Cairo’s Poor Root for Nasserite Hamdeen Sabbahi

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In one of Cairo’s poorest neighborhoods, voters brazenly declared their support for Hamdeen Sabbahi, the Nasserite candidate who has vowed to be the president of Egypt’s poor.

Conversations were shared for all to hear in lines outside polling stations in Imbaba. “Enough with the Islamists, enough with the old regime, down with the military. We need a clean man – Hamdeen is the one,” said a woman

Posters of Mursi were defaced while those for Sabbahy were left untouched in Imbaba, one of Cairo's poorest neighborhoods. Photo by Sophie Claudet

dressed in an abbaya, conservative Muslim garb. She went as far as asking fellow voters whom they would cast their ballots for. But it seems none needed her convincing. All said they were rooting for Sabbahi, the dark-horse leftist candidate who seems to be garnering more votes than opinion polls had predicted. In fact, many people in Imbaba call him by his first name – a sign of affection, they say. Continue reading

Scenes From Egypt’s First Day of Voting

In Maadi, a mixed posh and lower-middle class southern Cairo suburb, people queued up as early as 6am, though voting stations didn’t open until 8. Some openly discussed politics in the long line.

A fully veiled, niqab-clad woman told her friend she couldn’t possibly vote for the Muslim Brotherhood: “They will take over the country. They already control parliament.” A young woman swore only Mubarak’s former prime minister and air force commander Ahmed Shafiq can restore peace and stability. Some around her voiced their disagreement. “I’m happy but mostly scared,” said a middle-aged woman. “I’m 90 percent scared that the poll will be rigged as it’s always been in the past, and I’m 10 percent scared my candidate won’t be elected and we’ll get a foloul instead,” she told me, referring to the remnants of the old regime. “You know, Amr Moussa and Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s old allies.” Continue reading

Boycotters: We Have Been Betrayed

I was, of course, not born in 1789 and I was not born in 1968 either, when students took to the streets of Paris and other world capitals to shake the established order and try to oust ageing politicians. But my parents told me about the late 1960s and tonight, at a meeting of young and not-so-young Egyptians who actively participated in the revolution, I felt I understood what my parents had been part of. There were about around a hundred people there. Men and women sat together (not always the case in Egypt where meetings are often segregated), some women wore veils, some didn’t, some men wore beards, but most didn’t, some were in their twenties, some older, much older. But all took turns to speak from a podium, above it a large banner read, “We’re the boycotters, no to an election under military rule.”

The call for a boycott was not what caught my attention, although it is quite telling that the very people that filled Egypt’s streets for months on end, braving the fear of a ruthless police state, won’t be voting tomorrow. Then again, I get that they can’t possibly adhere to what happened after Mubarak fell, when their revolution was hijacked by the most organized force in Egypt: the Islamists, who went on to win most seats in the November 2011 general elections. What caught my attention is what they had to say. Continue reading

Is the Islamist Vote Losing Ground?

CAIRO – It is quite logical that Egypt’s liberals, seculars and most Copts would not cast their vote for an Islamist candidate in Wednesday’s election. What about the rest of  the voters?

Egypt is a conservative society, and we have seen, whether in Egypt or Tunisia, that Islamists bore the brunt of the former regime’s repressive policies and were pretty much the only organized force around, so they gained the trust of voters. In fact, in post-revolutionary Tunisia and Egypt, citizens voted en masse for Islamists when they had the chance to participate in the first free and open general elections in decades. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice movement and the radical Salafist Al-Nour party dominate the People’s Assembly. Four months have passed since the November poll and people are increasingly disappointed with the Islamists’ performance. Continue reading

In Cairo, as Historic Vote Nears, Excitement Mixed With Wariness

Arriving in Cairo after a two-year hiatus, one feels things have dramatically changed: obviously a revolution happened and a historic poll is about to take place. And it doesn’t take long to realize it on the ground.

Take the airport: several camera tripods, two large boxes with large Reuters stickers slapped on top, a senior CNN correspondent waiting at passport control and five heavily locked crates marked “Carter Center” rolling on the luggage conveyor belt, signaling the arrival of election observers. Take the press center where accreditations to cover the election are delivered: a machine gun-wielding soldier is posted right in the midst of government employees and queuing foreign correspondents. Is the soldier here to protect us? No, the press center is located on the first floor of the national television building — a prime target in every revolution.

Then come the usual cab driver conversations: all about the revolution that was and the election that will be in a few days’ time. A mixed bag of excitement and concern over the future: that Mubarak’s ouster was long-overdue and good riddance, that the poll could be rigged, that the economy won’t improve. Talking to people, I hear diverging and often contradictory analyses. That is probably a good sign in what could emerge as a fledging democracy past the first openly contested — and let’s hope free and fair — election in the country’s history. Continue reading