MANSOURA: The rural nature of Daqahleya is likely to boost Islamists’ chances of a landslide win in both the party lists and as independent candidates in the third round of elections, candidates and residents argued.
"Daqahleya is dominated by rural areas, where the Islamist movement has a very strong presence," spokesperson of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) in Daqahleya, Mohamed Youssef, told Daily News Egypt.
“This makes the Islamist movement the most popular in Daqahleya," he added.
Youssef said that liberal and leftist parties and coalitions like Al-Wafd, the Revolution Continues and the Egyptian Bloc were more popular in bigger cities.
The Delta province of Daqahleya is the largest of nine provinces voting in the third round of the elections, accounting for around 4 million eligible voters out of a total of 14 million.
The capital city of Mansoura has the highest number of residents in comparison to the rest of the cities. However, there are 18 towns surrounded by villages representing a huge chunk of the province’s voters.
In towns and rural areas, the rate of illiteracy is a lot higher than the cities, making residents more vulnerable to religious influence, Iman Aboul Eit, head of the Egyptian Coalition for Daqahleya Lawyers, told DNE.
"People in rural areas are less educated and easily influenced by Islamists who preach that voting in their favor would take the voter to heaven, while voting for the liberals would take them to hell," she explained.
Wafiq El-Ghitany, leading member of Al-Wafd Party, echoed Aboul Eit’s opinion saying that the elections have turned into a "religious battle" rather than a "political competition."
"We will never stoop as low as the Islamists and exploit religion in our campaigning; we play politics not religion," said El-Ghitany.
Daqahleya is considered the birthplace of several prominent leaders of Al-Wafd, including Fouad Serag El-Din, founder of the party and leader under King Farouk’s reign, and Secretary General of Al-Wafd Fouad Badrway, who is leading his party’s list in the first constituency.
Youssef said that Al-Wafd has more popularity in Mansoura and the town of Nabarouh.
Daqahleya is also the hometown of several prominent religious figures including Sheikh Mohamed Hassan, a Salafi preacher who presents his own TV program, Ali Qatamesh, vying for a single seat for Al-Nour Party, and preacher Hazem Shuman.
The most popular Sheikh is Mohamed Hassan, according to Daqahleya residents.
"A lot of the voters here are voting for Al-Nour Party because they love Hassan," said Amira Fekry, pharmacy student in Belqas city.
Qatamesh who is competing in the second constituency including Belqas, Talkha, Nabarouh and Gamasa districts preaches in a renowned mosque in Belqas and enjoys wide support.
On his part, Shuman spoke at conferences supporting Al-Nour Party, announcing that Islamic Sharia was the solution, not liberalism or secularism.
"The word of God is the highest, not liberalism or secularism," Shuman was quoted as saying last month in a report by the state-run Ahram online portal.
Shuman, is known for his extreme religious views, as he reportedly tried to prevent a concert by renowned singer Hisham Abbas, because it was in violation of Sharia.
Other controversial figures competing in Daqahleya include Tawfiq Okasha, owner and manager of Al-Fara’een channel and Mubarak loyalist, as well as former judge and lawyer Mortada Mansour.
However residents said that these "media celebrities" were not popular in Daqahleya.
"All the people I know laugh at these media figures, rather than support them," said Mohamed El-Gohary, blogger in global voices and resident of Mansoura.
"Okasha won in previous elections through forgery, not popularity and everyone knows this," he added.
Okasha won a seat for the fallen National Democratic Party in 2010 parliamentary elections, which was condemned for its flagrant violations and vote-rigging.
Residents of Belqas district briefly detained Okasha after one of his supporters attacked residents last month.
"The people here in Belqas hate Okasha and won’t allow him to set foot here," said Fekry.
Okasha later denied the incident, saying the residents invited him over for dinner. He leads the list of the Egyptian Nationalist Party, an offshoot of the now disbanded NDP.
The infamous outspoken lawyer Mansour is contesting a single-winner seat in the fifth constituency of Mit Ghamr and Aga districts. He is facing candidates affiliated with Al-Nour, the FJP and Al-Wafd.
"Our (FJP) candidate Khaled El-Dib is a popular physician in Mit Ghamr and Aga and is a strong contender against Mansour," said Youssef.
On his part, El-Ghitany said that Al-Wafd supporters voted for the party’s independent candidates because of Al-Wafd’s name and reputation, not for the individual candidates.
"For over 100 years we have called for a non-religious government that will serve the people and we will continue calling for this," he added.