Shubra residents, Christian and Muslim, turn out to vote

Nada El-Kouny , Tuesday 29 Nov 2011

Voters on Tuesday line up to cast ballots in Cairo's Shubra district, home to the capital's largest Coptic-Christian community

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Shubra polling station (Photo: Reuters)

Egypt’s Coptic Church issued a statement on Monday calling on followers to take part in the country's first post-revolution parliamentary polls, which officially kicked off on Monday.

One Coptic voter who was accompanying her mother to a polling station said that large swathes of the Coptic community – especially the elderly and low-income segments – had responded to the church’s appeal.

Two retired women, one a Muslim and the other a Copt, who appeared to be close friends, held each others’ hands as they excitedly talked about who they had voted for.

“Here in [the Cairo district of] Shubra, the situation is different,” said the Coptic woman. “There’s a high level of co-existence because of the close ratio between Muslims and Christians in the area.”

Her Muslim friend then explained: “Five members of our household voted for five different people. We have had fruitful political discussions and have differing viewpoints about who to support.”

Another Coptic voter, standing nearby, chimed in: “The church’s appeal resonated with many voters, because the church tends to dictate many of our decisions. When it tells us to sit, we sit; when it tells us to stand, we stand.”

Six Coptic voters spoken to by Ahram Online said they planned to cast ballots for the liberal-oriented Egyptian Bloc electoral coalition. The coalition brings together the Free Egyptians Party of Coptic billionaire Naguib Sawiris, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and the leftist Tagammu Party.

On the other hand, Amin Iskandar, a candidate for the nationalist Karama Party, is running with the Democratic Alliance coalition, which is spearheaded by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). While some have criticised the move as electoral opportunism, Iskandar’s alliance with an Islamist party can also be seen as illustrative of the co-existence that the two friends in Shubra had spoken about.

One Shubra voter explained why he planned to vote for the FJP. “It’s not that I consider myself an Islamist, but because they’re the most organised party they’ll be able to calm the situation in the coming period,” he said.

While Tuesday’s vote went smoothly, Monday reportedly witnessed a number of electoral violations in and around several polling stations.

“At one polling station in Shubra’s Zawiyah district, they had actually set up ballot boxes specifically for Copts – a serious violation,” said one of two sisters handing out leaflets for their mother’s campaign.

Once Coptic voter accused the Islamist FJP of “pushing voters to give them their votes here because of the electoral challenge they face in Shubra.” She went on to point to the large Coptic community in Shubra, where Christians are estimated to account for some 40 per cent of the local population.

Despite the inconveniences associated with voting, elderly voters were in particular evidence at three of the Shubra polling stations visited by Ahram Online.

One woman asking directions to the polling centre was taken in hand by a Salafist campaigner who urged her to select the cactus and lantern – both of them symbols of the Salafist Nour Party.

A fight erupted outside another polling station between two Nour Party supporters – who were stopping each voter as they entered the station – and a passerby who questioned their campaign methods.

One soldier stationed nearby, meanwhile, appeared unfazed by the quarrel. “Most voters are only casting ballots because they don’t want to pay the LE500 fine for not voting.”

 

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