In Alexandria, the Brotherhood strives to restore a lost stronghold

At 7 pm on Saturday, Muslim Brotherhood members gathered at the Freedom and Justice Party’s general secretariat in Alexandria to perform the sunset prayers following long hours monitoring the electoral process on the first day of the presidential runoff.

Before the start of the prayers, Atef Aboul Eid, media spokesperson for the party in Alexandria, said "enemies of the revolution" want to tarnish the image of the Brotherhood at any cost by saying it paid bribes and killed revolutionaries.

The Brotherhood's rival in the election, Ahmad Shafiq, the last premier under toppled President Hosni Mubarak, had blamed the group for assaults on protesters in Tahrir Square on 2 February 2011. The attacks, which came to be known as the Battle of the Camel, are widely believed to have been perpetrated by supporters of Mubarak and members of the National Democratic Party (NDP).

Aboul Eid described Alexandria as a revolutionary city that will not allow former regime members to return to power.

In the first round of the presidential election, Nasserist candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi finished first in the coastal city, followed by former Brotherhood member Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh. Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsy ranked third.

"The majority of those who voted for Sabbahi and Abouel Fotouh are not hesitant about going to Morsy. He is now the official candidate for the revolution," Eid said.

Mohamed Hassanein, 28, voted for Morsy. He picked Sabbahi in the first round. “I am not a supporter of the Brotherhood. But since Parliament has been dissolved, voting for Shafiq would help the former regime return as though there had never been a revolution.”

A court ruling Thursday deemed unconstitutional the electoral law used in the parliamentary elections, and so Parliament has been dissolved.

Eid says the ouster of Abouel Fotouh would prevent the splintering of votes since the majority of those who voted for him will now shift to Morsy, with Salafi support for him almost guaranteed.

The Salafi Dawah and the Salafi-oriented Nour Party announced their support for Morsy in the runoffs. However, there are no signs that Salafis were particularly mobilized to vote in the presidential election, unlike in the parliamentary polls which placed the Nour Party second with 121 seats in Parliament.

Alexandria, traditionally known to be a Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood stronghold, has approximately 6 million residents. It has one of the biggest electorates across Egypt, with an estimated 3.6 million voters in 17 constituencies.

Eid added that members of the party were trained to explain the Brotherhood's Renaissance Project and to focus on responding to rumors about the Brotherhood. They were also trained to mobilize votes for Morsy by persuading their family members and friends to pick him.

"Shafiq has the support of the media, represented by state-run television, as well as the NDPs electoral machine, which is back to work. But we know how to exercise politics on the ground, which is what Shafiq's campaign lacks."

Several residents of working-class districts in Alexandria, particularly Assafra, one of its largest neighborhoods, told Egypt Independent that members from the Morsy campaign gave them one kilo of meat and supplies of sugar and oil to lure them to vote for the Brotherhood.

Meanwhile, members of the Shafiq campaign said they believe Alexandria is a city that has a revolutionary nature, particularly as their candidate ranked fifth in the first round. Samir al-Battikhy, the coordinator for Shafiq's campaign in Alexandria said, "In the 2005 presidential election, liberal candidate Ayman Nour ranked first in the city — ahead of Mubarak — which is conclusive proof that this city is revolutionary," he said. "But we feel that Shafiq's chances will be better in the runoff."

"We operate differently from the Morsy campaign," Battikhy, a former NDP member of the Alexandria City Council, added. "They depend on stirring up the electorate's fears about the return of the former regime and the tight security grip. We, on the other hand, talk about our candidate and his achievements."

"I was a member of the NDP, but this is not a drawback; in the end, we're all Egyptians. I assure you, the campaign is not financed by former party leaders in the governorate for they are all outside the country and do not want to appear on the political scene anymore."

The visibly low turnout reported in Alexandria so far renders it difficult to predict which of the two candidates will emerge victorious. But many today remain uneasy about both candidates.

Sherif Ahmed, 27, said, "I voted for Sabbahi in the first round. This time I will vote for neither Shafiq nor Morsy, because it is like choosing between bad and worse."

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