Diaa Rashwan: Southern voices

Wednesday 24 Nov 2010

Ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections, political analyst and activist Diaa Rashwan looks set to win the confidence of his constituency in Luxor.


"Nobody has done anything for us; nobody cares to serve us and this game of elections is only about the interests of those who run. It is a worthless exercise, a losing game that I do not care for," says Abdel-Rahim, a resident of a visibly deprived village in the Upper Egypt governorate of Luxor.

Playing a dominos game, Abdel-Rahim made no effort to mask his frustration, disinterest and, above all, anger. He sees no hope for a better future for his village, which he claims has been all but forgotten by officials and parliamentarians alike, and he sees no hope for a better future for himself -- a young man in his late twenties who left school to work in a bakery in the capital only to return to his village after he failed to save enough money to secure himself a work contract in "any European city".

"I have nothing here. Nobody except my brothers and sisters who are suffering like me and like everybody else. I want to leave this country, not to go to elections," he says.

People like Abdel-Rahim are not hard to find around Upper Egypt, Luxor included. And it is these people who Diaa Rashwan, the Tagammu party candidate for the 2010 parliamentary elections, is trying to reach out to in his district of Armant.

Rashwan is not alone in the battle to convince people like Abdel-Rahim and others to vote for him. Clearly, there are other contestants, from both the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) and from Al-Wafd party.

But Rashwan, who has been touring his constituency's villages since late October, sounded confident about his chances to not only convince the apathetic to vote, but to also get them to vote Tagammu.

"It is true that Tagammu is not the only left wing party, but it remains the umbrella for all the left and its agenda. And of course my platform is designed to address the priorities of the unprivileged people, who are overwhelmingly the majority of the residents of the villages of Upper Egypt," says Rashwan.

A political analyst at the Al Ahram Center for Strategic Studies, as well as a prominent political activist, Rashwan was born in Luxor (when?) and moved to Cairo (when?) to attend (which?) university.

The Luxor that Rashwan left "but never abandoned" is different in many ways from the one he returns to after 33 years of public service. "But it is still a place where people are highly politicised, especially in Armant. And it is still a place where the Tagammu has a real stronghold," he says.

"We will try Tagammu and we hope it will work. We have been voting for the NDP for three [terms] and we have got nothing," says Gabr, a factory worker, who attended one of Rashwan's meeting with voters.

Like Abdel-Rahim, Gabr's demands are straightforward and obvious: job opportunities, economic development and better services.

These are all concerns that Rashwan is dedicated to. Long before election day he met with Samir Farag, the governor of Luxor, to convey the demands of the people of Aramant, and Rashwan was pleasantly surprised to find that that Farag was listening.

For Rashwan, however, the endgame is not just providing services for his constituency, although he realizes that this is the uncontested recipe for popularity. The activist is keen to play the political role that many MPs tend to either ignore or perform poorly -- working through parliament to strengthen the legal base for political rights.

"We are getting to a crucial phase at the national level," he says.
Rashwan, as many of his recent articles state, predicts a "sooner or later" power transition in which, he is convinced, all political forces from right to left should have a say. This participatory approach, he insists, is the best way to secure political reform when President Hosni Mubarak's successor ultimately takes office.

"Last year, MPs opposed the extension of the state of emergency – fair enough. But there was hardly any attention paid to the text of the law itself that I think needs amendment," Rashwan says.

The upcoming parliamentary election will be the first for Luxor as a governorate. And governor Farag is not displaying any hard feelings towards candidates from opposition parties, especially since none of them subscribe to the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Rashwan himself is anticipating no harsh acts of intervention on the part of the government to secure the contested seats of Luxor for its NDP candidates.

"I think the [regime] is aware that by alienating the [licensed parties] of the opposition it would be accentuating a state of polarisation between the NDP and the Muslim Brotherhood," he says.

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