Parliamentary candidates come out to play

Monday’s field trip was to Manshiet Nasser, an ashwaeya (poor residential neighborhood) bordering the northern cemetery, between the autostrade and the Muqattam. Nothing too dramatic happened, but I thought I’d write down my notes, because I saw an unusual number of banners for the November 2011 parliamentary candidates. Even though candidate registration technically doesn’t start until September, I think a lot of people are taking advantage of Ramadan to start publicizing themselves and the “services” which the can offer to the constituency.
I went initially because there’s a large Coptic community of zabbaleen (trash collectors) living up against the cliffs. There had been sectarian clashes in March, and I wanted to follow up on cases of sectarian violence to see if there had been any noticeable aftermath, be it either reconciliation efforts or lingering tensions with the neighbors. In this case, residents said that there hadn’t been, as the clashes had involved Salafis/baltagiya from outside the area. I was struck, however, by the amount of electoral banners that had been put up alongside the autostrate, so I figured that this looks like a good potential case study area for 2011 electioneering. In addition to Manshiet Nasser and the zabbaleen area (aka, the Zarayeb, or pig-pens) this district also includes the northern cemetary, the cliff-straddling slum of Dweiqa, and the Jamaliya part of old Cairo.
Manshiet Nasser is fairly accessible to an outsider ecause it runs along an old railway embankment overlooking the autostrade and the cemetary. Thus, it’s easy to scan and see who all the candidates are, and also most of them seemed to have some sort of “service” office — a charity, I presume — on the main embankment street or in an adjoining alley.
The banners included one self-declared “revolutionary youth”, Hasan Salah, who unlike some “youth” politicians, did indeed look young. His banner also pointed out that he had the endorsement of the Zaghbali clan. Others included Hany Margan (who had a small charitable center with shiny new ambulance on the embankment), Shehat Ahmed Husseiny, Mohammed al-Maliky and Daker Abd al-Lah. One banner explicitly invited the citizenry to call upon him for “services”. None bore a party affiliation, and a couple of youths to whom I spoke said that there was a prejudice against parties in general. There were leftover posters for the two successful NDP candidates from 2010, Ayman Salah Muqled and Haydar al-Baghdadi (whose base is in the cemetary across the street — more on that in a bit). I was told that most of these candidates were businessmen, although I will need to verify that at a later point. I did not come across any candidates associated either with the Brothers or with a Salafi movement, although one might emerge later.
In the Christian quarter, I spoke at length to Shahat al-Muqadas, the “naqib” of the zabbaleen, who had nominated himself as a candidate in 2010. He was holding court outside the “National Unity” coffeeshop on the main road running through the zabbaleen house up to the Samaan cliffside church. He said that he had taken 5000 votes, but would have received many more had it not been for fraud. He did not intend to run in the 2011 elections because of poor security. The country “broke his leg and is still on crutches.” Neither he nor anyone else mentioned any specific threats or incidents in the region since March, but they felt intimidated because of their small numbers and the high profile of the Salafis/Ikhwan. Also, he said, “we don’t have any political wish” — as I took it, no particular need to have a candidate of their own in parliament. (The zabbaleen do have a lot of NGO contacts, and thus probably do not need a parliamentary intermediary with the governor, as do a lot of more obscure areas).
I walked back through the cemetaries, and in the shadow of the Barquq mosque complex I came across a group of supporters of one of the NDP incumbents, Haydar al-Baghdadi. The banner over their cafe read, “Aswan has the High Dam, Giza has the Pyramids, Eilat Seif (which could mean either the predominant local clan, or the neighborhood, or both) has Haydar al-Baghdadi.” After verifying from my passport that I was not an Israeli agent, we had a brief chat. They said that Baghdadi was from the “opposition” wing of the NDP, and that he may well indeed run again in 2011. They also wanted to emphasize that they did not hate Mubarak and did not think that he deserved to be tried — although the corrupt ministers and others around him, they were fine with trying them.

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