Thursday,23 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1229, (15 -21 January 2015)
Thursday,23 May, 2019
Issue 1229, (15 -21 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

To vote or not to vote?

With parliamentary elections coming up in March and April, Abeya El-Bakry listens to the voting intentions of a spectrum of Egyptians

Al-Ahram Weekly

Ataba, an area of Downtown Cairo on the edge of Al-Azhar and Khan Al-Khalili, is an important commercial area known for its heritage. The buildings and streets are wide, and people feel connected to the area. During the 25 January Revolution, the pavements were filled with vendors.

Today, people are more likely to be peacefully seated in coffee shops smoking shishas and reading newspapers. The shops are buzzing with people, but there is a chance to ask a salesman in a stationery store what he thinks about Egypt’s forthcoming parliamentary elections.

“Of course, I will vote,” he said. “The elections are a good thing for people to be able to express their views.” When asked to elaborate on what seemed to be a touchy issue, he explained that there are many other issues that need to be grappled with first.

“The street vendors who have moved to the Torgoman Market are now unable to make a living, so there are a variety of issues which need to be handled before the elections,” he said.

The parliamentary candidates in the area are well known, and are considered well versed with how to strike deals with residents in order to win their seats in parliament, even if they have ignored larger issues.

“They buy voters a fridge, for example, or invest in their businesses so that they can win them over. During the election period itself, a ‘bourse for votes’ starts. Then they start increasing the price per vote,” the man commented.

“They rely on the old ways. They come from old families that live in the area, and they address the heads of families and convince them to vote for them, keeping them in line with good traditions and the promise of keeping things as they are.”

On another street, a shop owner in his early fifties repeats these very same words. His vote will go to his constituency MP in Daher. “There, the people come from established families, and the candidates know the area well and what is best for it,” he said. “They are able to choose what is best for them.

“However, the voters in Daher are considered to be middle-class people, so there will be no question of buying votes. The areas most at risk for buying votes will be lower-income ones where people find it hard to make ends meet.”

Barageel is an informal district on the outskirts of Mohandeseen, where the buildings have been constructed on agricultural plots. It is still a semi-rural area. In this rather downtrodden place, people expressed their views concerning the elections.

Mohamed, a farmer, said he has faith in the elections and he plans to vote. His mother and wife voted in the recent presidential elections, and they have been marking ballots since 2011.

“It doesn’t matter who runs, as everyone has the right to run. The question remains: Who will vote for him? We have the right to choose who will represent us, and we can check our candidates’ past histories. People are no longer fearful as they were during the Mubarak regime, and they have become politically aware. They will not allow the manipulation of their voices as before,” he said.

Many now argue that candidates associated with the former regime of ousted president Hosni Mubarak are bait to throw voters off the scent of the real former ruling National Democratic Party candidates who will look like fresh faces on the Egyptian political scene.

With a lack of access to the candidates’ past histories and the short campaign period, voters may not have the time to research the candidates and so will not be able to make informed choices regarding each candidate’s expertise.

Several streets away, housewives waiting to receive their daily portions of bread argued strongly that they would not vote in the upcoming elections since the parliamentary representatives were unaware of the needs of the constituency.

Barageel is one of three districts in the Osseem constituency, the MP of which usually represents them, they said, but in the past parliamentarians had only appeared to gather people’s votes and then had disappeared after the elections.

A woman standing in the queue barged into the conversation, exclaiming, “If they give us government supply cards we will vote for them.” She was standing in a bread queue in the unpaved road in front of a poorly lit bakery.

Another woman, who also refused to give her name, said, “We want digital supply cards like they give other districts.” It seems that a number of cards were lost in the area, and residents only have handwritten paper receipts to collect their bread and other food supplies.

“We won’t give them our votes,” said another woman. “No one does anything for us. They will come for our votes and then nothing will change.” The conditions in the area are dismal, and the roads are unpaved and unplanned since it was built on agricultural land. Local needs are likely to be many, and the market could be ripe for vote-buying.

But no one would acknowledge that they might sell their votes. In fact, the housewives argued that they would not vote in the upcoming elections at all because it would make no difference.

People were sceptical about having elections in the first place. In Ataba, a young couple argued that there was no point in voting. Said one, “The roadmap set out by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi is a good idea, but it is not the road Egyptian citizens are taking. We’re being herded along the road.”

A man in his early fifties said that aside from the presidential elections he had not voted in any parliamentary elections. “Since my twenties I have not seen an MP who has called for legislation serving the public. Laws are made to serve the elite.” he said.

“For example, the construction laws passed in 2008 mean that landlords and tenants pay portions for building maintenance and this has resulted in buildings being unmaintained. These issues are prime examples of the lack of parliamentary efficiency,” he said.

 “I recall a class of secondary students turning 18 in 2013, and in some cases still 17, and very excited about being able to vote. Today, three teenagers were sitting in a coffee shop, and when asked about their feelings about the elections, they explained that they were not excited about them and if they had the chance to vote they would not do so.”

In Heliopolis, one man among a group of salesmen argued, “Of course we’ll vote, but it will not make a difference.” According to them, the Mubarak regime has not gone and corruption, bribery and negligence are still the norm. They travel to Minya, their hometown, every weekend, they said, and they have seen how people were gathered during the Mubarak regime to cast their votes. They expect the same thing to happen in the upcoming elections.

“They should stop illiterate people from voting and remove parliamentary immunity from members of parliament,” said a middle-aged woman. “Illiterate people are put in big buses and taken to vote. They are told to make a tick mark in front of a candidate’s sign, which they do, not even knowing who they are voting for.”

The problem of parliamentary immunity is that it allows MPs to be above legal action in cases of corruption, she said. Only if immunity is withdrawn will parliamentary representation truly operate to serve the public interest.

On Ahram Street in Heliopolis, a couple of youths in their early twenties expressed their scepticism regarding the elections. They had not voted for a long time and did not expect to now. “We don’t know who is running in the upcoming elections, and we expect that those who will be running will belong to the Mubarak regime — new faces from the old National Democratic Party,” said one of the youths.

“We don’t have records of their past experience, and we expect we will not be given the information. So why should we go to vote?”

Even spoiling ballot papers is not an effective action, they said. The only answer is to boycott the elections altogether. A young woman made the same statement, saying that a boycott is now the only way to bring about change.

She does not believe that anyone from the 25 January Revolution will be running, and claimed that all the candidates are likely to be connected to the ousted Mubarak regime.

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