SOHAG/CAIRO: Residents of Sohag complain that their governorate is abandoned, its resources wasted and the prominent role it played in history overlooked.
The governorate, from which King Menes who unified Upper and Lower Egypt into a single kingdom ruled Egypt, lies in the south of Egypt, divided by the River Nile and surrounded by beautiful scenery.
Sohag has four industrial zones: two in Akhmim, and two in Tahta and Gerga, in addition to microenterprises in the cities that are mostly related to food and beverages.
The governorate’s economic foundation is based on agriculture. However, its roads and infrastructure have a long way ahead.
Kariman Mohamed, an activist from Sohag, believes that the governorate was not given the opportunity to develop like other Upper Egyptian governorates such as Assiut or Minya.
“We don’t have one culture center or even one bookstore. Television is the only means of entertainment but is the media the best way to change a person’s mindset in a positive manner?” Mohamed asked.
The home of approximately four million citizens faces many political and socio-economic challenges, starting with reaching out to the media.
“When we try to reach one of the highly reputed media outlets, they ignore us,” Mohamed said, “Unless there’s a catastrophe, the rest of Egypt never hears any news about us. But we do have our own daily paper, Akhbar Sohag.”
Representation in parliament
Many observers expected the dismantled National Democratic Party wealthy members to dominate the parliamentary seats up for grabs in the governorate.
However, it was the Islamists who won the lion’s share as voters cast their ballots in favor of the Salafi Al-Nour Party and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party.
Hamdi Hazem, an NDP candidate who since the 2000 elections had been representing Sohag in parliament, didn’t earn enough votes this round ushering in a new era in Sohag.
However, many residents of Sohag expressed concerns about the Islamists’ win.
A number of residents and activists in the rural city of Akhmim said they were worried Salafis would close down the mosques in all the villages on Fridays, forcing people to go to Salafi-affiliated mosques.
“Sometimes they even would come here in front of these hotels on the Nile to prevent scheduled parties from taking place. At the end the hotels lost hope and stopped holding any parties,” said Amin Hegazy, a member of the Sohag Youth Coalition.
“The people are not motivated to fight; they are willing to live in corruption. Whether the governorate progresses or not, it’s not their business as long as you give them food and water,” said Sanna Saad Tawfik, a Shoura Council candidate of Al Wafd Party.
“Moreover, they just follow what the church and mosque instructs them to do,” she added.
During the elections, voters said the economy was their top concern, assuring their vote will go to candidates that can help develop the governorate’s economy and increase its income.
“People here are stuck with Salafi and FJP candidates; there are no other political parties. Others have their internal problems and are disconnected from the people, which is why it makes sense that Salafis and FJP candidates get the majority even with people voting on the basis of tribalism,” said Mohamed Shehata, general coordinator of the Sohag Youth Coalition.
But will Islamist parties help the governorate develop? Tawfik believes that the answers lie with people.
“Change is very difficult in such a tenacious environment; it requires effort. We hope for the best to come but people have to be willing to change,” she said.