The smell of French perfume fills the air inside the high-ceilinged hotel hall as well-dressed men and middle-aged, coiffed women pour into the crowded conference, faces glowing with optimistic smiles or betraying looming fear. Some call them the silent majority. And their mass attendance of a parliamentary candidate’s lecture offers a rare view into the world of upper class politics.
Ushers wear matching t-shirts emblazoned with Amr Hamzawy’s face and slogan, “A New Beginning for a New Egypt.” Information packs about the candidate and his campaign are distributed. A middle-aged political science professor and former researcher at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, Hamzawy, who is generally considered to be good-looking and elegant, will likely be this crowd’s man in the upcoming parliamentary contest.
The banquet area fills up rapidly, and it becomes clear that everyone knows each other. Many seem inexperienced in politics — novices trying to gather information before the big day, the day the “big bearded ogre” has the opportunity to invade their lives, covering up women and banning nightclubs and alcohol.
Conversations overheard by Al-Masry Al-Youm offer some glimpses into this world. “We are the couch party and frankly the couch is very comfortable,” says a woman laughingly to her friend.
“What do you think will happen? Something is being cooked and I am expecting a surprise,” says an older man who seems skeptical and fearful. In addition to Arabic, bits of French, English and even Greek were wafting through the air of the five star Sonesta Heliopolis hotel.
They are simple people, mostly hailing from Cairo’s upper and upper middle class. They want to maintain their lifestyle, and this is the impetus for their developing interest in politics. Women want their weekly visits to their high-end hairdressers, and men want their weekly drinks and cigar sessions in a sports bar. If Hamzawy, Donald Duck or Papa Smurf can promise them this, he will be guaranteed their votes.
Maged al-Hosseiny, a 23-year-old marketeer from Heliopolis, is a case in point. He says he is voting for Hamzawy because he is against all Islamic movements. “I knew about Hamzawy’s seminar through a family friend, and I am impressed with his campaign. Islamists don’t scare me but I disagree with having an MP with a strong religious identification representing me in the Parliament.”
“I am voting for Hamzawy because he is a goal-oriented politician and his dreams exceed our expectations,” says Kegham Karsian, a 28-year-old, Christian Heliopolis resident and owner of a jewelry shop. “Hamzawy has wide Christian support because of his liberal views and his call for equality."
During the question-and-answer session following the candidate’s speech, an older woman stands up and complains to Hamzawy that he was quoted in the media as saying the elections would be bloody. “Please take that back because you scared the majority of your female followers,” pleads the woman from across the hall.
“The Muslim Brotherhood is organized, and support for them is growing in Heliopolis by the day; what are you planning to do about that?” asks a man in his 50s. A veiled woman wants to know if the Brotherhood can be “chased out” of the parliament in the unfortunate event that they win the majority of seats.
One would imagine there are few similarities between this event and a 1960s gathering prior to an Om Kalthoum concert, when men and women showed up in suits and furs for a night with the Diva of Cairo. Yet there is a connection. For members of this social class, politics should safeguard the entertainment and leisure activities that mark their lifestyle — a lifestyle they are ready to fight for.