El-Adwa, Egypt – Few people here expected their native son, President Mohamed Morsi, to bring many changes after he took office a year ago.
His younger brothers still work the family farm in the Nile Delta governorate of Sharqiya, and the president returns periodically for visits. Save for a few tattered posters, though, there are few outward signs that Morsi hails from this impoverished village 75km northeast of the Egyptian capital, and some residents say he has done little to improve their quality of life.
“Nothing changed. It’s exactly the same, and I’m not happy,” said Ahmed Ibrahim, a driver. “We’re country people, and we always will be.”
But people in El-Adwa were sharply divided over whether Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood-led government have been good for Egypt as a whole, with his supporters and opponents seemingly inhabiting two different countries.
Nothing changed. It's exactly the same, and I'm not happy.
The deepening political polarisation in Egypt is manifesting itself on the streets this weekend.
A coalition of Islamist parties rallied in Morsi’s defence in Cairo on Friday; opponents have organised nationwide demonstrations on Sunday, the one-year anniversary of the president’s inauguration, to demand his resignation.
The divide was also on display during a daylong visit to his home governorate, where opinions about the president ranged from exuberant praise to bitter criticism.
“He’s the most respectable man I’ve ever seen,” said Attiyat Hussein, a housewife in El-Adwa, insisting that Morsi had not made any mistakes since taking office. “The Egyptian people have a better life, the electricity is better, the food is better. He gave us everything.”
A few metres down the road, sitting outside a forlorn shop filled with half-empty shelves, Mohamed Mohamed Hussein shook his head while listening to her defence of the president.
“He didn’t do anything, didn’t change anything at all,” he said, explaining how electricity cuts – sometimes three times a day – paralysed his business.
He's the most respectable man I've ever seen.
“The transport isn’t working very well because of the fuel crisis, so I have trouble transporting goods. The companies have made it more expensive,” he said. “And last year some of them stopped shipping here because it’s not safe enough. So we’re not selling as much.”
‘He should leave us’
Sharqiya, and the Nile Delta region in general, has never been a Morsi stronghold. He lost the presidential election in his home governorate by more than 150,000 votes after his opponent, Ahmed Shafiq, convinced voters he could restore security and fix the economy. One year later, many of Shafiq’s supporters feel vindicated.
“The Brotherhood are like the National Democratic Party,” said Ismail Ismail, referring to the now-banned party of ousted president Hosni Mubarak – an ironic comparison, because Shafiq himself was a longtime minister in Mubarak’s government. “We want Morsi to fix the country. If he can’t, he should leave us.”
Sunday’s protests are being organised by a grassroots campaign named Tamarod, a word meaning “rebel” or “insubordination”. The group claims to have collected some 18 million signatures from Egyptians demanding Morsi’s resignation, a figure which, if accurate, would overshadow the roughly 13 million votes which brought him to power.
Nonetheless, the petition drive has no legal standing; the courts have refused to review the signatures.
Brotherhood officials in Sharqiya say the number is grossly inflated, and insist that the president still has majority support in the governorate.
“Here in Sharqiya, during the parliamentary elections, we received more than 66 percent of the vote… in the constitutional referendum, more than 66 percent,” said Ahmed Shehata, the local head of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. “The [presidential] elections here were not legitimate, there was money, thugs, corruption.”
The Brotherhood did fare well here during the parliamentary ballot in late 2011, taking 18 of the governorate’s 30 seats. The lower house of parliament was dissolved last year by the Supreme Constitutional Court, which cited problems with the electoral law; a new ballot is expected later this year or in early 2014.
But it is difficult, one year after Morsi was elected, to judge Shehata’s claim. Opinion polls show dwindling support for the president, but they are notoriously unreliable in Egypt. The constitutional ballot is a poor barometer for measuring the group’s popularity: It was ultimately a vote on a document, not a political party, and the constitution’s supporters framed a “yes” vote as a vote for stability.
Morsi still commands support here, some of it from unlikely quarters. Tamer Abd el-Ghani, a resident of El-Adwa, described himself as opposed to the Brotherhood – not surprising, because he works as a police officer, part of an institution which has historically been hostile to Egypt’s Islamist movements. But he also expressed support for the president.
“I don’t care if he’s from the Brotherhood, I just support him because he’s from my village,” he said.
‘We’re going backwards’
Abd el-Ghani’s views seemed to be in the minority in Sharqiya, however. Streets in the governorate are lined with posters calling for the president’s resignation, many of them looming above the petrol queues which could rival any in the capital, with drivers waiting for hours in lines of dozens or even hundreds of vehicles.
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Worsening fuel and water crises are crippling the economy, which depends largely on agriculture.
Security has collapsed, seemingly both a cause and effect of widespread public anger. Hundreds of armed men attacked a mosque in Sharqiya on Tuesday, and lynchings have become worryingly common, with suspected thieves dragged through the streets and hung from trees.
The Brotherhood has become a particular target for violence. The son of a prominent official was killed by an angry mob earlier this month, and their offices have been firebombed. A few hours after interviewing senior members of the group in Sharqiya on Thursday, their offices were attacked, with state media reporting dozens of people injured.
“He asked people to be patient, but one year later, there is no hope, no security,” said Nahed Fakry, a pharmacist who moved back to Egypt after the revolution, following nearly a decade working in the Gulf. “I’ve been worried constantly since the revolution.”
Tamer Selim, a teacher living on the outskirts of Zagazig, the provincial capital, credited Morsi’s government with being less corrupt than its predecessors.
“The Brotherhood are not experienced enough to run the country,” he said. “They won’t steal the country, but they will waste it.”
Shehata rejected that criticism, rattling off a list of the president’s accomplishments, which largely mirrored the one Morsi recited in a televised speech on Wednesday: increasing the minimum wage, expanding welfare benefits and boosting government salaries, to name but a few.
But he could name few specific accomplishments in Sharqiya, beyond the construction of a new road through Bilbis, a town just off the highway to the capital.
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“The people in Sharqiya are part of Egypt, and they want the same things, they want social justice, an end to all of the problems since the revolution,” he said.
FJP officials say Morsi’s plans are being obstructed by state institutions. They blame the lack of progress on former regime officials in ministries and the judiciary, and on systemic problems created during the Mubarak era. “We are dealing with the aftermath of 30 years of dictatorship,” Shehata said.
To some extent, the Brotherhood is filling the gap, as it has for decades. Dr Hanaan Amin, a medical professor who works for the FJP as an adviser on women’s issues, offered a list of social programmes, including small business initiatives, literacy classes, and monthly health clinics in smaller villages.
“We are not part of the government,” she said. “We are using mosques in the villages, or if there are schools or nurseries, we use those.”
These services are available to all Sharqiya residents, the Brotherhood says, regardless of political affiliation, but some still bristle at their source. “Where is the state? Why should I have to ask the Brotherhood for a doctor?” asked Amr Fahmy, at his cigarettes-and-soda kiosk.
Nor do they plug all of the growing gaps in basic services. Standing in one of Sharqiya’s interminable fuel queues, a group of minibus drivers wondered whether the situation was better under Mubarak.
“We’re going backwards,” said a man who gave his name as Dougi (“like Michael Douglas”, he quipped).
“Before he was elected, I was 26 years old. But after the last year, it’s like I am one hundred.”
Follow Gregg Carlstrom on Twitter: @glcarlstrom