Parliamentary Elections Monitor

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

Voting Continues in Fayoum Day After Bomb Defused

October 19, 2015 . By Ryan Suto

Overshadowing Egypt’s parliamentary elections is the specter of violence by Islamist militants, whose campaign against the government has killed hundreds in recent years. While the first two days of polling have gone off without major incidents, there have been attempted attacks. One such attempt happened in the city of Fayoum, about 100 kilometers south of Cairo, on Sunday, the first day of voting.

On Monday in Fayoum, voters at al-Qahafa Primary School entered and exited the building as normal under the watch of a number of police and security officers. The four polling stations in the school were open for business, a day after an improvised bomb was found outside the campus.

Nadwa Salah said she was coming to vote yesterday when she saw that the school had been surrounded by police responding to the improvised explosive device.

“I turned around and went back home. I didn’t know when they would be done disarming the bomb. Or maybe there were more inside the school,” Salah said. “Voting is not worth my life,” the 44-year-old housewife said, though she was back on Monday to try to cast her ballot again.

Egyptians around the school said that at first glance yesterday’s bomb looked like any regular pressure cooker. What gave it away as a possible explosive device were wires sticking out of it. One said he saw it being thrown out of a car, which then sped off.

“We have not yet arrested anyone for the attempted attack yesterday,” a police officer outside of the school said, declining to give his name. Though the improvised explosive device was defused, it is a reminder of the extremist threat Egypt faces.

In the remote but strategic Sinai Peninsula, Islamists—including the Egyptian affiliate of Islamic State since last year—has killed scores of police officers and soldiers since President Muhammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was ousted from power in 2013. In cities in mainland Egypt, including Cairo and others, improvised bombs and bursts of gunfire have killed security forces and civilians at checkpoints, courthouses, and other symbols of state authority.

Among voters in Fayoum, the threat of militant attacks seemed to boost the popularity of President Abdel-Fattah El Sisi. While Sisi himself is not on the ballot, he remains the political point of reference for many Egyptians, who see him as a strong leader capable of tackling Egypt’s many problems, from the economy to security.

“We want a parliament that will help the president crush the terrorists who plant bombs at schools and who scare tourists away from Egypt,” said Hussein al-Shami at another Fayoum polling station. He said he was voting for the Free Egyptians Party, which is running with the broader “For the Love of Egypt” coalition.

Sisi, who has wielded legislative as well as executive powers in the absence of a parliament, has signed laws enhancing the powers of the security services. Government critics say this has curbed Egyptians’ rights, while supporters say it is a necessary response to the extremist threat. And on Monday, each side claimed that the attempted bombing furthered their argument.

“What is the point of all the protestors they put in jail and all the surveillance and all the laws if they still haven’t been able to stop the bombs?” asked Mahmoud, a young man who gave only his first name and said he was not voting, though he had voted at all other elections since the January 25 Revolution of 2011.

“This [attempted bombing] is exactly why the army and the police need more of our support. Those who are only worried about more protests don’t care about the security of Egypt,” Gamal Ali said. He had voted for the For the Love of Egypt list.

In the rest of the governorate of Fayoum, outside its capital of the same name, voting was light, with some rural polling stations seeing only one or two voters in an hour. The government had given public sector employees a half-day off on Monday, in the hopes it would boost turnout on this final day of voting for the first phase, not including the runoffs scheduled for next Monday, if necessary.

“I wasn’t planning on coming to vote today, but I heard we had a partial holiday. So on my way home from work I stopped by to vote,” Ayman Hamdi said outside of a school that served as a polling station.

But it was not clear that the holiday had a dramatic effect on turnout. Most of those voting were supporters of Sisi and his policies, and said they would have come to vote regardless of the holiday.

“The day off doesn’t matter. If you want to vote you come vote, before or after work. I know lots of people who took the half-day off and still didn’t vote,” Hamdi said.