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In Egypt's Islamist heartland, voters voice doubts about Muslim Brotherhood

Voters in the Imbaba neighborhood of Cairo are impatient with the Muslim Brotherhood's lack of accomplishments during their short tenure in parliament.

By Correspondent / May 24, 2012

Egyptian men wait outside a polling center to cast their votes in Imbaba neighborhood in Giza, Egypt, Wednesday, May 23. More than 15 months since the uprising that pushed Hosni Mubarak from power, Egyptians streamed to polling stations Wednesday to freely choose a president for the first time in generations.

Ahmed Ali/AP

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Cairo

In 1992, Imbaba was a hotbed of Islamic militancy. Militants effectively took control of the Cairo neighborhood and pronounced it an Islamic emirate. The  military had to send thousands of troops in to bring the area back under control.

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Today, the military is in Imbaba for another reason—overseeing voting for Egypt’s first president since the uprising that pushed Hosni Mubarak from power. The two-day election will determine whether an Islamist will be the next president of Egypt. One possibility is Mohamed Morsi, the candidate of Egypt’s most organized political movement, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).

Imbaba, a chaotic and mostly poor area, is home to 500,000 registered voters and would seem an ideal place  for the Muslim Brotherhood to win votes. In December parliamentary elections, about 70 percent of the district that includes Imbaba voted for Islamist parties – either the FJP or the ultraconservative Nour Party.

But many voters on Thursday said they were steering clear of the Brotherhood’s candidate, citing disillusionment with the party’s performance in parliament, or an aversion to the organization’s attempt to dominate the legislative and executive branches of government. Many said they would cast their votes for a leftist or the candidate most closely associated with Mubarak’s regime. Even if Mr. Morsi carries the area’s votes, the discontent is a sign of the risk the Brotherhood has taken in reaching for so much, so soon.

“Six months ago, the people here loved them,” said Tarek Abdel Meguid, referring to the Brotherhood, and the approximate moment when the FJP won nearly 50 percent of parliamentary seats. “But they exposed themselves in Parliament. So now people don’t trust them here.”

Mr. Abdel Meguid said the FJP had been ineffective in parliament, not living up to its promises or making a difference in people’s lives. He will vote for former Muslim Brotherhood member Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh instead. As he spoke, Abdel Meguid stood in front of a school on a narrow dirt side street, waiting for his mother to vote inside. Like many roads in Imbaba, this one is not paved, and is hardly wide enough for a car to pass. Three-wheeled vehicles called tok-toks honked as they drove by, kicking up dust. Above them, laundry fluttered from balconies of brick buildings built so close together not even a tok-tok could pass between them.

“I don’t want to put all the eggs in one basket,” he said.

After the military retook Imbaba from the militants in the 1990s, the government promised to spend hundreds of millions to develop the area. But Imbaba doesn’t look like the kind of place that has ever seen any attention or care from the central government. One of the main complaints of residents is the garbage. It is piled, stinking and rotting, on the streets, and residents say it is rarely removed. Herds of goats sometimes feed on it. Today, a woman and her daughter pick through it, looking for recyclables.

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