Thousands of engineers, including Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb, descended on polling stations nationwide on Friday in the first of two days of voting for the local and general syndicate representatives.
The elections come following a vote of no confidence issued in January against the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Engineers Syndicate council.
A total of 23 local or branch syndicates nationwide are holding elections for their council representatives. An estimated 2,500 candidates are competing for seats.
While there are nearly 500,000 registered members of the Engineers Syndicate across Egypt, a very small fraction of these members cast their ballots on Friday.
In Cairo, the voter turnout rate was markedly low on the first day of these elections. While there was a great deal of campaigning and leafleting, there were no queues at the polling stations and ballot boxes were far from full.
Elections for the Engineers Syndicate in the greater Cairo area were held outside the Cairo Stadium in the eastern Nasr City district.
Two main lists of candidates were competing against each other, with a number of smaller groupings and numerous independent candidates running for chairs in their branch councils and general syndicate council.
The Muslim Brotherhood and its ally, the centrist Islamist Al-Wasat Party, chose to boycott the elections. However, it has been reported that a number of their members ran as independent candidates, meaning they were not affiliated to any electoral list or bloc.
Mohamed Lotfi cast his vote on Friday, telling Mada Masr, “Today represents a new beginning for the Engineers Syndicate. These elections will ensure that our syndicate becomes and independent professional association, not controlled or manipulated by any political tendency.”
Of the two main lists contesting the elections, one is the Unified National List, consisting of the anti-Brotherhood Independence Current and Misr al-Mustaqbal bloc, which is closely aligned to state-owned contracting companies. This list is headed by engineer Tarek al-Nabrawy, who is seeking the post of president of the Engineers General Syndicate.
There were many more campaigners for Nabrawy and his Unified National List than for other candidates.
The second list has come to be known as the Abu Zeid list after its leader, Mostafa Abu Zeid, who is also seeking the presidency of the general syndicate. The Abu Zeid list is a less politicized and more independent grouping of engineers.
A number of voters at Friday’s poll mentioned that Islamist supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi were likely to vote for the Abu Zeid list, if they weren’t boycotting the election altogether, as there was less enmity between the two groups.
Another smaller grouping of contenders is the League of Youth Engineers, which is composed primarily of members under the age of 50. This group was largely eclipsed during the campaigns by the two larger blocs. This league of younger engineers opposes the highly centralized nature of their syndicate, and champions a non-partisan syndicate.
However, despite these aims, on Friday the Engineers Syndicate elections appeared to be partisan and polarized.
“We seek a clear departure from extremist groups and their politics,” engineer Amr Ahmed told Mada Masr as he was distributing campaign leaflets for the Unified National List outside the tented central polling center.
He added that the Brotherhood had sought to monopolize and manipulate the syndicate for its own direct interests.
The campaigner clarified, however, that he did not seek to marginalize any voices from the syndicate. “We hope to have a new and inclusive syndicate for all of Egypt’s engineers,” he said.
Previously, the Engineers Syndicate was largely dominated by the well-organized Muslim Brotherhood, which swept the last elections held in November 2011.
However, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Magdy Khlousi, former president of the Engineers Syndicate, and his Islamist-controlled local council were voted out of office during the Engineers Assembly meeting on January 17.
With around 56 percent of the votes, the general assembly narrowly moved to withdraw confidence from Khlousi and his Islamist allies.
Khlousi resisted the convening of this general assembly and filed an appeal against this vote before the Administrative Court. His appeal was rejected.
The Engineers Syndicate has been a stronghold for the Muslim Brotherhood for well over two decades. This brought the syndicate into conflict with the Mubarak regime in the 1990s and led to state sequestration, whereby the professional association fell under the control of the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Irrigation.
The Engineers Syndicate and its 23 branch syndicates remained under state sequestration for 17 years under the Mubarak regime.
In 1994, the Central Auditing Agency reported that it discovered some LE2 million pounds worth of funds were unaccounted for in the treasury of the Engineers Syndicate, and that further funds were being spent on activities unrelated to syndicate work.
Similar accusations of misappropriation of funds were leveled against the Brotherhood-dominated syndicate following Morsi’s ouster in July 2013.
On the eve of the Engineers Syndicate elections this year, state-owned and mainstream media trumpeted the fall of the Brotherhood and called on Egypt’s engineers to purge the syndicate of Morsi’s supporters, who are often described in the press as “terrorist elements.”
Election results are due to be announced on Saturday night.