Cairenes have few illusions over vote

As the third and final stage of Egypt’s parliamentary elections comes to a close, many Egyptians have little optimism that the promised “free and fair” vote will bring tangible change.

President Hosni Mubarak's government faces challenges
President Hosni Mubarak's government faces challenges

Instead, in the alleys of some of Cairo’s more traditional districts, there is disillusionment over the country’s political and economic processes.


While government and opposition newspapers wage a war of words over who committed ballot fraud, Cairenes say they are more focused on eking out a living.


Rising inflation and persistent unemployment have led some to lash out at government policies.


Limousine driver Tarik Imam, 44, says: “I don’t care for politics, I only want to know how my salary will feed, clothe and educate my children.”


Imam says he receives a monthly wage of 250 Egyptian pounds ($43) but needs “several thousand” to provide for his seven children.


Last month, he paid for his eldest daughter’s wedding, putting him in debt.


“I rely on tips and handouts from others,” he said.


Asked whether he voted, he shrugged his shoulders and said it was pointless.




The elections have been marredby violence

The elections have been marred
by violence

The parliamentary elections, seen as the first challenge to the government of President Hosni Mubarak and his National Democratic party (NDP) since his re-election in September, have been marred by violence, allegations of widespread fraud and annulled results.


According to preliminary data, voter turnout was 5% to 24% across the country.


In September’s presidential elections, only 23% of registered voters cast ballots.


Mohamed el-Sayed Said, deputy head of the Ahram Centre for Strategic Studies, says that historically, voter turnout has been low.


In the 2000 parliamentary elections, voter turnout in urban areas was 9%-10%.

In rural areas, turnout is expected to be higher because of the mechanics of family loyalties and traditional ties in supporting a candidate from a village or town.

“This year, you will find about 50% of the electorate heading to the polls in the rural areas, with a slight increase in urban areas like Cairo and Alexandria to 12%-15% of the electorate,” he said.

Loss of faith

But for a government trying to recast itself as focused on democratic reforms, the low numbers leave a credibility gap.

“The electorate have lost their faith in the political process because of previous parliamentary elections which were dominated by the NDP, and because of the glaring fraud we see around us,” said Khaled Salah, a contributing columnist at the independent Al Masri Al Youm newspaper.

He believes economic grievances play a large part.

“Some 75% of the voters earn limited incomes and many are in abject poverty,” he said.

“They ask themselves, ‘How can voting improve my life, my situation’ … in the end they find their vote makes no difference at all.”

High turnout was seen in areassympathetic to the Brotherhood

High turnout was seen in areas
sympathetic to the Brotherhood

The prevailing poverty is a product of failed economic polices in Egypt during the past 50 years, says Minia University’s MA Kishk in his white paper, Good Governance: A Pre-requisite for Poverty Eradication and Sustainable Human Development.

“In spite, or perhaps because, of the economic liberalisation and structural adjustment policies that aim at sustainable economic growth and increased employment, poverty remains a widespread phenomenon that increases over time.” 

It is fuelling resentment among a cross-section of people who find themselves left out of the policy-making infrastructure.

El-Sayed Said believes a growing number of lower middle class Egyptians – those with a high school education and higher – do not feel represented in the socio-economic process.

“Only about 10% within this group vote,” he said.

Enter the Brotherhood

The credibility gap between the government and low income constituents has given the Muslim Brotherhood the upper hand, says Salah, who points to high turnout in poor neighbourhoods traditionally sympathetic to the Islamist group.

Brotherhood activists took tothe streets

Brotherhood activists took to
the streets

Ahmed Mohamed Ahmed, 43, a street cleaner, says he travelled 90km from Cairo to his electoral district in Fayoum to vote for the Brotherhood.

In the run-up to the elections, Brotherhood activists flooded the streets with posters, banners, pamphlets and speakers who discussed the group’s plans for the country.

Ali, 33, an autmated laundry operator, was impressed by how organised the Brotherhood activists were, but he still boycotted the ballot.

He pointed to a group of 20-something men sitting at a roadside ahwa, or café, and derided the unemployment in the country.

“They have nowhere to go, just thrown about in the streets. What are their prospects?” he asked.

“What are these elections going to do for them … and me?” 

But he did hope that the seats won by the Muslim Brotherhood could bring change.

Democracy still possible

“The lower income sector wants to see inflation, corruption, economic prosperity, education, transportation, and unemployment addressed”

Fahmy Howeidy,

Fahmy Howeidy, a writer on Islamic affairs, believes that given the right conditions, democracy and increased participation in the political process can still be achieved.

“The lower income sector wants to see inflation, corruption, economic prosperity, education, transportation and unemployment addressed,” Howeidy said.

He said Egyptians do not see opposition groups as affecting policy-making in the country.

“It is the government that provides electricity, transportation, and work opportunities,” he said.

Howeidy believes that as more opposition members enter parliament and increasingly hold the government accountable, political interest will rise. 

“It took European democracy 150 years to develop,” Howeidy said, “and if opposition groups address the socio-economic ills – which matter to the people – popular participation will bear fruit.”

Source : Al Jazeera

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