Egypt election meets apathy in Islamist stronghold
The young man scratched his beard and shrugged, dismissing President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s call to vote in parliamentary elections on Sunday: “I’m boycotting. They didn’t respect my choice the first time so what’s the point?”
Egypt has had no parliament since June 2012, when a court dissolved the democratically elected main chamber, dominated at the time by the Muslim Brotherhood, reversing a major accomplishment of the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.
Staggered elections that began on Sunday are meant to restore democracy, but in this Brotherhood stronghold just outside Cairo, the walls betray a bitter experience with elections that is keeping many away from the polls.
Around Kerdasa, graffiti proclaims allegiance to Mohamed Mursi, the Brotherhood official elected as president in 2012 and removed by the army after protests by Egyptians complaining of a lack of security and economic mismanagement.
The words “constitution of blood”, daubed on a grimy wall, hark back to a constitutional referendum held in early 2014, after then-army chief Sisi removed Mursi and cracked down on the Brotherhood but before he won a presidential vote himself.
And on a side street, simply one word: boycott.
“The regime’s vision will be carried out whatever happens,” said a 32-year-old pharmacist who also said he would not vote.
“Let’s be fair, Mursi tried to exclude other voices too and Sisi came and excluded others. What we need is more inclusive politics. The country is bigger than one man or one party.”
Declining to give his name, the pharmacist said he planned to take his family and leave Egypt: “I can only see a dead end.”
Near the centre of Kerdasa, the blackened walls of an abandoned police station remind passers by of its turbulent history.
The police station was attacked on Aug. 14, 2013, the day Egyptian security forces cleared two protest camps in Cairo, killing hundreds of Mursi supporters in one of the bloodiest episodes in Egypt’s modern history.
Egyptian security forces have rounded up thousands of Brotherhood members since Mursi’s ouster and a ban on the movement. They include 151 people sentenced to death last year for their role in the attack in which a dozen policemen were killed.
Protests still break out here sometimes and police have raided homes as part of their crackdown on Islamist opposition. But some residents said life in Kerdasa, where women walk the streets dressed from head to toe in black veils and cars share dirt roads with donkeys and carts, had returned to normal.
“People have a bad impression of Kerdasa. They think it is full of terrorists but it’s not,” said pensioner Mansour Mohamed, 67, as he returned from the ballot box.
The polling station abutting the dusty graveyard on the edge of Kerdasa was all but empty.
Hopeful candidates appeared to be ferrying small groups of voters to the polling station. Mohamed said his candidate offers services and gives handouts to 1,000 local families.
It is the kind of patronage politics many voters, whether they sympathise with the Islamists or not, say smacks of the Mubaraka era.
“I’m not voting. My father has passed away and if he came out of the ground and ran I wouldn’t vote because the people who run do it for themselves,” said a clean shaven man who declined to give his name. “They do nothing. They change nothing.”
Hidden around the corner from the school where voters were casting their ballots, an armoured personnel carrier was parked, its black-clad special forces ready to confront any trouble.
Earlier in the day a sound bomb, used to scare, not harm, exploded near the polls. It was not clear who was responsible for the blast, which served as a reminder of the discontent that bubbles beneath the surface in some parts of Egypt.
“In my view, Islam is the solution. Mursi was the best president to rule Egypt but he was still weak…” said Sabri Tawfiq Abu Hussein, as he watered plants at the roadside.
“We need people to get the economy going, to reduce prices, to bring back tourism. Look at me. I have a degree in commerce from Al Azhar university and I am working as a gardener.”