CAIRO: Islamist parties face fierce competition from the remnants of the disbanded National Democratic Party (NDP) in the Upper Egyptian province of Qena as voters cast their ballots Wednesday in the second day of the final round of Egypt’s lower house elections.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the Salafi Al-Nour Party and secular parties like the Free Egyptians, Al-Wafd, and Al-Adl restored to tribalism to face the dominance of NDP holdovers who enjoy strong tribal and family connections in the conservative province.
"The division of the constituencies and the locations of the polling stations directly fit the tribal divisions in the province," candidate of Al-Adl Party Ahmed El-Badry told Daily News Egypt Wednesday.
Candidates whose names top party lists dominate the polling stations in their villages, “which means that the votes of this village for example will go to this party list," El-Badry said, citing the same practices that used to happen in previous elections.
The only difference, according to Nada Nashaat, daughter of independent candidate Laila Khalifa contesting a single winner seat in Deshna constituency, is the absence of violence.
"In previous elections, we used to see heavily armed members of big families guarding the polling stations belonging to a certain candidate," Nashaat said.
"Until now, we did not see this phenomenon, but we have to wait and see what will happen during the transfer of the ballot boxes and the vote counting process.”
Khalifa, who is competing against well-known former NDP MP Abdel Rehim El-Ghoul, contested the 2010 elections as an independent on the women’s quota, and won the family seat after gaining the support of her tribe El-Hawara.
El-Hawara, the Arabs and Al-Ashraaf are the three main tribes in the province with the highest rates of illegal arms ownership in Egypt.
Almost all party lists are topped by members of these big tribes as the FJP put two Hawara tribesmen on its party list in Qena’s first constituency, while El-Hureya Party, an offshoot of the disbanded NDP, chose a member of the Arabs tribe to head its list.
Tribalism is the main factor influencing elections in Upper Egypt, “in a society where disobeying the tribe is a disgrace," Assistant Professor of History at the American University in Cairo Zeinab Aboul Magd told DNE in a previous interview.
“Every force is trying to make its way through the tribal system that used to and continues to be primarily controlled by the dissolved NDP, the old regime’s most abhorrent legacy in Egypt," said the Upper Egyptian professor.
"Contesting the elections now will be harder for me as a woman, specifically after cancelling the women’s quota, which means I have to compete against other men from my tribe. So whoever voted for me in the last elections will not be that enthusiastic about voting for me again," Khalifa, who refused to join the NDP lists in the 2010 elections, told DNE earlier.
Copts who are mainly concentrated in Nagaa Hammadi city, in which a drive-by shooting killed worshipers leaving Christmas mass in 2009, are primarily voting for El-Hureya Party, spearheaded by an NDP remnant Hisham El-She’eeny who belongs to the heavily armed Arabs tribe.
"Copts feel threatened amid the growing Islamist presence and need protection, and believe that powerful tribes could protect them in the face of the growing Islamist power," El-Badry said.
Nashaat added that the single winner seats are predominantly contested by Islamists and NDP remnants.
"FJP fielded very good candidates in the professionals seats and has no presence in the workers seats that are mostly fielded by Al-Nour and remnants of the NDP," she said, adding that El-Ghoul is expected to reach the run-offs.
El-Badry agreed, adding that El-Ghoul enjoys strong connections with state institutions and family connections in Qena, in addition to belonging to the heavily armed Arabs tribe.