Islamists and NDP remnants duke it out on north coast

The winter deluge arrived early in Alexandria, but this year it is different. It is not the rains coming from the Mediterranean, but the showers of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi parliamentary candidates’ posters that coat every wall of the coastal city’s streets and alleys.

It is almost impossible to walk down the street without seeing posters of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and the Nour Party, the political arms of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis respectively. The FJP is even reaching people in their homes, as cars bearing megaphones roam the streets throughout the day, describing the party’s election symbol, which is used to help illiterate voters recognize the party.

Aside from the banners of several ex-members of the dissolved National Democratic Party (NDP) running in the elections, the materials of other parties seeking seats are barely perceptible amid the Islamists’ overwhelming street exhibition.

“Now I have to choose between the Muslim Brotherhood and feloul [remnants of the old regime],” said a passerby to her friend as they walked along the seafront, staring at the huge blue banner of Tarek Talaat Mustafa, a former parliament member representing the NDP, and brother of multi-millionaire businessman Hesham, who is now serving 15 years in prison for plotting to murder a celebrity.

Alexandria has long been known as a hub for Islamists in Egypt. However, the situation in the Mediterranean city is only an exaggerated example of the struggle of the newly formed parties and young candidates in the face of decades-old Islamist forces.

The strong presence of Islamists has forced other political forces, and especially the new parties and young independent candidates, to adopt a defensive tone in campaigns against Islamists.

“How could he who pollutes our streets with his posters clean our country? How would he who calls me an infidel protect your and my religion?” said Wael Ahmed Hanoura, a parliamentary candidate who is running as a single-winner candidate with the Egypt Freedom Party, part of the Revolution Continues Coalition.

The coalition is comprised of the 25 January Revolution Youth Coalition and six other parties from the three main forces of Egypt’s political spectrum: liberals, Islamists and socialists. More than half of the coalition’s candidates across the country are young people running in elections for the first time.

Hanoura, who is also running for the first time, criticized the FJP for sticking posters on the walls and exploiting religion to attract voters.

To differentiate themselves from the FJP and the Nour Party, candidates of the coalition only hang banners and send cars through the streets carrying candidates’ posters.

“We want to give a good example of how a clean elections campaign should be,” Hanoura told to Al-Masry Al-Youm.

Safwan Mohamed, a 27-year-old independent candidate in Alexandria’s Montaza district who is supported by the January 25 Youth Coalition, is also adopting a rather defensive campaigning strategy against his rival Abdel Moneim al-Shahat, a prominent Alexandria Salafi.

Mohamed relies mainly on political awareness in his campaigning.

“I tell people they should not be fooled by those who blackmail them into voting for a certain candidate by giving them charity money and food. I tell them it is an insult to them, as these candidates exploit their poverty to buy votes,” Mohamed said to Al-Masry Al-Youm.

The Brotherhood and Salafis used the Eid prayers last week to enchant voters by distributing various gifts, including sheep branded with the party’s logo, and inviting citizens to attend sermons.

“When people ask me what I am going to give them, I tell them it’s not my role to provide them with products or money. Rather it is drafting laws and monitoring the government to enforce these laws,” said Mohamed.

The energetic young candidate complained that a lack of financial resources, relative to those of the Islamists and ex-members of NDP, represents a major obstacle to success in the elections.

“Unfortunately, if I am to lose this race, it will be because of a lack of campaign promotion,” said Mohamed.

“Although I used to lead tens of thousands of young people in protests during the 18-day uprising — people who know me very well — I am afraid I can’t actually reach out to all of them to let them know I’m running.”

In order to compensate for the deficiency, Mohamed mainly targets youth in his campaign, and relies on supporters who adopt a more youthful approach to promotion, such as drawing graffiti of him in the streets and talking to people in theaters, parks and on public transportation.

Mohamed Saad Khairallah, another candidate representing the leftist Socialist Popular Alliance Party on the Revolution Continues Coalition party lists, shares Mohamed’s sentiments.

“This is an unfair competition between us and the fundamentalist Islamist forces of the dark, funded from the Gulf countries,” said Khairallah.

Khairallah added that his party list has filed three law suits against the FJP for using religious slogans such as “Islam is the solution,” exceeding the cap on campaign spending (set by the High Elections Commission at LE500,000), and tearing down the coalition’s campaign posters.

Meanwhile, dozens of young activists from the April 6 Youth Movement and other sympathetic activists marched through the streets of Alexandria carrying sticks and tore down posters of candidates who are former members of the NDP. They also used black markers to distort their pictures and write “feloul” on them.

“If the legal means didn’t succeed in isolating feloul from politics, then we will do a popular isolation,” said Mahmoud Swaidan, who is participating in the movement.

“It's not only my battle. It's a battle of a whole generation that revolted against the past and present to shape its future,” said Mohamed.

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