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Egyptian Islamists Favored In Second Phase Of Voting

Women stand in line to cast their votes in Suez, Egypt, on Wednesday. For months after the revolution, the port city had no government or services. Some voters are turning to the Salafists or the Muslim Brotherhood to bring change.
Eman Helal
Women stand in line to cast their votes in Suez, Egypt, on Wednesday. For months after the revolution, the port city had no government or services. Some voters are turning to the Salafists or the Muslim Brotherhood to bring change.

A steady stream of voters showed up Wednesday at polling centers in the port city of Suez and eight other governorates in Egypt. Islamists are expecting to boost their lead in the second phase of the country's landmark parliamentary elections.

The first phase was held last month, and the third and final phase will come next month as the country votes by region.

At a school called "Freedom" in Suez, many women were heavily veiled with only their eyes showing.

"It's the first time that I'm voting," said Asmaa Hamed, a 35-year-old teacher who was voting for ultra-conservative Islamist candidates called Salafists. "That's because I finally feel we have a vote that counts."

Many voters say they feel the same way here in Suez, a city that is credited with spurring the popular uprising that led to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak.

Suez In Need

Mubarak never visited the city during his three decades in power, and residents saw little of the wealth their port, canal and factories generated. So when Egyptian activists called for demonstrations against Mubarak on Jan. 25, Suez residents rose up.

Three of them died in a hail of police bullets, motivating hundreds of thousands of other people to take to the streets in other Egyptian cities.

Suez resident Aida Fouad says her city has suffered since the revolution. For months it had no government or services. Even now, there are no police officers visible on the streets. Instead, it's the military and neighborhood patrols that keep law and order and direct traffic here.

Sheik Hafez Salama, who is revered for leading the city's popular resistance against Israeli troops in 1973, says elections are giving his people renewed hope that things will improve. The 86-year-old, who visited 30 polling centers, says he hasn't seen this kind of turnout in six decades.

He says residents are embracing the Islamists, whether the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafists, because they are seen as honest brokers who will get Suez the help it needs.

'For Change'

Across town at the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party headquarters, officials say providing that help is their top priority.

Ahmed Mahmoud, the party's secretary general, says he is looking into projects to improve roads and housing and to tackle the city's huge pollution problem.

Mahmoud says he's confident his party will dominate here as it has in other cities during the earlier round, even though it was forbidden by party headquarters to send workers out to talk with voters entering polling stations. Such campaigning is illegal in Egypt.

In Giza, a large governorate across the river from Cairo, some Freedom and Justice workers apparently hadn't gotten the message. Two veiled campaign workers in long skirts stopped people going in and out of one polling center in Dokki to find out whom they were voting for.

"People [have been] supporting us so far — whether we're campaigning well or not — because they're needing the Freedom and Justice Party. They are supporting us just for change," said Iman El Sharif, one of the campaign workers.

Without acknowledging their own wrongdoing, the second worker, Fatma Nawawy, said they were looking for other parties that were violating the ban.

Egyptian election officials and independent monitors reported few problems at the polls. Voting continues Thursday in Giza, Suez and seven other governorates.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.
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