In the Daher neighborhood, east of Cairo, signs and billboards in support of presidential candidate Abdel Fattah al-Sisi are abundant, just like everywhere else in the city.
But not everyone is voting for Sisi in the predominantly Christian neighborhood.
Established by the Mamluk Sultan Al-Daher Bibars in the 13th century, it was a home for the city’s elites, adorned with remarkable architecture. In its more modern history, it became one of the concentration spots for Egypt’s middle class Christian community.
For many members of this community, the one-year rule of ousted President and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi, was ripe with concerns about rising conservatism and denial of citizenship rights, given the leanings of the ruling group. Many of them were relieved with Morsi’s ouster and the natural inclination today was to vote for Sisi, the man who ousted them by military fiat.
“My choice is in line with many Christians who saw the horrors of sectarianism and burnt churches,” says Rasha Fathy, an architect in her early 30s from the area. She had just cast her ballot in College de la Salle, a veteran missionary school in the neighborhood.
She says a lot of Christians she knows left the country in the wake of Morsi’s rule, fearing the unknown.
“I chose Sisi because I want stability. Sisi has management experience and knows how to deal with crisis. We are in a crisis and we face a lot of threats from abroad,” she says.
Fathy’s vote for Sisi, however, is not a sign of blind support. “I don’t think sectarianism will end fast with any leader. There will have to be years of education and awareness,” she says.
A similar sentiment is shared by Dalal Deeb, a retired state employee, who voted for Sisi out of inevitability rather than an actual desire to see him as president.
“The country is falling down. Democracy is good and freedom is good. But we need the country to be held strongly and we need a president who is on good terms with the army because it is the only stronghold left. I don’t see any alternatives,” she says.
Deeb admits that voting for a military figure is not her ideal option, but the time and the circumstances means that there is little choice.
“We are coming out of a period where we were going to be stepped on and pushed away. And if he is the one who saved us, then our vote must go to him,” she says.
She adds that she knows that Sisi is conservative and that only time will tell how Egypt will be ruled.
But, for Abeer Farid, an art director in an advertising agency, Sisi’s appeal to the Christian community is falsely constructed by the military leader. She believes that Sisi “is using [Christians] just to win the elections.”
Hence her vote for Sisi’s rival, veteran opposition figure Hamdeen Sabbahi, is an attempt to resist the Sisi-mania. “I am not boycotting in order to know what critical mass there is exactly against Sisi,” she says. Her voice adds to those who are choosing Sabbahi to create an opposition bloc against Sisi and to break the size of his electorate.
Ramy Beshir also breaks the electoral stereotype that all Christians are voting for Sisi. While he thinks the majority of older Christians are going for the field marshal, he estimates some 40 percent of the younger voters are choosing Sabbahi.
“Hamdeen is closest to my political thinking and this is shared among a lot of the people of my age,” says the student. “I am not against Sisi, but Hamdeen is closer to the revolution and I still believe in it.”
“For Christians, Sisi is not ideal. But he is seen to be the best of the worst. In their view, he will beat them less,” he adds. While he is voting for Sisi’s rival, Beshir is not judgmental of the choice of his community. In a compassionate tone, he says that the discourse that came out of the Brotherhood was very scary, particularly at the sit-ins held to reinstate Morsi. The first thing the Brotherhood did, he says, when the sit-ins were attacked by the regime, was to attack Christians and churches. “Choosing Sisi is normal,” he says.
“Christians are normally a fearful bloc and their fear increased with the Brotherhood,” Beshir adds.
But that’s the logic that Farid is resisting. “Hamdeen is kind of an institution of democracy. As a Copt, I refuse to vote for Sisi just for the sake of protection because I am a citizen and should not seek special protection,” she says.
Not all Christians have totally forgotten a bloody night at Maspero, where a predominantly Coptic march was violently attacked by the military in October 2011. Some of the 28 people who lost their lives in the clashes did so under the wheels of armored vehicles. But for those choosing Sisi today, the choice was also to forget about Maspero.
“The memory of Maspero is gone,” declares Beshir, with a sad smile.
But evidently not for him and for Farid, for whom, the Maspero experience is defining for her as an Egyptian Copt.