Gangs of Cairo

Campaigning in Egypt comes at a cost and whoever is willing to pay more, both with money and will, ultimately wins.

I have had the chance to cover a few elections and campaigns in my time, from post US-invasion in Iraq, to multiple elections in the Palestinian Territories, to Israel and the US. 

Few have been the spectacle of entertainment as the ones I have seen for Egypt’s parliament so far:

The other night, my colleagues and I decided to tag along with Dr Mohammed Beltagy, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood and a member of the current parliament.

Dr Beltagy wanted to do what every other candidate in a respectable democracy does hold a campaign rally. There was one caveat Dr Beltgay wanted to hold the rally in his opponent’s neighbourhood stronghold. Oh and there is one other thing. Did I say this was in Egypt?

Well what ensued was quite entertaining and sadly violent. As he made his way through the narrow alleyways between buildings and shops in Metnama, Dr Beltagy and his supporters waved posters and spoke over loudspeakers about why he was a good candidate. Pretty normal political stuff.

All of sudden, Dr Beltgay and his supporters (and journalists who were with him) found themselves blocked by a small but aggressive crowd of supporters of  Mugahad Nassar, his National Democratic Party rival for the seat. As Dr Beltgay ordered his supporters away from confrontation and down another alleyway, another group emerged.  

In most respectable countries, the competing sides would have exchanged a few words and then gone there separate ways. In fact, in most cases, these rallies would have been given a marching permit and at least some sort of police would be present on hand to ensure the safety of all.

While we were walking, a man on a motorcycle drove up right into the crowd. This was no ordinary cyclist trying to get through the crowd, he wanted to drive over the crowd. This guy was instigating trouble and he did. He sped right into the back of supporters who’s natural reaction was to defend themselves and pull him down off his bike while the rest of the march walked up ahead.

As the man on the motorcycle began to shout and scream, it became apparent what was happening. Supporters of the opponent stormed to his defence and violence ensued.

Suddenly I felt I was in a movie scene from the movie “Gangs of New York”.

All I could think of was making sure that we get this on tape. As our camerawoman bravely stood in the face of the screaming crowds, the motorcyclist jumped out of the crowd and tried to rip the camera out of her hand (he managed to break off the lens cover) but we kept the camera and the tape. Soon we were being hustled up alleyways.

What was meant to be a normal political exercise turned out to be a normal exercise in Egyptian politics.

As the march died down, official representatives from the Nassar campaign came to apologise to Dr Beltagy and his supporters, saying these actions were not condoned or tolerated. But so too was the message that campaigning in Egypt comes at a cost and whoever is willing to pay more, both with money and will, ultimately prevails.

 Such is campaigning on the streets of Egypt.