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.
The Genie is Out of the Bottle: Faisal Street on Day One of the Elections
Parallel to the famous Haram Street and near the Giza Pyramids, Faisal Street and the side streets stemming from it largely reflect Egypt’s randomness. Once an agricultural area, Faisal was gradually and informally urbanized by Egyptians from various backgrounds and socioeconomic strata. Peasants who built primitive, awkward-looking buildings on the land that they once cultivated; middle class couples seeking affordable housing amid Cairo’s housing shortage crisis of the 80s; and Egyptian workers and skilled laborers returning from the oil-rich Arab Gulf. By the 2000s, Faisal became the busy, overcrowded Faisal that residents of Giza and Greater Cairo know today: A neighborhood that has imposed itself on the city and changed its face.
Except for a number of not-too-long lines at the polling stations and a few small and feeble pro-Morsi rallies, Faisal street was relatively quiet on the first election day. At the so-called “Awel Faisal” area, where the long street begins, a bearded man in a white galabiyya emerged. When asked whether he would vote, Ashraf Mohammed Hassan gave a confident “yes” and said that he will vote for the leading presidential candidate Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi. Hassan is the secretary general of one of the Salafi Nour Party’s bureaus. The party was allied with the Muslim Brotherhood during the 2011 parliamentary election and the 2012 presidential election that brought the Brotherhood’s Muhammad Morsi to the presidency. But the Nour Party became critical of Morsi during his presidency and sided with the June 30 protests. Its deputy leader Yasser Borhami appeared alongside the then-Defense Minister Sisi as he announced Morsi’s ouster on July 3.
Hassan sounded defensive but enthusiastic as he explained his party’s support for Sisi’s candidacy: “We seek stability and Nour Party’s decision is based on the reality on the ground in Egypt. Sisi ran an important ministry when he was Minister of Defense. Prior to that, he headed the military intelligence. This means that he is capable of running the country. Secondly, all of the state’s institutions support Sisi. Thirdly, the current regional and international situation necessitates Sisi’s presidency.”
Not all of the neighborhood’s Islamists agree with Hassan and his party.
Hundreds of meters away from an uncrowded polling station, a young shop owner and his staff seemed busy with their work–baking and selling fiteer (pies)–and unconcerned about the election. “The three of us are boycotting the election,” said Ahmed, one of the workers at the small fiteer shop. The shop owner, Hamada Mohammadi, nodded in agreement. When asked if they supported the January 25 uprising, Ahmed pointed to his legs. “I was injured during the January 28 protest.” The three said they participated in the so-called Friday of Rage and supported Tahrir Square’s cause since.
But they opposed the June 30 protests. “Protesters were not that many on June 30,” said Ahmed.
“Yes, they were,” Sameh interrupted. A resident of the same street and a friend of the three young men, Sameh supports Sisi.
“Of course you say so–you are a Christian” Ahmed responded.
“I am Christian but we are all friends. Politics and friendship are separate.” The three laughed.
Ahmed said that the turnout for this election is low. “There is a great difference between today and the 2012 presidential election. The turnout was huge in 2012.”
“This is not true,” Sameh interjected. “I stood at a queue for two hours to vote today.”
“Do these polling stations resemble 2012’s polling stations, Sameh? You are a hypocrite.”
When asked about the Nour Party’s stance, Ahmed said that the party “is against Islam.”
“I am not against Islam. I am against terror,” Sameh said. “And I will make the authorities jail you, Ahmed,” he added laughingly.
“Jail? So what? My suffering would be nothing compared to the suffering of the thousands who have been jailed already,” Ahmed said.
A few blocks away, another shop owner in his sixties expressed his strong support for Sisi. He too supports the January 25 Revolution but he thinks the country has been subjected to much turbulence in the past three years. “Only someone like Sisi can rule the country,” he said. The grocery store owner fears Egypt might descend into the Libyan, Syrian, or Iraqi scenario and he is optimistic about Sisi’s rule. But he admits that his son, a law student at university, is boycotting the election.
This generational gap became apparent again when another young man at the same grocery store said that he is boycotting too. When the young sales representative (who spoke on condition of anonymity) started to defend his decision to boycott, the old man reacted angrily. In a subdued, low voice, the young man said, “Most of Egyptians want Sisi. But a large segment of youth do not want him because they do not want military rule. These youth are not with the Brotherhood–they believe the Brotherhood betrayed the country and the revolution, but they are not with military rule either.”
He ended his remarks by echoing a chant that is well known among revolutionary youth for being used in protests against the military and the Brotherhood: “Down with all those who betrayed: Military, felool [remnants of Mubarak’s regime] and [Muslim] Brothers.”
His voice seems lonely amid a pro-Sisi fervor that fills the country and extends to Faisal as well.
Many middle-aged and old women walked through Faisal with their pinked fingers, indicating that they cast their ballots. One woman expressed anger when she was asked for whom she cast her vote: “Of course Sisi. This question should not be asked in the first place.”
Another woman expressed indifference. “I will not vote,” she said. But she denied boycotting. “I work as a bawwaba [building guard] and I came from far away. I cannot travel to my village in Upper Egypt to vote.” The mention of boycotting angered a passerby. “How can she boycott? Isn’t she Egyptian? Is she a traitor?”
The bawwaba did not support Sisi though. “I do not care about this or that candidate. I only want things to improve. That is all what I want.”
The grocery store owner was optimistic that Sisi’s presidency will narrow the gap between classes and bring about social justice so that poor citizens, like this bawwaba, would become better off. He trusted Sisi but was not worried about the future of the country if Sisi turns into another Mubarak: “The Egyptian people will not let that happen. The genie is out of the bottle.”