A day of elections: In Damietta, different Islamic parties dominate

Three Islamist parties fought for votes in the city of Damietta yesterday, where residents expressed little interest in liberal parties.

The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, Salafi-led Nour Party and moderate Islamist Wasat Party were widely seen as the front-runners, as crowds gathered at polling stations clustered around the city's center.

Alaa Mohamed Sowely, 27, voted — for the first time in his life — yesterday for the Freedom and Justice because members of the group had provided his mother with medicine when she was sick.

They are more organized,” said Amr Moussa, a lawyer also backing the party. “They have political experience from the last 80 years.”

Essam Sultan, who tops the Wasat Party's list in the district, was camped out in a small office in downtown Damietta yesterday, surrounded by men huddled over their laptops monitoring the elections.

His party, formed by former Brotherhood members who split from the group 15 years ago to pursue more moderate Islamist politics, has fought against the Brotherhood's efforts to brand itself as a democratic party.

Their model of Islamist politics did not look like this over the past 30 years,” said Sultan, who worked with secular leaders to protest former President Hosni Mubarak's rule in 2005 and has a record of promoting a more tolerant Islamic vision. “Our model has not and will not change.”

Buoyed by Sultan's strong reputation in Damietta, Wasat is challenging the country's more powerful and conservative Islamist parties.

Osama al-Naghy, 31, who runs an import and export company, plans to vote for Sultan even though he is fed up with all parties.

Every party is pursuing its own interests,” he said. “But Essam Sultan is a good politician. He has legal experience and will represent the people well.”

The only liberal party with a strong presence in the rural Damietta Governorate is the Freedom Party, whose local list is led by former National Democratic Party (NDP) member Galal al-Alfy. The party has paid people to vote for them, said April 6 Youth Movement member Mahmoud Masry, an accusation leveled in past elections at the former ruling party, which was disbanded in April.

Even if they return, no one will vote for them,” said Saad Shaya, 35, a painter who voted for the Nour Party list. This sentiment shared by many on the streets in Damietta yesterday.

Masry said former NDP members make up 60 percent of the top candidates on party lists in Damietta, and appear on lists run by the Freedom and Justice and Nour parties. Campaign banners for the Freedom Party were hung on Damietta's main streets and cars were decorated with the image of Sayed al-Reedy, an independent candidate many accuse of supporting the Mubarak regime, in a white and gold robe.

The Adl Party, formed by young activists who took part in revolutionary protests this year, has struggled to raise awareness in the governorate. Al-Masry Al-Youm was unable to locate one voter around the polling stations yesterday who knew of the party.

Taher Batta, 33, who leads the party's list in Damietta, said they suffered from a lack of funds.

People like the Muslim Brotherhood because they give oil, sugar and money to them,” Batta said. “Where is Islam?”

Batta claimed to be the youngest candidate topping an electoral list in Damietta and said people had a hard time understanding that a young person could play a leading role in a party.

After the revolution, everyone cried for the youth to lead the country,” he said. “But when the elections came, no one put the youth at the top of their list.”

Batta hoped to pull in strong support from his village on the outskirts of town.

Mohamed Kamal, a local journalist, praised the voting process yesterday afternoon. “This is the first time in 30 years I feel like the vote is going smoothly,” he said.

A 70-year-old man exited a school building converted into a polling station smiling. “It's better than the elections under Nasser,” said Faten Fahmy. “There are no fake ballots and we can vote for who we want.”

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