Egypt balloting ends with even Mubarak’s hometown in suspense

McClatchy NewspapersMay 23, 2012 

— In the birthplace of deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, where his pristine picture once hung over the bridge that welcomes visitors and residents know the Mubarak family by name, Shedya Abdel Aziz bravely announced Thursday that she had voted for someone other than Mubarak’s branded heir apparent, Ahmed Shafik, in this week’s presidential election.

“Anyone who voted for Shafik is filthy! He is a crook just like Mubarak!” she yelled at a group of neighbors talking about the vote, which took place nationwide Wednesday and Thursday. “Go to hell, you and him!” Mohammed Abu Abdullah, 45, yelled back to her, referring to Shafik.

In many ways, Kafr el-Meselha is like every other Egyptian community, wrestling with its feelings toward a revolution that has left them both free to live and imprisoned by the hardened life that comes with moving from autocracy to democracy. Like much of Egypt, it, too, has oscillated between calls for change and demands for stability.

But this educated, verdant agricultural town, which sits on a branch of the Nile River, also confronts one more complication: How much pride it should take that a former president was born here – and whether those feelings will be welcome in the new Egypt.

With balloting over in Egypt’s two-day presidential election, Egyptians everywhere were waiting for what that new Egypt might look like. Counting began as soon as the polls closed Thursday night. The country's election commission said Friday that official results would not be released until Tuesday, but unofficial results were poring in from across the country.

With slightly more than half the vote tabulated, the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, Mohammed Morsi, was leading, with Arab nationalist Hamdeen Sabahi and Shafik battling to be No. 2. But few results were in from Cairo or Alexandria, which together account for 25 percent of the vote, and the finishing order was still unsettled in the early afternoon Friday. Former Arab League secretary general Amr Moussa, and Islamist moderate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh appeared to be out of the running.

The shifting mood of voters was on display here, too, a town about 50 miles north of Cairo that sits in the only governorate that has produced two of Egypt’s presidents. Anwar Sadat was born a few miles away, but his relationship with his roots was far clearer. He visited often, sometimes inviting dignitaries. Mubarak didn’t talk to his family here, let alone visit. Perhaps that makes the decision of what Mubarak means to Kafr el-Meselha more difficult for those that remain here.

Fifteen months ago, when Mubarak was forced to resign, the residents were shocked into silence. Just a few weeks ago, speaking up to defend Mubarak’s regime was difficult. The Muslim Brotherhood swept through and promised Islamic-based change in Parliament, residents said. At that time, Kafr el-Mehelha welcomed the Islamists and seemingly shunned its past ties.

But the nation’s disillusionment with both the Brotherhood and the revolution amid rampant unemployment and rising crime nationwide suddenly opened the door here for those who want to say they support the old regime – and the stability that came with it. Mubarak was a victim of his family’s grabs for power, particularly his wife, Suzanne, and son Gamal, supporters argue.

To be sure, the feeling is not universal. Younger voters, including Mubarak’s relatives who still live here, said they voted for Sabahi, who espouses the philosophy of the late President Gamal Abdel Nasser, calling him the only untainted candidate in the race who can bring real reforms to Egypt.

Their parents and grandparents remember a better time in Mubarak’s earlier years as president. They said they voted for Shafik, Mubarak’s last prime minister.

Everyone here seemed to know how each resident voted. They point it out as neighbors walk by: He loved the regime and voted for Shafik; she is an Islamist working for Morsi. During the parliamentary elections last fall, Kafr el Meselha voted for the Muslim Brotherhood, as did the nation, giving it 47 percent of the seats, the largest bloc.

Hosni Mubarak is Basheer Mubarak’s great-uncle, though they never met. At 37, Basheer makes no apologies for the former president, who turned 84 this month. But his great-uncle’s changing place in the community baffles him.

“I am the only one in the family who opposes Mubarak. The rest of the family wants the old regime back. Shafik is their choice,” explained Basheer Mubarak, a supporter of Sabahai, the nationalist. “There are people here who said a few months ago they opposed Mubarak and are now voting for Shafik. I don’t understand this crazy talk. Why have a revolution then?”

The changing politics has made residents suspicious of one another. Riding his brother’s motorcycle along the unpaved streets here, Ali Ramadan, 17, pointed to a group of four veiled woman and says they have been walking through the town urging residents to vote for the Brotherhood’s Morsi, even after campaigning was supposed to stop Sunday night. Questioned by a reporter, the women denied they’ve violated campaign laws. Ramadan said regardless, they bothered him because his family voted for Shafik and don’t like the Brotherhood’s rising influence.

Roughly 7,500 eligible voters live in Kafr el-Meselha, and they voted at two polling centers, one of which was on the same street where Mubarak was born on in 1928. That home has since come down, replaced by two apartment buildings. But his grandfather’s home across the street still stands. And men like Abdel Aziz abd el Atti 62, have lived all their lives right by it.

Atti saw Mubarak the one time he visited this town, in 1974. Then a celebrated air force general who led one of Egypt’s greatest military successes in the early days of the 1973 war with Israel, Mubarak came for a few hours for his uncle’s funeral.

Some here said they would have voted for Mubarak if he had been on the ballot.

“We were living. We were happy,” Atti said, while sitting next to Mubarak’s grandfather’s house, conceding he supported the Brotherhood during parliamentary elections. But now, he says, “Even if we have not seen him, he is from here, and this is a population that cannot be ruled without a beating on the head. That is what the last year has taught us.”

At the polling station, the remnants of the old regime lurked nearby.

“I feel wonderful because this is the same place Mubarak was born, and yet I feel free,” attorney Tariq al Hadid, 24, said as he walked out of a polling station Thursday, where he voted for Sabahi.

As the words left his lips, an army general pulled out his camera and took photos of journalists, Sabahi supporters and anyone else he deemed a threat to order.

McClatchy special correspondent Amina Ismail contributed.

Email: nyoussef@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @nancyayoussef

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