Note: This is an archived project. No substantial updates have been made to it since the summer of 2014, shortly after President Abdel-Fattah El Sisi was sworn in after winning the 2014 presidential election.
Asyut: Voting Against the Brotherhood on Day One of Elections
Hajj Farouk Moustafa parked his car on the right side of the road, and his wife Hajja Ansaf Sultan stepped out. She smiled at him gently as she closed the car door behind her and headed towards her polling station. The few boring minutes Hajj Farouk spent in his car in the noontime heat in Bandar Asyut while his wife was fulfilling her patriotic duty were a golden opportunity for discussion on this, the first day of Egypt’s presidential elections. I headed over to Hajj Farouk and we had a nice conversation that lasted a few minutes. Hajj Farouk, 72, voted today for Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi. Two years ago, his vote in both rounds of the presidential elections had gone to now-removed president Muhammad Morsi.
All day, until I left Asyut at 6:30 PM, the turnout for the voting polls was low, and most of the people I met had voted for Sisi. Despite their varied opinions, leanings, and views of political events since the January revolution, they all agreed that the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood was an evil that needed to be eliminated.
“I voted for Morsi because there was no other choice,” was how Hajj Farouk tried to justify his vote for Morsi in 2012. This time, Hajj Farouk sees a “man of state and politics” in his chosen candidate, Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi. His wife was his partner in his voting decision, having also voted for Morsi before and for Sisi this time around. Hajja Ansaf described their choice to vote for Morsi as “the mistake of a lifetime:” a mistake she came to correct today by voting for Sisi.
The governorate of Asyut, especially Bandar Asyut, is unique in that it sees a high Coptic political presence, particularly in comparison to other governorates; in this election, most of Asyut’s Coptic Christians are voting for Sisi. Some claim that this selection comes as a mandate from the Church. While this is not an official instruction, a Coptic friend did tell me that some priests have tried to amiably direct their congregations to vote for Sisi.
The Christians I interviewed agree with Hajj Farouk on the importance of getting rid of the Muslim Brotherhood and moving forward from the bad experiences of the past. Inas Adel, one of the citizens of Asyut who voted for Sisi explained: “We had to go out on June 30 to get rid of the authority that had turned into individual authority instead of a democratically elected civil authority.”
The removal of the Brotherhood regime won Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi a lot of popularity among Egyptians, which we see today in the many emotional acts of people who are moved by gratitude to this “hero” who freed them from the rule of a group that threatened their lives and their safety. Sisi’s popularity, however, seems to be dwindling. The number of voters today may be less than any other vote since the January revolution, which pushed Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb to give all state employees an official holiday on Tuesday, May 28, to help increase the number of voters.
The importance of the number of voters stems from the legitimacy crisis the government is suffering from after the removal of Muhammad Morsi. The Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters claim that what happened that day was a coup against legitimacy, despite the vast numbers of opponents who went to the streets in their millions calling for the removal of Morsi and early presidential elections.
The language of the state and the state-supporting media has focused on the importance that the number of voters in this election exceed the numbers that brought Morsi to power and that turned out in elections during the Brotherhood’s time in power. The argument is that this would send a message to the world that most Egyptians agree with the transitional government’s roadmap and that Morsi’s removal occurred with overwhelming popular support. Meanwhile, Sisi’s popularity after Morsi’s removal was eroded by the attacks that some of his supporters lodged at the January revolution, as well as the actions of the transitional government in stifling protests and killing a number of civilians on the streets. His popularity has also been hurt by the vagueness of his electoral program and a number of faux-pas in his television interviews, used by youth on social media as material for sarcasm and jokes.
Sally Yousri, a student at Asyut University, said she will not participate in the elections. She even said she would not call that boycotting. Sally decided to ignore the elections thanks to the rights violations her fellow students across Egypt’s universities are experiencing at the hands of the state. Although she said she was not against June 30 because she wanted to see the Muslim Brotherhood removed, Sally says that what happened after that day has made her hate everything about it. She says that “there are thousands of people in jail, including students. Student protests are being stifled and [students] get shot, and Azhar students are being silenced. All these things make me not even want to think about the elections.”
In spite of everything, Sisi still has enough popularity to become president, especially amidst a seeming nonchalance about elections from the Egyptian population, reflected in the low turnout of the first day.
At some point, I had lost hope in finding any voters who had voted for Sisi’s opponent, Hamdeen Sabahy. Fate, however, sent me two Coptic friends who had, in fact, voted for him. Joseph Gamal and Mina Hani voted for Sabahy knowing full well that his chances were slim. They wanted, however, to prove that they were not with Sisi, even though they had previously supported June 30.