Parliamentary Elections Monitor

Note: This is an archived project; no significant changes have been made since parliament was seated in January 2016.

Tourism More Important Than Elections in Hurghada

October 28, 2015 . By Ryan Suto

As Egypt continued voting in the runoff round of the first phase of parliamentary elections, potential voters in the Red Sea resort city of Hurghada were more interested in going about their normal lives than participating in their second chance to cast a ballot in as many weeks.

“I voted last week, but only after they gave us a half-day off,” said Hassan Ahmed, who works at one of the city’s many hotels.

The state announced a half-day holiday for public employees on the second day of last week’s voting after low turnout on the first day. But some private-sector workers like Ahmed also saw voting as an excuse to leave work early, rather than a civic duty.

“Why would I go [vote] again? Do they think we have nothing to do but vote and vote and vote?” he asked while taking a break from work to smoke a cigarette in the central Sekalla district.

But his cavalier attitude to the polls was countered by another voter, who thought that the two-stage system was necessary, although she conceded it had its flaws.

“Some people just want a reason to complain [about the election]. What else could they be doing that was so much more important than voting for the people who are going to represent them in the government?” said Nadia Rashad, an accountant in Hurghada. “The two-part voting system is meant to make sure that there’s a clear winner in the end after both rounds have finished. But they should have done a better job announcing who was competing in the runoffs after the first round. There was lots of confusion about this because the media did not make that clear.”

Voter turnout on the first day of polling in Red Sea governorate last week was reported as only 12.5%. A week later, the relaxed atmosphere of a beachside resort made it easy to forget there was even voting happening. Polling stations were spread out and sparsely populated in some parts of Hurghada, which continued catering to the tourists that contribute heavily to the local economy.

European and Russian visitors strolled along one of Hurghada’s palm tree-lined walking paths, and many Egyptians in Hurghada were more concerned with these travelers than with their compatriots who were asking for their vote.

“Euros, francs, pounds, and rubles in my hand are more important than promises from a politician,” a man selling souvenirs in the al-Dahar district said when asked if he would take time off from his store to vote today.

But the man, who declined to be named, said that the single most important issue to him was the economy, and specifically tourism. “It is not as bad as it once was, but even these tourists are not enough for us to eat bread,” he said, gesturing to the Europeans on the street.

He did not vote because he believed President Abdel-Fattah El Sisi was doing the best job he could to improve the health of the tourism sector. “He will keep us moving forward no matter who is in parliament,” the shopkeeper said.

Hurghada itself was a small fishing village until the 1980s, when the government and foreign investors began gradually enlarging the town until it became one of Egypt’s top Red Sea getaways. But in addition to being a magnet for tourists, Hurghada is the capital of the vast Red Sea governorate, which sprawls from the eastern bank of the Nile to the western coastline of the Red Sea, and stretches from the southern bounds of the provinces of Cairo and Ismailia all the way to the border with Sudan.

Red Sea governorate is Egypt’s third-largest province by land area at about 120,000 square kilometers (about 74,500 square miles), covering some 12% of the country. But in terms of population Red Sea is the third-smallest province. Only 345,000 people live there, and beyond the coastal resorts the governorate is sparsely populated. Over three-quarters of the governorate’s population lives in Hurghada and its environs, emphasizing the relative importance of the provincial capital.

But some took exception to the idea that Hurghada was representative of the whole governorate. Rural residents of the Red Sea province are generally not engaged in the political process, in large part because they do not get much support from the central government in Cairo. Their turnout rate in previous elections has been markedly lower than urban centers in the governorate.

“It is easy to see Red Sea governorate as being all about Hurghada. But there is much more to us than tourists,” said Youssef Ghali. “We have many Egyptians whose tribes have been on the lands of this governorate for years long before there was a Hurghada or a Gouna,” he said, referring to another nearby resort city. “Do their voices not matter unless they decide to come work serving European travelers?”