blast from the past

Egypt poll recalls Mubarak-era political corruption

By Abir Sorour

Posted on November 11, 2020 08:38

egypt election
People wait in line on the first day of the first round of parliamentary election outside a polling station in Giza, Egypt, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

On 7 and 8 November Egypt held the second round of its parliamentary elections which many say harkened back to the times of voter bribery and manipulation under former president Hosni Mubarak.

Outside the Cairo-based Kasr EL-Dobara School, Samia Mohamed, a 36 year-old maid and 13 other middle aged women descend from a minibus carrying voters who will select the candidate of the newly established pro-government party Mostqbal Watan (Nation’s Future).

Mohamed works as a maid in several high rise flats in downtown, while her husband works as a bawab (building guard). She, along with the 13 women, ranging from street vendors to housewives to maids, were bussed in to a meeting point and each given E£200 (about $12) to vote for a specific candidate.

The new NDP?

It appears that the Nation’s Future party is heading in the same direction as the NDP, being the only political player on the scene while the remaining parties are “extras”.

Exploiting people’s poverty and need for material goods have always been a signature mark of Egypt’s electoral politics.

The party was originally formed in 2014 as a youth entity to support the current president in his first term elections. It has the support of retired army and police officers, but also the loyalty of deputy ministers, governors, and mayors of cities and neighbourhoods. It has also welcomed many wealthy businessmen, media and sports personalities, influential tribe leaders, and former judges into its ranks.

Almost daily, state-owned media and pro-army news outlets publish press releases by the party showing officials distributing aid, food rations and blankets to impoverished individuals in various parts of the city.

A source from the party’s higher community tells The Africa Report on condition of anonymity that his party indeed has connections with the state and its institutions. “It is the most powerful party and it is normal to have strong connections with ministries and institutions as the party stays in touch with several officials.”

When asked about voter-buying and intimidation, the source denies that any member violates the election laws. He also refers to the daily reports by the National Elections Authority that said that there were no signs of voter-buying or intimidation. However, even the state-sponsored National Council for Human Rights cited several acts of bribery and prevention of independent observers to enter polling stations.

Hallmark of elections in Egypt

Exploiting people’s poverty and need for material goods have always been a signature mark of Egypt’s electoral politics.

“The people from Nation’s Future gave us E£200 and promised to give us a food rations box if we go and vote,” Mohamed tells The Africa Report, adding that her economic conditions pushed her to accept the deal.

The Kasr EL-Dobara Experimental Language School is less than 300 metres from Tahrir Square where hundreds of pro-democracy protests from the 25 January revolution took place in 2011 calling for the ouster of the regime of autocrat Hosni Mubarak and his dissolved National Democratic Party (NDP).

Fast-forward to today as these parliamentary elections are taking place, and many Egyptians say the actions and the political behaviour of the Nation’s Future party, including its close ties to the Egyptian regime and the security apparatus as well as its unknown funding resources, brings back memories of the corrupt practices of the NDP.

Under the currently ongoing hypernationalist sentiment which sees the elections as a “democratic festival”, the only news coverage allowed (albeit staged) praises the police and army for securing the polling stations or highlighting the participation of the youth or reporting on the application of social distancing.

The Africa Report spoke to several different voters in different districts across Cairo, mostly of working class background,  who confirmed having been approached and coerced by the party and its representatives to participate, vote, or even mobilise others to go to the polling stations.

Sugar and rice and everything nice

In the same neighbourhood, outside the school, the party staged a small tent (50 metres from the polling station) with young volunteers using laptops to help potential voters find their names in the electoral lists. Mohamed Alaa, 36, one of the volunteers, tells The Africa Report that they want people to vote for the party “as it is the only one that is organised and well connected.”

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When asked about the party’s policies towards education and health, none of the five representatives had an answer. However, a senior member, a former army officer who refused to give his name, says that: “The nation should follow one point of view and be in one direction. We can not afford having different visions for how our country can be improved.”

We only hear about these politicians during the elections, but during the past four years they keep passing laws that increase the price of living.

Voters were given a red paper with their number in the voter’s list with a small drawing indicating they should vote for the Nation’s Future.

Samia Radwan, 57, a housewife, says after voting, she took that piece of paper to the state-owned Ministry of Supply warehouse and got a box of food rations that included: rice, pasta, cooking oil, dates, butter, and sugar.

Another voter, Mohamed Said, an unemployed construction worker who lost his job in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, says he received the same box in return for his vote.

“The state of people is worsening. Most of them don’t care about politics or the parliament, but they need to be able to secure food for their children and family,” he adds.

“People are not important to this regime,” says Said’s friend who is also a construction worker. “We only hear about these politicians during the elections, but during the past four years they keep passing laws that increase the price of living.”

Vote for security

In the war torn North Sinai, a city where kidnappings and almost weekly IED attacks take place, the party uses the close alliance between the military and the well-off tribes to round up voters. Long marches were filmed and posted on social media as marketing material for the party’s candidates.

Salem Al-Edwa, 32, a farmer from Arish, says that he and his family members got E£300 each to go and vote for the Nation’s Future candidate.

“We were also told to come at once so the television station can take pictures and videos of the crowd,” he says by phone.

However neither Al-Edwa nor his family went to vote. “We are proud people who do not sell our votes for money. We may be poor, but our dignity is priceless.”

Al-Edwa nevertheless doesn’t  want to criticise other residents who took the money and voted. “Sinai residents are the most impoverished and marginalised. In addition to that we face daily danger and harassment either from the army or from the militants.”

Awad Salem, a party member in North Sinai, however denies the party is “distributing bribes”, but refers to it rather as “aid to the poor”, and describes it as a “part of the party’s objectives to help the community in times of economic hardship.”

‘The party said so’

In Abbasyia, Cairo, Mohamed Al-Atrash, 35, a minibus driver, was threatened by members of the traffic police to put the logo of the party on his vehicle and told to make his way to the headquarters of the party to transport voters to the polling stations for free. Al-Atrash says that several other minibuses as well as tuk-tuk drivers were subjected to the same treatment.

“An officer took away my licence and asked me to report to the party’s headquarters to transport old people to different polling stations,” he says. “I was told after the revolution that this kind of behaviour would end. But it’s even worse now and oppression is even worse.”

“The same used to take place in 2010 when the NDP won the majority of votes in the elections. They used to force everyone to go transport people to polling stations,” he adds.

In exchange for his cooperation, Al-Atrash was given a bag of food rations.

In the working class area of Matariya, a former stronghold to the now outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group, Mohamed Safwat, a shop owner, says he was forced by officials of the party to distribute soft drinks and snacks to the voters who were arriving.

Near the Mohamadya School where a six-year old stencil reads “Sisi is a killer”, a common way to spread dissent back in 2014, today numerous posters for the Nation’s Future candidates dominate the walls.
“When I complained to the police, they told me that this party will soon be the rulers and that I have to make peace with them. They told me that the party will protect me in the future so I have to be nice,” he says.

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Safwat adds that the candidates are already from wealthy families who used to run with the NDP during  Mubarak’s era, and have very good connections with the police and the local municipalities.

“I can not oppose them otherwise I will go beyond the sun [go to jail]”

Indeed, in a video that went viral last month (see below), a senior party member, Ibrahim Aglan, said in a public popular conference that his party is “a copy of the National Democratic Party and holds control and power and is favoured by the state’s officials.”

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