Young revolutionaries face uphill battle in 2nd-round polling

Samir al-Sayyed, Thursday 15 Dec 2011

Seven young revolutionary candidates will face off against formidable Islamist rivals in Wednesday's and Thursday's vote

parliamentary elections
A woman waits to vote near a drawing on a wall at a polling station during the second day of parliamentary elections in Giza on the outskirts of Cairo 14 December, 2011. (Photo: Reuters)

In a bid to secure a presence in Egypt’s first post-Mubarak parliament, seven candidates representing the country’s revolutionary youth are contesting the second stage of parliamentary polling, which began on Wednesday.

Two young revolutionary candidates, Mostafa El-Naggar of the Justice Party and Zeyad El-Oleimi of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, have already won seats in the assembly. Khaled El-Sayyed, who ran at the top of the Revolution Continues (RC) list in the first stage of polling late last month, also stands a good chance of making it to parliament pending a final vote count.

The seven candidates, aged 27 to 34, are members of the April 6 youth movement, the Democratic Front, the Revolutionary Youth Coalition (RYC) and the Egyptian Current Party. The two latter parties are both members of the RC coalition.

Five of the seven young candidates are part of the RC alliance. These are: Abdel Rahman Haridi, Islam Lotfi, Khaled Teleima, Moaz Abdel Karim, and Yasser al-Refai. Tareq Mounir and Amr Ezz, meanwhile, are running as independents.

The RC is a broad-based alliance of youth parties, including the RYC, the Popular Socialist Alliance Party, the Egyptian Current, , the Egyptian Socialist Party, the Egyptian Alliance, the Egypt Freedom Party, and the Equality and Development Party.

All seven young candidates suffer a serious lack of campaign funding compared to Islamist parties, which are spending lavishly on their respective campaigns.

“We’re young and enthusiastic, but we don’t have enough money,” said 28-year-old pharmacist Moaz Abdel Karim, who is also a leading figure within the RYC and a co-founder of the Egyptian Current Party.

“The Salafists are buying clover for LE65 (US$11) and selling it for LE25 (US$4) to farmers in Giza,” added Abdel Karim. “The Islamists are distributing oil, meat, flour and sugar in packages labelled ‘Freedom and Justice’ [in reference to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP)]. They say it’s a gift, then tell everyone they’re feeding the hungry.”

Islam Lotfi, a 33-year-old lawyer and founding member of both the Egyptian Current Party and the RC, also bemoans the lack of financing. “Without sufficient funding, there’s no way I can campaign in the oases,” he said.

The same view is shared by Yasser El-Refai, a 42-year-old business graduate and leading member of the Youth for Justice and Freedom movement. “All we could afford to spend was LE18,000 (US$3000), which we used to buy modest campaign posters,” El-Refai said.

Notably, two RC members are vying for the same seat in Giza’s third polling district, which includes Imbaba, Dokki and Agouza. Amr Ezz, a 28-year-old lawyer and a founder of the April 6 youth movement, is running against Abdel Rahman Haridi, the 34-year-old co-founder of the Egyptian Current Party.

Both candidates will have to compete with heavyweights Amr El-Shobaki and Amr Darrag. El-Shobaki is a member of the liberal Justice Party and is backed by the liberal Egyptian Bloc. Darrag is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s FJP.

Former MB member Islam Lotfi, meanwhile, is running against Mohammad Abdel Moneim El-Sawi, the FJP candidate for Giza’s fourth polling district (which includes Haram, Kerdasa, the first and second sections of 6 October City, Sheikh Zayed City and the oases).

Khaled Teleima, a 27-year-old journalist for left-leaning newspaper Al-Ahali and prominent RYC member, will face FJP candidate Mahmoud Amer and Nour Party candidate Emad El-Halabi.

Tareq Mounir, a 30-year-old teaching assistant and prominent April 6 member, will face FJP candidate Gamal Ashri and Nour Party candidate Nasser Ouda in Giza’s second polling district (which includes Bulak El-Dakrur, Omraniya and Talibiya).

Moaz Abdel Karim, who is third on the RC list, is running in Giza’s first polling district. He will face an uphill battle against several formidable lists consisting of Islamists and former members of ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s now-defunct National Democratic Party (NDP).

According to Abdel Karim, the RC will compete with the Reform and Development Party of business tycoon Rami Lakah and Mohammad Anwar Sadat; the FJP list led by Helmi El-Qazzar; the Nour Party; and the NDP-affiliated Freedom Party and Egyptian Citizen Party.

In Sharqiya’s first polling district, Yasser El-Refai will lead the RC list in a fierce battle against the FJP; the Egyptian Bloc led by Mohammad Nour Farahat; the Nour Party; and the liberal Wafd Party.

The seven young revolutionary candidates are also facing a barrage of negative publicity. When their campaign posters aren’t being torn down, they are being labelled as atheists by their detractors and accused of receiving foreign funding. Even their electoral symbol, the pyramid, has been described as “Masonic” and “idolatrous.”

The Salafists, Abdel Karim said, are using pictures of leading Salafist preachers, such as Mohammad Hassan and Hosein Yaqoub, in their campaign literature. They also make the assertion in their campaign posters that “the nation’s religious scholars unanimously support these candidates,” Abdel Karim pointed out.

Teleima, who has been described by his critics as “an atheist who doesn’t pray,” remains optimistic. He believes that, at the end of the day, “popular awareness” will triumph.

Imbaba resident Abdel Rahman Haridi, meanwhile, has also been accused of receiving foreign funding. When accused of “atheism and secularism,” he points to the fact that he used to be a preacher at the Amr Ibn Al-Khatta Mosque, one of Imbaba’s largest Salafist mosques.

Amr Ezz, who lives in the same area, says the public in general does not buy into the negative smear campaign. “Everyone knows that my father was a Muslim Brotherhood member,” he said.

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