CAIRO – Arwa el-Hussein, a 20-year-old pharmacy student, has beenquarreling with her father for weeks, trying to get him not to backHosni Mubarak's former prime minister for president. "This is a betrayal of the revolution," she says of support forAhmed Shafiq, a veteran of the regime that last year's uprisingsought to topple. "I get depressed when I think about it." Egypt's landmark election for a new leader, in which voting tookplace for a second day Thursday, has brought out a generation gapin many families around the country, with elders looking to old,known faces and their children yearning for something new. The result is a lot of squabbles and shifting alliances arounddining room tables and in front of living room TVs showing endlesscandidate interviews. |
El-Hussein said she managed to sway hermother to "vote for the revolution," but her father successfullywon one of her brothers over to the Shafiq side. Her mother, Omayma, is now hard-core against any Mubarak regimecandidate, branded by many as "feloul," or "remnants." "We will have a second revolution if the feloul win," mom declared. For the young, a new face is a way to pay a debt to the revolutionand bring a change in the entrenched ways of Mubarak's autocracy.Without last year's uprising, they argue, Mubarak would never haveceded the power he had held for 29 years and the doors never wouldhave opened for the first real competitive presidential election inEgyptian history. Many of their parents, however, crave stability after 15 months ofpainful transition since Mubarak's fall, with street violence,collapsed security, a battered economy, surging food prices andrising crime rates. The thrill of the unknown adds an edge to the debates: This race iswide open.
Out of 13 candidates, five have emerged as the most prominent, butnone has pulled clearly ahead. Final results of the first round areto be announced Tuesday. If, as expected, no one wins more than 50percent of the vote, the two top candidates will enter a June 16-17run-off, with the victor announced June 21. At this point, it'sanyone's guess even who those top two will be. Nearly a quarter of Egypt's population of 82 million is between theminimum voting age of 18 and the age of 30.
The generation gap isnot cut and dried — every candidate boasts young supporters,and some elders will wistfully say it is time for new blood —but it does appear to be a factor, and it cuts across thepolarization between Islamists and secularists. Many of the young were turning to two "outsiders" among thefront-runners. One is Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh, a moderate Islamistwhose inclusive platform has won him the support of some liberals,leftists and even some minority Christians. Abolfotoh is himselfsomething of a rebel, having split with the Muslim Brotherhood. The other is Hamdeen Sabahi, an activist who claims the pan-Arab,socialist and nationalist legacy of former President GamalAbdel-Nasser.
He's the youngest of the front-runners, at 57. Many of the older generation have looked to well-known faces rootedin Mubarak's era. One is Shafiq, a former air force commander andMubarak's last prime minister, who was booted out of office bystreet protests several weeks after his former boss. Another is AmrMoussa, Mubarak's foreign minister for a decade before become ArabLeague chief.
In generational terms, the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate MohammedMorsi fits somewhat in the same category, though he is Islamist andShafiq and Moussa secular. The Brotherhood joined the anti-Mubarak protests, touts itself aspart of the revolution and has a strong youth activist contingent.But in the eyes of some of the young, the 82-year-old, secretiveBrotherhood led by septuagenarians is just as much a part of the"old regime" — it was Mubarak's chief opponent during hisrule, but the rivalry intertwined it in the system. In the middle class village of Kerdasa not far from the GizaPyramids, Mohammed Saleh looked dismayed at a polling centertransformed into a beehive of Brotherhood supporters. For him, thegroup has "deceptive" ways that resemble Mubarak's.
The young accountant with thick glasses said his mother was votingfor Morsi. "I asked, 'Why, mom?' She said a doctor treating her ata hospital told her to. This is how they brainwash people's minds." "They give people food at low prices. They sell cooking gascylinders for five pounds (80 cents), while outside it is sold foralmost six times that price," he said, referring to theBrotherhood's extensive charity organizations, which critics see asa way of buying popular support.
Saleh and his three brothers were going for Abolfotoh, who byleaving the Brotherhood "proved to us that he can build himselffrom scratch." Outside a polling station in northern Cairo, Injy Khairi restedwith her two young friends on a bench after standing in the longline to vote. Khairi told of friends who hid their parents'national ID cards — which voters must show to poll officials— to keep them from voting for "feloul." Khairi, fresh out of university and now working in a call center,said she tried to sway her older relatives to Sabahi, but failed."The feloul listen to no one but feloul." The same story holds in their workplaces, she and her friends said— administrators look to Moussa or Shafiq, the young staffersto Sabahi or Abolfotoh. Rafaat al-Gamal, an engineer in his fifties who backs Shafiq, saidhe doesn't care if his friends call him "feloul." "This is Egypt, not a banana republic," he said. "The presidentmust be a warrior like Shafiq.
Do you want to give it toIslamists," who he said want to monopolize power just likeMubarak's ruling party once did. Opponents of Shafiq and Moussa fear that they will do nothing todismantle Mubarak's deeply rooted autocratic system, reliant onfear of police and riddled with corruption and patronage amongofficials, the military and businessmen. Shafiq is alwaysremembered with a quote he gave during a TV interview saying, "Mymodel is Mubarak." Many of the young said that if either of the two wins, sooner orlater, protesters will return to the streets to demand change, asthey did in the 18-day anti-Mubarak uprising centered on Cairo'sTahrir Square. "I told my parents, if Amr Moussa wins, you won't see an empty inchin Tahrir Square," so many protesters will turn out, said28-year-old Ibrahim Haroun, a salesman living in Cairo's Darel-Salam slum. "We are like a baby crawling toward democracy ..
The first thingis to get rid of old leadership, the old business class backed bythe army," he said. "My parents don't see that." Voting dynamics are tough to judge. Some fear the "revolution" votewill be split between Abolfotoh and Sabahi. But then the"stability" vote is split between Shafiq and Moussa. TheBrotherhood has a powerful electoral machine, but Abolfotoh hassiphoned away Islamist voters.
Many voters who don't identify asIslamist but backed the Brotherhood in last year's parliamentaryelections have since grown disillusioned with it. Salah Osman, a 42-year-old accountant, backed the Brotherhood forthe past 20 years. Now he's voting for Shafiq, because he wants "anexperienced man." His wife is an Abolfotoh supporter, and their good-naturedbickering lasted all the way to a Cairo polling station Thursday. "He tried to change my mind, but I'm determined," said his wife,Samia Mohammed. "Shafiq is of the past.
We want the new." Osman giggled. "I even hid her ID. But here I am, accompanying herto vote. This is democracy." "But I'm going crazy," he said. "How can any two candidates evenmake it to the run-off with so many different opinions, even in thesame home?" ___ AP correspondent Sarah El Deeb in Cairo contributed to this story.
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