The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Early campaigning

Tipped off by friend and Egyptian journalist Magdy Samaan, who writes for Masr Al Youm, I went to Bab Sharqeya--the Cairo neighborhood that elected Ayman Nour to parliament and where he holds weekly rallies--to see how it is festooned in pro-Mubarak, anti-Nour posters. Member of the NDP and of various local councils (and the other parliamentarian from the area) have put up these banners just recently. They all pledge allegiance to Mubarak and denigrate Nour (usually not by name) with pretty harsh language. Typical slogans say things such as "Before the [constitutional] reform and after the reform, you will remain, Mubarak, our leader and chief," "Yes to Mubarak, the chief, and no to foreign intervention in Egyptian to foreign agents." The foreign agent suggestion (which is repeated in most banners) clearly targets Nour. Some banners are more explicit, calling him "Ibn Madeleine," the "son of Madeleine Albright" (he met her right before goign to jail). One banner read "Ya Ibn Madeleine, tell us whose son you are. "

Magdy and I went around and talk to shop owners. Most didn't want to give their name (one old man said "I can't speak of politics because anyone who does goes to prison) and some didn't want to give any opinion on the banners, but most said it was the NDP who had put them up, to damage Nour. As one shop-owner said, "the government does this and no one can ask the government what they are doing." This same shop-owner had had two pictures of Mubarak pasted on both side of the door to his shop. He didn't know who had done it, didn't seem particularly happy about it, but he wasn't going to take them down.
Another group we talked to said the posters were put up by NDP supporters and that this was being done because of the elections, because Nour "talked in Parliament," because Nour "talked of freedom." Most of them thought the accusations in the posters were false and that they wouldn't harm his standing in the neighborhood. One thing I noticed is: there is a sort of green area in the middle of the square, surrounded by a metal chain fence and metal pylons at regular intervals. It's a big area and there must be 50 to 100 of these pylons. Posters of Mubarak have been put on every one. And his face has been methodically scratched out on every one also.

What's happening in Bab Sharqeya reminds me of the orchestrated pro-Mubarak demonstration that took place in Tahrir last week. It just shows what a large machine the NDP has at its disposal to fight back against real political challenges. It also maybe shows the NDP is genuinely worried about some of these challenges. And it shows what a disconnect there is between the ruling party and the people, and how callously the NDP capitalizes on the average Egyptian citizen's hesitancy to challenge the authorities or get involved in anything political, and creates these political dioramas that have nothing to do with reality.

The NDP would love to see Nour lose his seat in Parliament. He came out of his 6-week detention swinging, and they're going to put everthing they've got into ousting him from Bab Sharqeya. The question is whether they'll succeed. The neighborhood people I talked to said that unless Nour is convicted and jailed he will win his parliament seat again. There is no denying that he is popular there (probably more popular since going to jail); people say he cares about poor people and are quite taken by some of his populist moves (like when he brought a loaf of subsidized bread into Parliament, said it was inedible, and challenged others to eat it). Whether the government will succesfully get Bab Sharqeya to abandon Nour is going to be fascinating to watch.