Salafi Dawah deputy head Yasser Borhamy cast his ballot in Alexandria’s Montaza district on Sunday, the first time Egypt has held parliamentary elections since the Muslim Brotherhood was ousted from power in 2013.
Alexandria is a major stronghold for the Salafis, but given low turnout and several reports of campaign violations, it’s still unclear which way the vote will go.
The Nour Party is the Salafi Dawah’s political arm, and Borhamy says it’s essential the party has a voice in parliament in order to defend Article 2 — the constitutional article stipulating Sharia as the main source of legislation.
“Article 2 reflects the will of Egyptians,” he says.
Borhamy adds that the Nour Party is an important counterbalance to the Free Egyptians Party, headed by Coptic business mogul Naguib Sawiris.
“Since the beginning of the January 25 revolution, Sawiris has said that he is out to amend Article 2,” Borhamy says. “He benefited from the Egyptian economy, then moved to the media, then politics — and that’s what scares us.”
But in a more conciliatory tone, Borhamy adds that he wishes the “winner-takes-all” mentality would disappear from Egyptian politics, and instead people would cooperate for the good of the country.
The Nour Party has come under fierce attack from both rival candidates and the media, who have decried the party as hypocritical for including Coptic candidates on its electoral list, among other accusations.
But these Coptic candidates are active members of the party and a “model of nationalism,” Borhamy maintains.
He calls the media campaign against Nour an unfair attempt to provoke an “inquisition.” There’s no need to put the Nour Party’s motives on trial, given that everything they do is in compliance with the law, Borhamy argues.
Salafi Dawah spokesperson and former Member of Parliament (MP) Abdel Moneim al-Shahat also voted in Montaza on Sunday. He defends the party’s decision to run for parliament despite criticism from other Salafi groups and Islamist movements.
Several commentators have suggested that the party lost a key base of its popular support when it allied with the government that replaced former President Mohamed Morsi, but Shehat dismisses those claims.
“The party still has its support base,” he argues, and it’s important “to remain in politics to show that one failure in governance does not mean the failure of an entire project.”
Nour is the only Islamist party contesting seats in this race, but Shehat doesn’t think that’s a problem. “A party with an Islamist basis can be nationalistic and safeguard the state’s stability, while also providing an honorable opposition voice,” he explains.
More than 3.4 million voters are registered at 1,677 polling stations in Alexandria, and 414 candidates are running for 25 individual seats across 10 constituencies. Much like the 13 other governorates holding first-phase elections, not many of those voters showed up on Sunday, and those who did reported seeing flagrant campaign violations.
Most of the people lining up to vote at the 16 polling stations in West Alexandria’s Mina al-Basal district were senior citizens. At one of those stations, Rashad Othman — one of 24 candidates running for the district’s two seats — was seen distributing candy with his picture on the wrapper to judges and voting place employees.
In Amreya, where 32 candidates were running for three seats, the Nour Party had a campaign booth set up only meters away from several microbuses plastered with posters for independent candidate Rizk Ragheb Deif Allah.
Yassin Tag al-Din, head of one of the polling stations at an Amreya high school, says that only 100 out of more than 1,000 registered voters showed up on Sunday. Mohamed Tawfik, who heads another polling station at the same school, only processed 30.
A delegation of seven international observers visited the station. Stephen G. Fakan, the US consul general to Alexandria, checked on voting at schools in the Raml district.
In Sidi Gaber, where 75 candidates are competing for three seats, voters say campaigners for Ahmed al-Sayed lined up in front of the polling station sporting shirts with his picture on them. Posters of Nour Party candidates were also found inside stations here.
And the violations persisted in Moharram Beik, where two out of 36 candidates will end up in parliament. A local observer says campaigning took place next to several polling stations.
But Abdullah al-Kholy, the head of an Alexandria court, maintains that voting in Alexandria went smoothly and without any violations. After the polls closed, he estimated a 13 percent turnout across the governorate.