Menufiya: Back to 2005
BY SARAH EL SIRGANY
Menufiya: Little has changed at the birthplace of ousted president Hosni Mubarak and some of his top aides since the 2005 and 2010 legislative elections. Now as then, the network of the National Democratic Party (NDP) is in control, the opposition Muslim Brotherhood is a minority, and the vote is going to the candidate backed by the state.
The regime-sanctioned violence of the 2005 PA elections aside, covering the election in Menufiya was almost like time travel.
In the first round, ex-air force commander Ahmed Shafik swept the polls at the Delta province, winning over 50 percent of the votes, his highest rate countrywide.
But his performance wasn’t a surprise.
The province is dominated by two stalwarts of the now disbanded NDP who maintained good relations in their constituency unfazed by death or imprisonment.
“Yes Ahmed Ezz was a thief, but he served us well,” Ahmed Fouad, a car mechanic, told me, about the NDP’s chief whip who is now serving a prison sentence for corruption. “His office is still running and helping people out.”
In Sars Al-Layyan, the cluster of villages at the heart of Ezz’s constituency with an estimated 40,000 voters, the Brotherhood remains a minority. Shafik posters and banners are plastered in every nook and cranny. The roving tok-toks are blasting Shafik songs. Those who shyly put up posters promoting the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi are subjected to intimidation.
According to Hatem Abdel Aziz, a poultry feed vendor, a man armed with a Molotov cocktail and a knife attacked four shops carrying Morsi posters last Wednesday. One of the shops was owned by Nabila Motawe’, who ran unsuccessfully on the Freedom and Justice Party’s list in the recent parliamentary elections. She claimed that police and residents allowed the assailant to escape, even though it wasn’t the first time he attacked them. The fight started when he told the shop owners to take down the posters.
That was the height of the tension in a small web of buildings which make up the urbanized center of a stretch of fields and villages. The lack of heated competition — the MB supporters are aware of their minority status — leads to less tension than what was evident in other provinces. The accusations of vote buying or influencing and intimidating voters are still being hurled by both sides, but on election day, arguments didn’t lead to fistfights in Sars Al-Layyan.
According to Judge Bassem Aboul Rous, voter turnout was slightly higher in the committee he was supervising than during the same period on the first round.
“If we go on at the same rate, turnout could reach up to 70 percent by the end of the second day of voting,” he told me early Saturday afternoon. In rural areas where farming chores decide residents’ daily schedules, voters are expected in bigger numbers as soon as the sun goes down.
Voters there have long supported the NDP. Ali Eddin Awad, a 64-year-old military veteran, voted for it in 2005 and 2010. In the nearby Bagour, the late Kamal El-Shazly made sure the residents were always happy. Ezz did the same and many voters still remember him with gratitude for offering a helping hand when necessary.
Thus supporting Shafik, whose rallies and press conferences last week featured some of the top NDP officials, is the obvious choice for most of the residents. The NDP network is part and parcel of the village structure.
Outside one polling station, Shafik supporters were grinning as they declared: “We are felool here.” The word “felool” means remnants of the old regime is a badge of honor in Sars Al-Layan.
In a polling station in the Shenoufa village a few kilometers away, Sawsan Mohamed put it more bluntly. “I voted Shafik because of his affiliation to the former regime,” the 33-year-old housewife explained. For her, being a member of the Mubarak regime was equivalent to knowledge and experience in state affairs.
Her aspirations are no different from the hopes of those who are voting for Morsi. At the same station, Ali Kamel complained of dire economic conditions, low pay and little chances of improving his life. The 58-year-old government employee served in the military, so did his brothers, and he complained of low wages for conscripts and lack of insurance for his family when he dies. He’s bitter about favoritism and the black market.
“We want the country to be stable, but without slavery. The old regime has ended,” he said.
The support for Shafik and the NDP network doesn’t mean all residents are against the revolution, although the young activists there believe the spirit of Jan. 25 has barely touched their hometowns.
“I believe in the revolution and its achievements. Now the president is only allowed [two terms] and can be voted out,” Mohamed explained.
Ahmed Farahat, 58, agreed. On the road connecting Menouf and Shebien dotted with illegally constructed buildings, the electrical engineer, father-of-five explained the connection. He was voting Shafik but said the revolution is a guarantee that as president he’ll never be corrupt like the NDP leadership, which he and others blamed for limiting the scope of progress promised by their pre-2011 MPs.
His aspirations and needs were not much different from Kamel’s who voted for Morsi.
At least a kilometer away from the nearest polling stations, the group of farmers and their families standing around Farahat had similar hopes. Their frustrations were growing. In the last harvest season the potatoes were left to rot in the fields; the buyer that used to export them was out of business. Unemployment rates meant that their children who have with university degrees still depended financially on their parents.
They insist that the buildings they constructed on fertile land are not the reason why they were voting for Shafik, who had promised to seek compromises in dealing with such violations.
“We build because we need a place for our families to live in. The land and its proceeds are all we have.” With a crippling fuel crisis and rising fertilizer prices in the black market, they can only pin their hopes on the corn fields stretching to the following bloc of buildings.
But Nagwa Ibrahim, an unemployed mother of two had something else to say. Helping her neighbors articulate their concerns, she seemed more burdened by them. Yet she didn’t vote in the first round and wasn’t planning to in the runoff. Bitter, she explained that to her, neither candidate presented hope or solutions.