Egyptians have flocked to Authority of Real Estate Proclamation and Notarization offices, which are responsible for accepting candidate endorsements, to submit forms supporting different presidential candidates, most notably President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi who announced he would run for a second term on January 19.
To be able to register as a candidate according to the Constitution, a person needs to be endorsed by 20 members of Parliament or 25,000 citizens from no fewer than 15 governorates, each of which must contribute at least 1,000 endorsements. Sisi had garnered endorsements from 519 MPs before announcing his candidacy. Nevertheless, the supporters of Egypt’s president seem to intent on meeting both quotas.
In visits to four endorsement offices in the Cairo neighborhoods of Dokki, Moqattam, Manshiyet Nasser and Gammaliya last week, Mada Masr observed citizens registering their support for Sisi.
There were approximately 50 women, dressed in black abayas in the Dokki office. They were mostly Haram residents in their 50s and were there to submit endorsement forms for Sisi.
Fatheyya Abdel Hadi, 60, explained that she endorsed Sisi. “They take the endorsement form and give us back a bag of rice and a bag of pasta,” she said. When she asked asked the Authority of Real Estate Proclamation and Notarization clerk if she could endorse someone else, she says she was told that she would go to jail.
Ahlahum Khalaf, 45, said she similarly endorsed “Sisi, of course.”
“Who would write their name and ID number on a document stamped with the official state emblem and choose to endorse someone other than him? That’s a recipe for trouble, and I’m not looking for trouble,” she says.
But Khalaf feels resentful for another reason. She says that the representative of the association that recruited her – who was present at the office – did not pay her. “My sister lives in Dar al-Salam, and there, they pay people [for endorsements],” she says in a whisper.
“Those who have finished can wait in the car,” the representative yells out from time to time, as Khalaf speaks.
“We live in Haram, and we’re here to endorse Sisi,” says Sayyeda Ibrahim, 50. “I don’t know where we are. The women on my street and I were brought here on a microbus from the Mama Farida Foundation to vote for Sisi.”
“We don’t know what Sisi – or anyone else, for that matter – is about,” says Ibrahim, when she is asked why she chose to endorse Sisi. “They just told us that we would be listed to receive charity for Ramadan.”
Eqbal al-Masry, the director of the Mama Farida Foundation, tells Mada Masr that she arranged for microbuses to bring women from Haram to different Authority of Real Estate Proclamation and Notarization offices offices to endorse Sisi.
“This is a voluntary act to support Egypt,” Masry says.
By Masry’s account, the Mama Farida Foundation – an organization registered with the Social Solidarity Ministry – invites women to fill out endorsement forms in exchange for continued provision of financial aid “for the sake of our country.”
Manar Sayyed, 25, was the most outspoken about the transactional nature of her endorsement for Sisi. “I don’t want to vote for him. They say that subsidies will be cut and we will be forced to pay much higher prices. But glory be to Allah, He knows what’s in my heart. My ID is expired. When they review those endorsements, mine will be deemed invalid,” she says. “If not for that meager piece of meat that we get from the association in Ramadan and the great feast, we wouldn’t vote for him.”
Southeast of the Dokki office, there are several minivans filled with passengers outside the Moqattam endorsement office. Just above the minivans’ dashboards can be seen stacks of endorsement forms.
“The form is priced at LE50. We’ll group them and give them to the driver, and he’ll get his tip from the association,” says Ateyyat Mohamed, 35, from inside the office. She, however, refuses to disclose any details about the association.
A clerk asks a woman which potential candidate she wishes to endorse. “Is there anyone else? Sisi, of course,” the woman says.
“There are 16 potential candidates,” the clerk responds. “You can choose whomever you like.”
“If it were up to us, we wouldn’t want anyone,” she says. “But with or without us, he will win.” She then asks the clerk, “Can my 17-year-old son vote?”
“People under 18 can’t vote,” he responds.
Another woman approaches a clerk’s desk to submit her form. She is wearing a niqab and the clerk asks her to show him her face so that he can verify her identity. However, she ignores him. Instead, her friend responds.
“Haram. She shouldn’t show her face to men other than her husband,” her friend says.
“What religion is that from, lady?” the clerk says. However, he eventually gives in. “Alright, lady. I don’t need to see your face. Who are you endorsing?” he asks.
“Sisi, of course,” the woman answers.
Hani Mamdouh Guergues, the clerk who handles endorsement forms at the Moqattam Authority of Real Estate Proclamation and Notarization office, says that the list of potential candidates is updated based on people’s choices. As of January 16, Egyptians had endorsed 16 potential candidates.
“Khaled Ali, then Sisi. Next on the list are – in this order – Mohamed Anwar al-Sadat, Hamdeen Sabbahi, Mohamed Salah Metwally, Ahmed Shafiq, Atef Labib Abdel Karim, Maged Keshk, Mahmoud Mohamed Ramadan, Taher Mohamed Fathy, Sami Anan, Tarek Said, Mohamed Abdel Karim, Gamal Mohamed Hosni Mubarak, Ahmed Mokhtar Sharaf al-Din and Mortada Mansour,” he says, listing the candidates. “Our job is to ask people who they want to choose. Anything beyond that is not our concern.”
In the north of Cairo, there are several minivans filled with women parked outside endorsement offices in the Manshiyet Nasser area of Ezbet Bekheit and the Gammaliaya area of Darrasa. Reda al-Arag, the driver of one of the minivans, explains his job to Mada Masr. “I hand the endorsement forms in to Parliament aides and get LE50 for each delivery,” he says, naming ex-MP Haidar al-Baghdady as his liaison.
“I’m for Sisi,” Baghdady tells Mada Masr. “If I wanted to get him free endorsements from Sohag, I could.” Baghdadi adds that Hani Morgan is the MP responsible for collecting endorsements for Sisi from the residents of Manshiyet Nasser and Gammaliya.
In Manshiyet Nasser, drivers collect endorsements and pay citizens LE50 in return for each one, while the price is no more than LE30 in Gammaliya and the Qaitbay areas.
According to Judge Mahmoud al-Sharif, the deputy head and spokesperson of the National Elections Authority, there have been no complaints filed with the authority regarding women being directed to endorse a specific potential candidate. Yet, Sharif tells Mada Masr that the NEA received several complaints regarding endorsement obstruction for certain potential candidates. Sharif says that these complaints were referred to the competent committee for examination.
“If a complaint is filed with the committee, the person submitting it must provide proof, in order for the committee to take the necessary action,” he says.
Article 42 of the presidential elections law sets out the terms for fraudulent endorsement, “Any person who falsely states on an endorsement form that they have never nominated or endorsed the same or another candidacy seeker shall be penalized with detention for a term of no less than six months and/or a fine of no less than LE5,000 and no more than LE10,000.”
The NEA announced on January 8 that there would be a 10-day registration window starting January 20 for potential candidates to meet the necessary requirements to run in the 2018 presidential election. As of January 16, there had been 412,000 endorsement forms filled with Authority of Real Estate Proclamation and Notarization offices, according to the NEA. More have and surely will continue to come in. Egyptian nationals living abroad will be able to vote from March 16 to 18. Those residing in Egypt will cast their ballots between March 26 and 28.