On the second day of the presidential elections I went to Nazlet Al-Semman, the village adjoining the Giza plateau just outside Cairo – home to the majority of those pro-Mubarak thugs who waged the Battle of the Camel, taking their camels and horses over to Tahrir Square to attack protesters with a view to disbanding the sit-in. The event was crucial to toppling Mubarak after 30 years in power.
Nazlet Al-Semman is best known for tourism – they provide tourists with horse and camel rides in the vicinity of the Pyramids – which has been affected badly by the revolution. As soon as I stepped in the neighbourhood it was clear that the majority of the residents blame the revolution for loss of income: everyone explained how tourism had all but ended in Egypt, leaving them poorer than ever.
Waiting to be served a LE1 dish of fuul from a vending cart, for example, Ashraf Farghali, 47, used to earn LE150 a day from tourism; now he makes LE15 a day serving tea. “I want to vote for whoever is good, I haven’t decided yet,” he said. But financial frustration had already led many to vote for “remnants of the old regime”: Amr Moussa or Ahmed Shafiq. Others have gone with the Islamist candidates: Mohamed Morsi or Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh.
“If you came here 18 months ago,” said the horse trainer Sabry Mohamed, 45, “you would’ve found the place too jam-packed by tourists to walk. Now all that is gone.” For many Amr Moussa and Ahmed Shafiq are familiar figures of whom they knew before the hard times of the revolution. “We need security, no development will ever take place without it,” Abdel-Aziz Hussein, 50, said, explaining why voted for Shafiq. Like him, the majority don’t want a candidate with an Islamist agenda because they realise such a candidate might place restrictions on tourism – whether by imposing dress and behaviour codes or covering up “an idol” like the Sphinx.
Residents who voted for the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi associate “God’s law” with security. “We’ve had enough of politicians who rob us, we need a man of morality,” Mohamed Khaled, 39, said as he exited the Ramsis School polling station.
Revolutionary voices were very low here. Only one lady wanted to vote for the young leftist Khaled Ali; she will vote for the Nasserist Hamdeen Sabbahi because he is more likely to win. Others said they voted for Sabbahi because after listening to him they felt he represented them.
Polling stations were calm, almost empty. I didn’t see long queues like the ones seen during the constitutional referendum or during the parliamentary elections. Fewer voters is one reason for this but another could be that the voting process is simpler. The judges at the polling stations, elections monitors and candidates’ representatives all agreed that citizens were following the rules and violations were rare.
It was also clear that people were not comfortable disclosing who they voted for; and then they found it hard to explain their choices – perhaps because Egyptians by and large are not convinced of their candidates; they are choosing “the best of the bad”, an expression repeated.
Many in Nazlet Al-Semman regretted being identified with the blood of the revolutionaries after the Battle of the Camel. They say that no one was going to Tahrir Square to kill protesters, only to ensure that their support for former president Hosni Mubarak reach the media – but they became the scapegoat. “If I knew that going to Tahrir Square that day would result in toppling Mubarak I would have never gone there,” Mohamed said.