Ismailia, Egypt – Yosry Abdel Qader stood over his son in his family’s plush living room and wagged his finger, berating the younger man’s choice for president – Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force pilot and minister in Hosni Mubarak’s government.
Shafiq, like many others who served under Mubarak, has earned the derogatory label felool – a remnant of the regime.
“Shafiq will come and bring generals, he will bring CEOs who are generals, he will bring back slavery.” Yosry said. “In Tahrir, did we see Shafiq? But we saw revolutionaries.”
“Who are the revolutionaries?” asked Anas, a 19-year-old commerce student.
“Youth from your generation!”
Anas made a face halfway between a grimace and a smirk and held out his hand for silence.
“Just because I am with the military council, they call me felool,” he explained.
“If we use our heads, we’ll discover what the military council said is true: There is a conspiracy against Egypt,” he continued. “The military council – who are the felool – are the ones who allowed you to make this revolution, and the proof is – look at Syria. [Whereas here,] they went to the streets, they protected the people and fed them, and they protected the country. They toppled the regime.”
His father slumped back down onto the sofa, shaking his head.
Yosry, a 61-year-old retired high school administrator, supports the charismatic socialist candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, as does his daughter, Mei, a 29-year-old studying for a human resources degree. His wife, 60-year-old retired chemistry teacher Aleya Hamdy, is leaning towards either Shafiq or Amr Moussa, another of the so-called felool, who served as Mubarak’s foreign minister for 10 years. Aleya’s sister stood – unsuccessfully – for parliament in 2010 with Mubarak’s National Democratic Party.
Yosry and his wife – like hundreds of thousands of middle-class Egyptians – have spent most of their careers abroad. Last summer, after the revolution, they returned from Dubai to Ismailia, the family’s ancestral hometown on the Suez Canal.
Like the rest of the country, the household is divided over who should lead Egypt during its haphazard transition from half a century of authoritarian rule. Presidential politics has entered Egyptian family life for the first time, and the results are unpredictable.
As Mei and Anas shouted over a living room table stocked with pastries about the sources of Sabahi’s campaign funding, Aleya smiled.
“See the mess I am in?”
Birthplace of the Brotherhood
Ismailia, around 130km northeast of Cairo, is both greener and cooler than the capital. At the edge of the Nile Delta, it benefits from a Mediterranean breeze that sifts south over the desert, and from the top of the family home – before all the new buildings sprouted with their half-finished concrete pillars – you could once see across the sand to the canal itself.
The town is the birthplace of the Muslim Brotherhood, and posters for the movement’s candidate, Mohammed Morsi, dominate all but the city’s central squares. On a recent night, Yosry recalled, Morsi supporters staged a rally on one of the main roads under the slogan “Until Death”. Long repressed by consecutive governments, the Brotherhood nearly won a majority in parliament last year and is now, after promising not to field a candidate, grasping at the presidency.
Both Mei and her mother dress modestly and wear hijab, but the family opposes the Brotherhood’s politics and rigid philosophy.
“You get the feeling that they’re coming back for revenge,” Aleya said.
Mei first supported Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a doctor and former high-ranking Brotherhood member who left the group last year, but his public remarks and endorsement by hardline Salafis pushed her away.
She asked; “He’s always saying: ‘We, we, we’ – who is ‘we’?”
But the family’s wariness of the Brotherhood is as far as their unity goes. To Mei and her father, the difference between Sabahi and Shafiq is one of much-needed new ideas versus the old, dangerous ideals of the Mubarak government.
“[Sabahi] comes from the land … he has a vision, he was raised in Egypt, he knows its problems and the amount of poverty,” Yosry said.
Aleya responded: “Why should we forget about Moussa – because he’s older?”
“He never said no, he was subservient. Sabahi is a rebel,” Yosry answered. Moussa is the kind of man who smokes expensive cigars, he said, a member of the upper class who could never communicate with someone Mei’s age.
A vote of integrity
For Anas, the choice is about honour and security, choosing someone who would protect Egypt. He had planned to vote for former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman – before he was disqualified.
“There is no such thing as the old regime or the new regime, there is something called an honest man and a liar,” he said.
Anas was raised in Dubai and spent only summers in Egypt before he returned in 2011. Tall and well built, he studies at Suez Canal University, but will begin his compulsory military service next year.
Watching from abroad during last year’s mass protests, he supported the revolution, happy that the army had helped prevent Mubarak’s son Gamal from inheriting the presidency.
Anas has no patience for Egypt’s well-known protesters and anti-military activists. He favours prison terms for those who insult the army and insists that 10 years in jail would not be enough for the few soldiers known to have joined demonstrations.
According to him, “freedom of speech is not bad manners”.
“Was the military with you in Tahrir – or did they kill you?” Anas asked Mei.
“They are the reason behind the Camel Battle,” she responded. “Who let the camels in?”
“By the way,” Anas said, “someone came up and said that the protesters were the ones who beat the men on camels.”
Mei dismissed her brother’s claims. “He’s ET. He isn’t one us,’ she sighed.
“If Anas was in the police during January 25, he would have been one of the officers that are being tried now,” their mother Aleya interjected..
She recalled the day Mubarak stepped down, she cried. She had never believed her husband’s repeated assertions that Mubarak and his inner circle were guilty of corruption, that they had been siphoning the country’s wealth for years.
“I was very sad,” she said. “I didn’t want this to happen to Egypt. I will tell you honestly, I was afraid of the chaos that we are in,” she said. “I said Hosni Mubarak should continue, and leave after six months. Leave as a son of Egypt.”
Not many in her immediate family shared her views. But then, differing over whats best for Egypt is the norm now in many households.
With additional reporting by Nagham Osman.
Follow Evan Hill on Twitter: @evanchill