youssef Rashwan for campaigning during elections and for listening to people`s problems, and has now used as a center to support his son Diaa during elections.

‘Though our candidate is from the opposition, we`ve seen no harassment by the government or by police force, and of course there is no violence’ adds Abdul Kerim.

Nobody expects violence in Arment, even the poll guards. "Clashes are very unlikely to happen at the polls because people are more peaceful and they all know each others, all families have relations among each others' says Fathy Hassan, a police night watchman, and a guard on one of the election polls in Armant during the election day.

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