Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1267, (22 - 28 October 2015)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1267, (22 - 28 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Elections: An in-depth account

Al-Ahram Weekly visits the constituencies where the closest election battles were fought

Al-Ahram Weekly

On Sunday and Monday, Egyptians headed to polling stations in the 14 governorates where the first stage of parliamentary elections was held.

Predictions of a low turnout appeared to hit the mark. Even in Upper Egyptian provinces, where familial and tribal ties play a major role in mobilizing voters, there were few queues to be seen.

Many voters appeared to have little idea of who the candidates were or what they stood for. Perhaps this, as much as the fact that they have been to the polls multiple times since the 2011 Revolution, accounts for low levels of voter enthusiasm.

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s appeal to voters on Saturday to head to the polls appeared, at a rough glance, to strike the strongest chord with women and elderly voters. Young people were noticeably absent from the polling stations visited by our reporters.

On Sunday the government announced that the second day of voting would be a half day for government employees, a move that suggested concerns were growing the final turnout would be low. The LE500 fine that the Higher Electoral Committee (HEC) had said could be imposed on those who do not vote was clearly having little effect.

In the first stage of the polls, 27 million registered voters were able to choose from among 2,547 candidates competing for 226 individual seats and six electoral lists battling for 60 seats.

More than 16,000 judges took part in supervising the vote in 103 main polling stations and 5,460 electoral centres. Minor violations were reported during the two-day vote. Complaints voiced by voters were immediately sent to the HEC. The poll was observed by 81 local NGOs and six international organisations.

Except for a minor explosion in Kerdasea, which caused no injuries, the election went smoothly and the security situation was under control.


Dokki/Agouza: Run-off expected

Elderly men using walkers, couples over 70 helping each to out of their cars and women in their late 40s and 50s were the only voters to be seen in front of polling stations in Dokki and Agouza on the first day of voting.

Turnout seemed to improve on the second day, though there were few queues. Official figures released by Judge Nagi Shehata in the early hours of Tuesday placed turnout in the constituency at 23 per cent, with 81,500 out of 359,000 registered voters casting their ballots.

In the five schools toured by Al-Ahram Weekly, reporters and television crews outnumbered voters. They were waiting for government ministers and prominent public figures to cast their ballots.

Minister of Defence Sedki Sobhi, the ministers of interior, planning and social affairs, the governor of Giza and a handful of actors and actresses were among those who did show up.

Preliminary reports suggest a run off is likely between the four front runners — Abdel-Rehim Ali, Ahmed Mortada Mansour, Amr Al-Shobaki and Sayed Gohar — among the 34 candidates battling to occupy the constituency’s two seats. Ali and Mansour remain the favourites, having reportedly received 45,000 and 24,600 votes respectively.

Dokki and Agouza include a mix of middle-class and poorer neighbourhoods. The campaign teams of Ali and Mansour exchanged heated accusations of vote-buying in the constituency’s poorest districts of Heitya and Bein Al-Sarayat. Each claimed that his rival had offered between LE100 and LE200 to poorer voters in return for their support. Both candidates deny the charges.

In the days preceding the vote, and on both voting days, cars with loudspeakers were touring the streets distributing T-shirts, pens and medals carryings the names and pictures of the candidates. Supporters of Ali, wearing T-shirts emblazoned with his picture, were also seen in front of several polling stations offering soft drinks to voters.

“These are my supporters who volunteered to offer drinks to voters,” Ali told the Weekly. “They were not paid by my campaign and I couldn’t stop them.”

 Ali, a journalist and the presenter of a television talk show, is known for his opposition to the 25 January 2011 Revolution. His TV show has aired secretly taped telephone conversations that purport to prove Ali’s claims that supporters of the uprising against Hosni Mubarak were foreign agents paid from abroad. Ironically, the symbol assigned to Ali’s campaign was a mobile phone.

Mansour is no less controversial. He is the son of Mortada Mansour, a lawyer and the chairman of Zamalek soccer club, known for using colourful language when attacking his opponents. Mansour père was one of the defendants in the so-called Battle of the Camel case, accused of financing attacks against anti-Mubarak demonstrators in Tahrir Square on 2 February, 2011. The defendants, who included senior Mubarak ministers and People’s Assembly Speaker Fathi Sorour, were all acquitted.

While giving an interview to reporters inside a polling station, Mansour got into an argument with Shehata, the judge charged with overseeing the Dokki ballot, who accused Mansour of trying to influence voters to cast their ballots for his son. There were also allegations of bias when the Higher Election Commission allowed a polling station to open inside the Zamalek Club.

Shobaki, who is thought to have come third with 19,000 votes, won the district in 2011, defeating a high-profile Muslim Brotherhood candidate after a tough battle. This time around Shobaki was repeatedly attacked by Ali and Mansour, who claimed that Shobaki was opposed President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and wanted to limit the influence of the army in politics. Lacking the financial resources commanded by Ali and Mansour, Shobaki is not expected to repeat his 2011 win in the run-off, scheduled for 27 October.

Gohar, who came fourth, is a former MP and member of the Mubarak-era National Democratic Party (NDP). He secured a reported 10,000 votes, making it unlikely that he will be returning to parliament.


Kerdassa: No heavyweight candidates

Polling committees reported a low turnout in the Giza governorate constituency of Kerdassa.

“We are seeing high levels of voter apathy,” Judge Ashraf Saad, head of the polling committee at Taha Hussien School in Saft Al-Laban, told the Weekly. “Turnout was below ten per cent on both voting days.”

On Monday evening, Judge Waleed Ouf, who was based at the same school, said 134 out of 2,200 voters registered at the polling station had cast a ballot. Ouf blamed the low participation on the absence of any heavyweight candidates.

Fifteen hopefuls were competing for Kerdassa’s two independent seats. Nine had no clear political affiliation while the five remaining candidates represented the Nour Party, former presidential candidate Ahmed Shafik’s Egyptian National Movement Party, the Conference Party, Democratic Peace Party and Homeland Future Party.

“Turnout on the first day was lower than the second,” said Judge George Ishak, head of the elections committee at Ahmed Shawki School in Saft Al-Laban. “Out of 2,229 voters only 191 had cast a ballot by early Monday evening.”

The scene was more animated in front of Fatma Al-Zahraa School in Kerdassa, if only because General Tarek Nasr of the Giza Security Directorate had arrived to inspect the site where two sound bombs exploded on Sunday, the first day of voting.

A judicial source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said 135 voters of the 2,500 registered with Polling Committee Number 9 at Fatma Al-Zahraa school — which was restricted to women — had cast their ballot by 4pm on Monday.

“I’ve been supervising elections for 15 years. Certainly this is the lowest turnout I’ve seen since the 25 January Revolution,” said the source.

Kerdassa Experimental School (Al-Tagribiyah), a polling station for men, saw a slightly higher turnout. According to Judge Salem Abdel-Aziz, 248 out of 2,500 voters cast their ballots during the two days of voting.

“The low turnout certainly made it easier to supervise the polling process and the counting of votes,” said Saad. “What was missing, though, was any real spirit of competition.”

“Many of the voters who did turn up complained that there were no candidates they knew on the ballot paper. In previous elections Saft Al-Laban had fallen within the Boulak Al-Dakrour constituency. Now it is part of Kerdassa. The people many constituents had voter for in the past were standing elsewhere.”

In addition to independent candidates, Kerdassa voters could also choose representatives from four party lists: For the Love of Egypt, The Call of Egypt, National Awakening and The Egyptian Front and Independence Current Alliance.


Imbaba: An absence of crowds

Turnout in Imbaba was sluggish, with on average one voter every 15 minutes appearing at polling stations visited by the Weekly. Most of the voters who did show up were women between the ages of 30 and 40 and men and women over 60.

Army and police officers charged with securing the vote appeared keen to remain outside polling stations rather than entering them. The polling stations opened between 9am and 9pm on both election days.

“I went to vote because we are in need of a person who will represent us in parliament and help poor people like me live a decent life. With my vote I am serving my country,” said Qadreya Mohamed Abdul-Al, an elderly coffee street vendor, just after casting his ballot.

“People should vote in parliamentary elections to secure a better future,” insisted a housewife who voted at Al-Wehda Al-Arabeya School.

Set Al-Hosn Wal Gamal Mohamed, who had come from the old people’s home where she lives, said the voting process had been smooth. “I came all the way from Meet Okba to Al-Thanaweya Girl’s school in Imbaba to vote, just so the youth have a chance to work. Everything went quickly.”

“It is my duty to vote,” said Mohamed Bakr as he was leaving Al-Thanaweya Al-Togareya School.

“A lot of people could not come in the morning because they had work. I think more people will come in the evening,” said Nasser Yassin. He thought the symbols and names of candidates should have been printed in a bigger size “to help the elderly to see.”

The media, he added, “should have tried to explain the difference between the various party lists as many people do not know what they stand for.”

Imbaba voters were returning four independent candidates out of 48 hopefuls. So how to make a choice?

Somia Ahmed, a grandmother, opted to vote for candidates who originally came from her constituency. “Everyone should participate in the parliamentary elections,” she said. “The more votes there are the better.”


Sixth October/Sheikh Zayed/ Wahat: Calm prevails

At the polling stations in the Sixth October and Al-Sheikh Zayed constituencies visited by the Weekly there more women than men arriving to vote and the overall turnout was low.

Security forces were stationed outside polling stations and cars were prevented from parking in the immediate vicinity. Inside, polling stations voters were required to show their identity cards before voting.

Forces securing polling stations were providing help to the elderly, disabled and to pregnant women. No violations were observed at any of the polling stations.

Many voters said they had headed to the polls out of a sense of duty.

“Security is well organised and the vote seems to be progressing without any anomalies,” said Hoda Ahmed, a housewife. “I’ve got used to democracy. I’ve cast a lot of votes since 2011.”

Voters in Sixth October and Al-Sheikh Zayed were choosing two candidates from among 43 hopefuls and one party list out of four.

Some voters who spoke to the Weekly said they had no idea who the candidates were but had turned up either to avoid paying the fine or else prevent Islamist candidates from being elected.

Retired army officer Hassan Ahmed blamed the media for failing to provide voters with information about candidates and their election programmes.

“They are all new names and new faces. I don’t know anyone of them. I have asked other voters who the candidates are but none of them knows. They are all in the same boat as me,” said Hassan Ibrahim, 54, as he arrived to cast his ballot at Nahdet Misr School.

Judge Mehra Abdel-Maqsoud, a polling station supervisor, said turnout was less than anticipated.

Ebtehal Al-Sayed, an accountant who arrived to Al-Seyahya Al-Oula School to cast her ballot, said many of her friends had refused to vote because they did not believe they could influence the outcome. “They say the next parliament will be pro-government come what may and so casting a vote is a waste of time.”

Judge Walid Gadallah, who was supervising the poll at Al-Nasr Al-Tagribiya School, said candidates were partly to blame for voter apathy. “They should have made more effort to introduce themselves to voters. Many people simply don’t know the candidates.”

Gadallah also criticized the media for failing to inform voters of who was standing, and what they stood for.

Essam Fathallah, 20, said he had selected the candidates he voted for on the basis of their being non-Islamist. “It’s not that I hate Islamists,” he said. “It’s just that they are politically ignorant and will ruin the country’s future, as they did in the past.”


Alexandria: A key battleground

Alexandria, with more than three million voters, was expected to be the scene of a close battle between the Nour Party and the For the Love of Egypt coalition.

The Nour Party nominated many leading members as candidates in the coastal governorate, including its Deputy Vice-President for Legal Affairs Talaat Marzouk, Vice-President Ashraf Thabet, Deputy Head of Media Affairs Nader Bakkar and Deputy Head of Foreign Affairs Amr Mekky.

The For the Love of Egypt list included businessmen Mohamed Farag Amer and Ahmed El Seginey, the latter a member of the Wafd Party’s board, and Sahar Talaat Mustafa, the sister of construction tycoon and former NDP parliamentarian Hisham Talaat.

The Nour Party’s Alexandrian strongholds include Bakous in the Raml constituency, Cleopatra in Sidi Gaber, and Khorshid and Montaza Awal, Alexandria’s most densely populated constituency.

The turnout in Alexandria is reported to have dropped to 19 per cent from the 29 per cent recorded in the 2012 parliamentary elections.

“I did not know most of the candidates. I’ve never heard of them before. It hardly seems logical to just go and elect someone I know nothing about simply because I feel I should participate,” says Ali Khatab, a 35-year-old engineer from Al-Raml constituency.

“I am voting because I think we need a strong parliament. The problem is that I do not think we have good candidates. I entered the polling station without knowing who I should vote for,” said a woman leaving a polling station in the same constituency.

Preliminary, non-official results, suggest the Nour Party had lost to the For the Love of Egypt coalition, which will take the seven party list seats allotted to Alexandria.

The 18 independent candidates Alexandria returns come from ten constituencies: Montazah, Montazah, Raml, Moharram Bek, Sidi Gaber, Kurmoz, Attarin, Mina Al-Basal, Dekhila and Borg Al-Arab.

Non-official results suggest run-offs in seven of the ten constituencies. Among independent candidates there were remarkably few leftwing or revolutionary figures.

In the 2012 parliament elections the Nour Party and the Muslim Brotherhood won the majority of seats in Alexandria.

“This election is different. It is the first time since the Revolution that Alexandrians have shown a reluctance to go to the polls,” says Ahmed Reda, an election monitor in Kurmoz where, he says, there has been the lowest turnout since the 2005 parliamentary elections. “Only 4,922 voters showed up in Kurmoz, one of Alexandria’s biggest constituencies.”

The reason, says Reda, is that residents have lost “confidence in the ability of wither parliament or the government to do anything about their deteriorating living standards.”


Beheira: ‘Least bad option’

El-Beheira was the scene of a fierce battle for the governorate’s 27 parliamentary seats.

Beheira’s ten constituencies are home to 5.6 million voters. And for the first time since 2000, the battle to win their support was being waged by the governorate’s biggest families.

The turnout, according to Governor Mohamed Sultan, reached 30 per cent, making it among the highest of the first phase of parliamentary elections.

One of the most closely watched contests took place in the Abo Al-Matamir and Hosh Eissa constituency, where the frontrunners were a representative of the Qezm family and candidates affiliated to the Nour Party.

The Nour Party has a strong presence in Behaira, points out Akram Alfy, a researcher at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic studies, largely due to its provision of social services.

“The Salafists have concentrated on replacing the Muslim Brotherhood in the governorate, but the task is hard. They are facing powerful families in at least six of the ten constituencies,” he says.

In the east of the governorate, which includes Wadi Al-Natroum and Nobaria, the battle was between three clans that used to support the NDP. The Gawabis family, said to be the most powerful, has already won one seat, according to unofficial results.

The governorate’s middle classes will have little impact on the results, says Mustafa Gesraha, a journalist from Damanhour, the capital of Behaira.

“This class was crucial in the 2012 parliamentary election and 2014 presidential election. Now they feel alienated from the process. There is no candidate they are willing to support in what is essentially a standoff between businessmen and leaders of large agricultural families,” he says.

Amir Hamed, a 25-year-old accountant from Rashid constituency, said he voted despite the lack of decent candidates.

“I know good candidates are thin on the ground but we have to support the least-bad option in order to prevent businessmen who only want to further their own interests from entering the parliament,” he told the Weekly.


Qena: Clan connections prevail

In the governorate of Qena, no voice is louder than the voice of the tribe. There was no alternative but to field leading tribal figures in a region where the Ashraf, Al-Arab and Hawara tribes prevail. It is their relative strength that will determine the distribution of parliamentary seats in the governorate.

The three major tribes are represented by some familiar faces and a few younger ones. The competition within the tribes has been tough, with factions promoting their strongest candidates.

But such internal divisions will disappear as the run-offs expected later this month approach and each tribe closes ranks behind whichever of its candidates make the second round.

The intense tribal competition generated a relatively high turnout among the 1,769,000 registered voters in Qena governorate. On the first day of polling it was women and the elderly who turned up. No violence was reported at polling stations.

On the second day, the already heavy security presence was intensified in the districts of Dashna, Nagaa Hamadi, Farshout, Abu Tisht and a number of central villages, as well as in Qena city.

Perhaps another reason for the increased security presence was the arrest of 12 Muslim Brotherhood members just hours before the polls were due to open. Security forces have accused the men of conspiring to ignite tribal conflicts and foment violence in an attempt to derail the election.

On the first day of the polls, balloting was delayed in some districts in Qena because of the late arrival of supervising judges. Nine judges had to be transferred from Sohag to make-up numbers in Qena.

The number of women and Coptic voters was particularly high at the Religious Institute for Girls, which houses 11 subsidiary polling stations catering to 24,000 registered voters. Polling stations at Al-Hamidat, Nagaa Hamadi, Abu Tisht and Farshout were also relatively crowded.

Hamdi Saber Bayoumi, from the Dashna district, who cast his vote at the Faw village polling station, said: “The vote here is tribal. We do not squander or split our votes. A parliamentary seat to us is a question of the honour of the whole tribe, not just the candidate. My vote and all the votes from my family are going to our tribe’s candidates.”

In a polling station in Al-Samta village, Hajja Doha Mustafa issued a joyful ululation and proclaimed “Our candidate’s going to win!”

Al-Sayyid Mustafa Al-Rifai, an election monitor in Qena, told the Weekly that if the turnout in the city turns out to be low it is a result of so many of the candidates being unfamiliar to voters. Another reason, he says, is that a number of old-regime faces had re-emerged and been included in electoral lists, leading to some voters staying at home to register their discontent.


Minya: Money talks

Minya’s nine constituencies contain 2,974,000 registered voters. Across the governorate, 251 candidates are vying for 25 seats.

One of the most closely watched battles took place in Bandar Malwi where 20 candidates — 15 independents and five members of political parties — were fighting for a single seat. None has served in parliament before.

The influence of money was most evident in the campaign of Abdel Rahman Magahed, aka Osama Magahed, scion of leading businessmen “Hagg” Magahed Mahmoud Khalifa. “Osama” appears to have secured popular support in the area of Sharq Al-Mahatta.

Ahmed Fathi Ismail, a politician who served as a member, then chairman, of the local council in Malawi, is backed by a number of prominent families from the southern part of the town, most notably the Ganeina Al-Magharba area.

Hassan Abdel-Wahed Adam, the “aware intellectual” as he is known among the people of his district, is said to be well-briefed on all the problems of the city and their possible solutions. He is depending on votes from the western and southern parts of town as well as those of farmers.

Shadad Rateb Mohamed is said to be heavily reliant on the votes of several influential families. The prospects of activist Sherif Nadi were always dependent on his ability to mobilise younger voters and intellectuals. He is thought to command support across any sectarian divide.

Lawyer Rami Rafiq Butros, though once a member of the National Democratic Party (NDP), is a first-time parliamentary candidate. He enjoys strong support from the Coptic Church and is hoping to win a majority of the estimated 36,000 Coptic votes in the city.

TV broadcaster Essam Al-Garhi’s major asset is being the nephew of Abdel Aal Al-Garhi, a one-time secretary-general of the NDP in Minya.

The district of Samalout saw 29 candidates battling for three seats. Business magnate Ali Al-Kayal, who has stood, unsuccessfully, in previous elections, is thought to have thrown a great deal of money behind his campaign.

But he faces strong competition, not least from the Makadi clan, which has a long political and parliamentary history. The district is currently represented by former MP Alaa Makadi, who is determined to win back the family seat.

Saleh Abdel Azim, the Nour Party candidate, had banked on the Islamist vote. His main rival, journalist Bahi Saleh Shaarawi, aka Bahi Al-Robi, is the deputy editor-in-chief of Gomhuriya newspaper and running on a Wafd Party ticket.

Only one candidate, Ezzat Al-Qadi, standing in the Bandar Malwi district, has complained of election violations. In a telephone interview with the Weekly he said a number of voters had arrived at the Yusefi Primary School polling station carrying papers bearing the symbol of one of his rivals. He also complained that attempts were being made to influence voters’ intentions in polling stations.

Said Ibrahim Ahmed, a voter in Malwi, told the Weekly that turnout had been low, apart from in polling stations located in the home villages of individual candidates.

In some areas of Minya, polling stations had to be amalgamated because of the late arrival of the supervising judges.


Sohag: Tribal chauvinism

Joheina and Dar Al-Salam are the most hotly contested constituencies in the governorate of Sohag. In the first, where the Joheina police station is located, ten candidates are vying for a single seat. Three are affiliated with political parties and seven standing as independents.

One is a former People’s Assembly member, another a former Shura Council member. It was a race against time to win the confidence of the 137,000 registered voters in the constituency.

Current predictions foresee a run-off between the mayor, Mohamed Allam Abdel Halim, who is running as an independent; Mohamed Abdel Raouf Al-Dab’, a candidate for the Free Egyptians Party; and Khaled Saleh Abu Zahad, a businessman standing as an independent.

Joheina is noted for intense tribal chauvinism. Under the old electoral zoning system it had two seats. Now it has only one.

Another heated contest unfolded in the Dar Al-Salam constituency in the eastern part of the governorate. There, 21 candidates of various political stripes differed on virtually everything except their resolve to play on tribal, clan and family affiliations.

Competition for the district’s two parliamentary seats was fierce. Among the prominent tribes fielding candidates are Al-Balabish, Awlad Salem, Awlad Yahya Al-Hager, Al-Mawazin, Al-Qor, Aal Radian and Al-Taweiqat clans. The leading candidates include former MP and businessman Ahmed Abdel Salam Qora.

One of his rivals — Abdel Khaleq Abul-Ghasshim, a lawyer who is said to be popular among younger voters — comes from the same clan. They are facing Adham Al-Samman, a young journalist and political activist who enjoys support among the Al-Arab and Hawara tribes.

Another notable candidate is Abdel-Azim Mohamed Ahmed, a professor in the Faculty of Law in Assiut. Ahmed, who unsuccessfully stood for parliament in 2012, is a member of the Awlad Salem tribe and popular among young intellectuals. Tareq Radwan, the son of a former minister of culture, Mohamed Abdel Hamid Radwan, is also standing.

Ahmed Gomaa, a ma’dhun shar’i (official authorised to perform marriages) is a member of the Awlad Yahya Al-Hager tribe and standing as an independent. Gaber Al-Taweiqi, another candidate, was a member of the 2010 People’s Assembly, the shortest parliament in Egypt’s history.

Observers expect that Al-Taweiqi, along with Ahmed Qora, Tareq Radwan and Abdel Azim Mohamed, will make it to the run-offs.

It is worth noting that the Dar Al-Salam constituency in Sohag was considered a high risk for possible violence. It is a district known for age-old feuds between clans and families, for which reason additional forces were called in to safeguard the polling process.

Reported by: Khaled Dawoud, Reem Leila, Ahmed Morsy, Mohamed Abdel-Baky, Mai Sameeh, Osama Al-Hawwari, Said Ibrahim and Mohamed Metawei

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