In Egypt elections, secular parties rally to stop Islamist tide
Ahead of today's second round in Egypt elections, secular candidates took a page out of the Islamists' book and engaged in a punishing schedule of grass-roots campaigning.
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Liberal parties were criticized for weak outreach in the first round, relying too heavily on banners and television ads and leaving the street campaigning to the Brotherhood and Nour. In Suez, the Free Egyptians Party has taken that criticism to heart. Ramy Yaacoub, a senior campaign strategist for the party, says the campaign staff in Suez worked in Cairo and Alexandria during the first round. They’ve combined their expertise in the small governorate, pushing a more on-the-ground approach since they arrived.Skip to next paragraph
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“In Cairo we had mass media and huge billboards and talked to community leaders. Now we have more talking to individuals, the voters themselves, while still trying to maintain contacts with [community leaders like] a group of physicians, or leadership of a community like the Sufis,” says Mr. Yaacoub. “Also we did not rely so heavily on printed advertising. We've been using more of a word-of-mouth campaign. Suez is a small governorate and small community and word travels fast in small communities.”
But rumors travel fast, too. Many parties have accused the Free Egyptians Party, which was founded by billionaire Christian Naguib Sawiris, of being anti-Islam. In Suez, the party has worked to quell rumors that it wants to ban women from wearing the veil, or that it supports pornography. In an interview in the headquarters of the Suez branch of the Freedom and Justice Party, local FJP head Ahmed Mahmoud accuses local Christian churches of campaigning for the Egyptian Bloc. “The main numbers they have are because the church told their members to vote,” he says.
Sheikh Tarek Yassin El Refai angrily denies such accusations. Two days before the polling stations open, the leader of one of the largest Sufi orders in Egypt and member of the Free Egyptian Party’s political office, was in Suez to campaign for the party. There are about 10,000 voters there who follow Sufism, a more mystic strain of Islam.
Taking one for the team
The previous week, Mr. Refai withdrew as a candidate in Giza, across the Nile from Cairo, to support a secular candidate from the El Adl party. Others from secular and liberal parties have done the same in an attempt to consolidate votes and win the highest number of parliamentary seats for non-Islamist candidates in the second and third rounds of voting.
But even with their coordination and increased presence on the ground, the Egyptian Bloc and other liberal and secular parties will struggle. Sitting in a café on a main road in Suez, student Hany Mohamed say he’s voting for the Egyptian Bloc, but he expects the FJP to dominate.“They are strong here in Suez,” he says of the Brotherhood’s party.
Down the street, on which nearly every party has a tent that fills up with people at night, Ashraf Aly, an accountant in an oil company, drinks coffee in the chilly sea breeze. He says he’s studied the platforms of each party, and the FJP has the experience needed to make Egypt better.
“They are the ones who have been here for a long time. They gained a lot of experience during the time of Sadat and Mubarak and Nasser,” he says, referring to Egypt's last three leaders.
Of the Egyptian Alliance, he says, “I don’t know what their goals are. But all that I have heard from them is attacking the Nour Party and the Freedom and Justice Party.”
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