Giza House race sheds light on Egypt’s shifting political machinery
 
 

Polls closed on Sunday evening in the first round of Egypt’s parliamentary elections. A total of 568 seats are up for grabs in the House of Representatives, with over 4,000 candidates running as individuals competing for 50 percent of the seats. The other 50 percent of seats are reserved for over 1,100 candidates running on four party lists.

In governorates across the country, campaign posters bearing the faces of candidates are strewn across buildings and signposts. In Giza, unlike elsewhere, the faces are familiar. Three, in particular, stand out: Mohammed Aboul Enein, Abdelrahim Ali and Ahmed Mortada Mansour. All three are current House members and all three have close ties to Egypt’s circles of power. Their race for a House seat sheds light on the behind-the-scenes political jockeying and election management in the parliamentary vote.

Aboul Enein, a prominent business tycoon, is running as an independent despite his position as vice president of the state-backed Nation’s Future Party. Meanwhile, former talk show host Abdelrahim Ali, also running as an independent, suffered a blow to his campaign in recent days following a leaked recording of him allegedly insulting President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Ahmed Mortada Mansour, who is running on the Republican People Party List, is the son of Mortada Mansour, a powerful lawyer, MP, and president of the Zamalek Club who helped his son retain his House seat despite a 2016 Cassation Court ruling that annulled his membership. An additional 15 lesser-known candidates are vying for the seat as well, two of them with the Nation’s Future Party.

In past years, this area was represented by four parliamentarians, two from the city of Giza and its suburbs, and two from Dokki and Agouza. After a law that redrew electoral districts passed this summer, the same geographic area is represented in one district with just two MPs. 

The redistricting has effectively turned yesterday’s allies into today’s rivals, thrusting this particular race in Giza into the spotlight and providing a glimpse into the inner workings of Egypt’s political machinery. With the Nation’s Future Party failing to back its own vice president in Aboul Enein, and Ali and Mansour facing diminished prospects despite their historical ties to the ruling circles, the electoral race in this district sheds light on the interplay between state political support and the power of political spending.

People queue to cast their vote outside a center during the first round of Egypt’s parliamentary elections in Giza, Egypt, October 24, 2020. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

In contrast to the weak turnout seen in most districts in the 14 governorates voting in the first round of the election, the race here was hotly contested, with high turnout continuing into Sunday, the second and final day of voting.

Aboul Enein, a longtime power broker who spends heavily on campaigning through his charity association, mounted a massive voter drive among his supporters. On Bahr al-Azam street on Saturday, a few meters from the Giza police station, a crowd had gathered in front of Aboul Enein’s charity association, where more than 150 microbuses lined both sides of the road, ready to ferry voters from this central meeting point to their polling precincts and back. 

The vehicles were festooned with Aboul Enein campaign posters and carried the names and numbers of the schools functioning as polling sites. There were also representatives from the charitable association — which is run by Aboul Enein’s sister and brother-in-law — carrying lists of all the voters assigned to each precinct and the number of the bus that would take them to it. 

“The association registered 180,000 voters from the area, and all of them voted for Aboul Enein and Mahitab Abd al-Hamid,” said a source close to Aboul Enein’s association who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity. The source explained that the association serves local residents all year long, not only during elections. 

According to the source, over the last 20 days, the association had asked the residents of Mounib, Dokki, Agouza, and the islands of Dahab and Qursaya to re-register with the association. Residents submitted the cards they use to receive monthly assistance and food on national holidays, along with their ID, and received a new membership card, along with a document resembling a voter ID, containing all their voting information, including their polling precinct and their number on the voter rolls. Voters were then divided into groups, and voting times were scheduled for each group with transportation arranged to take them to the polls.

According to the source, when residents received their new association membership card they also received a LE200 coupon which could be used to purchase food at several participating grocery stores.

Two of the lesser-known candidates competing against Aboul Enein for the same seat are members of the Nation’s Future Party of which he is vice president: Zaki Abbas, the party’s deputy secretary in Giza, and Muntaser Riyad, currently an MP for the party. Ironically, both men ran Aboul Enein’s campaign for the special election held to fill the House seat vacated when Mohammed Badawi died in November.

According to a parliamentary source in the Nation’s Future Party, Aboul Enein chose to run as an independent instead of on the National List — which is composed of 12 parties and headed up by the Nation’s Future Party —  after differences arose over campaign funding. The source, who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity, said that the party asked Aboul Enein to bankroll much of the nationwide campaign for the National List, as he had done in the recent Senate elections, to the tune of millions of pounds. This time, however, Aboul Enein refused, choosing to run for an individual seat as an independent, the source said.

This was consistent with what another source close to the National List told Mada Masr. The second source said Aboul Enein was excluded from candidacy with the party due to internal conflicts within the National Security Agency, which backs the Nation’s Future Party, as well as Aboul Enein’s refusal to provide millions of pounds in funding.

On September 21, Aboul Enein declared that he would run as an independent for an individual seat in the Giza, Dokki and Agouza district. The announcement came just 48 hours after he issued a statement denying social media reports that he had resigned from the Nation’s Future Party. In that statement, he said that he would continue to serve as vice president of the party in the important period leading up to the 2020 parliamentary elections. 

The parliamentary source said that the people who drew up the National List had overlooked Aboul Enein’s popular base in Giza, which he had built and sustained since his first election under the National Democratic Party in 1995 and which had enabled him to retain a seat in the People’s Assembly until the 2011 revolution. The source expects Aboul Enein to win one of the district’s seats by a large margin and predicts a run-off between the two Nation’s Future Party candidates for the second seat.

“Entering the House of Representatives via an individual constituency will boost Aboul Enein’s influence within the Nation’s Future Party and allow him to again claim the chairmanship of the House Industry Committee,” the parliamentary source said. 

In addition to endorsing Aboul Enein, his association also endorsed Mahitab Abd al-Hadi, the youth representative on the National List in the district of northern, central, and southern Upper Egypt and the daughter of prominent businessman Mohammed Abd al-Hadi. According to the source close to the association, Aboul Enein intervened behind the scenes to get Hadi a slot on the National List as part of an agreement between Hadi and Aboul Enein to support each other in the elections.

If it weren’t for all the action on Al-Bahr al-Azam Street, the center of Aboul Enein’s electoral stronghold, you might not realize there was an election underway in the Giza district. There was scant voter turnout on Musaddaq, Nile, and Murad streets, save for a handful of campaign posters for various candidates. At the Asma Fahmi School on Murad Street, the polling station was empty until 11 am on Sunday, when a microbus carrying several women, men, and children arrived, sporting a photo of Aboul Enein on the back and the polling precinct number on the front.

The scene does not bode well for the electoral chances of Abdelrahim Ali, whose campaign has primarily consisted of releasing videos on his personal Facebook account. The videos have stressed two messages: First, that he is “the candidate backed by the state, its president, its army, and the police in their battle against the Brotherhood;” and second, that certain state agencies are encouraging the dominance of money in politics and helping candidates in individual constituencies around the country to buy votes, a reference to both the Nation’s Future Party and Ali’s rival, Aboul Enein.

Up until recently, Ali was perhaps the most prominent media figure in very good standing with the security apparatus. His program “Black Box” frequently aired damaging recordings of activists and political opposition figures without clarifying how they were obtained.

But according to the second parliamentary source, Ali no longer enjoys the favor of the security apparatus, and at least one agency deems him too close to former presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq. In June 2015, the Asima channel aired a promo for an interview he conducted with Shafiq, which the channel subsequently declined to air.

In 2017, Ali distanced himself from Sisi’s government, during one of its most critical political crises to date. After declaring his rejection of an agreement to cede the islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia and his affirmation of Egyptian sovereignty over the territories, Ali was blacklisted from television. 

Ali also spent nearly three years of his current parliamentary term in France, ostensibly for medical treatment, after having embarrassed the assembly by mocking its members and demanding they submit to tests of their “mental faculties” in one of his articles in Al-Bawaba, sparking a furious response from a number of MPs and calls to revoke his parliamentary membership.

Seeking to remedy the situation, Ali published several articles in support of Sisi’s election to his second term. And by way of apology to Ali Abdel Aal, the House speaker, he also published a feature titled “The Achievements of the June 30 Parliament in 500 Hours.” 

Yet his attempts to reverse course appear to have failed. Ali suffered a severe setback to his campaign just one day before the elections and his mixed campaign messaging did nothing to soften the blow. On Friday, an audio recording began circulating on social media allegedly of a phone conversation between Ali and his son-in-law, where Ali insults President Sisi and the judiciary, claiming he possesses documents that “would land them all in prison” and asserting that “no one would dare take him to the Public Prosecution.”

In a video published on his personal Facebook page and in Al-Bawaba, which he owns, Ali denied the authenticity of the recording, accusing the Brotherhood of fabricating it. Even so, several workers in a restaurant on Suleiman Gohar Street in Dokki told Mada Masr, that Ali “was KO’d even before the voting started.” One of the workers said, “He’s going to jail because of his ‘black box.’”

The second parliamentary source agrees, saying that the leak killed any chance for Ali’s victory.

When campaigning began, Ali and Ahmed Mortada Mansour agreed on the need to stand up to money in politics, calling on rival candidates to sign an electoral code of ethics with the goal of fighting unfettered political spending. 

In a live event with voters on his Facebook page, Mansour, the candidate for the Republican People party list, said he deserved a second shot at an assembly seat because he had not had the full experience of membership since he had “refused to enter Parliament out of respect for the Cassation Court ruling, to avoid embarrassing his fellow MPs in the assembly.” 

Mansour was referring to a Cassation Court ruling in July 2016 that annulled his membership in the assembly and affirmed political researcher Amr Shobaki as the winner. Despite the initial controversy, Parliament dragged its feet and refused to accept the court ruling until the current assembly term was nearly concluded. 

At the time of the dispute, observers told Mada Masr that it was “a matter of politics, not law” and that “Parliament does not care about Ahmed Mortada Mansour but it is apprehensive about having a figure like Dr. Amr Shobaky in the House.”

By contrast, the second parliamentary source said that Mansour’s influence and his good ties with the president of the House and the chair of the Legislative Committee, Baha Abu Shaqqa, is the main reason the court order was not implemented. The source pointed out that it was the head of the assembly who asked Mansour not to attend sessions, so the press would stop reporting on Parliament’s failure to comply with the court decision. 

The source also pointed to what he said was declining state support for Mortada Mansour, the candidate’s father, demonstrated by the state’s reversal on the decision by the Egyptian Olympic Committee to suspend Mortada Mansour as president of the Zamalek Club. Initially, the official parliamentary stance was that any investigation or penalty against Mortada Mansour was unlawful given his parliamentary immunity. Yet when the Olympic Committee stuck to its decision, Parliament fell silent. According to the source, this suggests that a security agency has blessed the sidelining of Mortada Mansour.

Despite Ahmed Mortada Mansour’s reliance on Zamalek Club members and supporters in his district — a substantial source of support — the Shobaky incident and his father’s diminishing influence make his chances of winning the seat close to zero, the source said.

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