Arab Today, arab today egypt landmark poll stirs passions in farming village
Last Updated : GMT 22:00:46
Arab Today, arab today
Arab Today, arab today

Egypt landmark poll stirs passions in farming village

Arab Today, arab today

Arab Today, arab today Egypt landmark poll stirs passions in farming village

Cairo - AFP

The cars rumbled to a dusty halt outside the community centre of a farming village miles from Cairo, where men -- from the elderly village chief to the university student -- prepared to engage in a war of words over upcoming presidential polls. The Tafahna al-Azab Cultural Centre was initially set up to provide scholarships and a modest library, but took on an added political dimension after the revolt that ended Hosni Mubarak\'s three decade rule, organising regular discussions around the country\'s new political dynamics. The topic consuming the residents of this village, that sits in the middle of citrus orchards and vegetable fields, is the landmark presidential election. \"We need a man of experience. We can\'t afford to have someone who will experiment with us at such a critical phase,\" Mohammed Mandur, an Arabic teacher, told the packed room at the centre, housed in an annexe of a traditional rural home, with its high ceilings and colourful stone floor tiles. Outside, posters of the presidential candidates hang from the red-brick buildings eating away at Tafahna al-Azab\'s rich agricultural land. The same issues are being fiercely discussed across the country: Should Egypt elect an experienced politician who can maintain stability? Should Islamists who were previously banned be given a chance to govern? It has taken 15 tumultous months of political upheaval and bloodshed to get from the mass nationwide protests calling for political change to the country\'s first ever free multi-candidate presidential elections. \"If we have a real government, real institutions, everything will be fine,\" said Mandur, dressed in a traditional galabeya, attire increasingly in decline in Cairo and the large cities. \"They all just talk, talk, talk but none of them will do anything, they only care about their interests,\" said the tall bespectacled Amin Abdel Aziz Imam, a local government employee. Across the room, sits Ibrahim, a university student who belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood, wearing a young beard he is still learning to groom and who speaks without the cynicism that marks the words of his elder neighbours. \"The Koran should be the basis of the state, religion is the answer to get rid of any self interest,\" he told the others, causing an uproar in the room. \"The Islamists! What have the Islamists done for the country? They have monopolised everything. The Islamists have ruined this country,\" charged Ahmed Tohamy Omran, one of the village\'s wealthier farmers, as Ibrahim shrunk into giggles. The powerful Muslim Brotherhood, banned under Mubarak, have become a powerful overt force since last year\'s uprising, scoring a crushing victory in parliamentary elections, nominating a speaker of parliament, and fielding a presidential candidate Mohammed Mursi (after their first candidate Khairat al-Shater was disqualified over a previous conviction). But many in Tafahna say they have become disillusioned with the group they voted for in the legislative elections, accusing the Islamist movement of monopolosing politics despite repeated promises to seek limited power. \"The problem is, the revolution took a wrong path,\" said Abul Enein Zarad, a former army officer who fought in the 1973 war against Israel. \"We had to write a constitution first. How can you build a house without the pillars? \"For me, my Koran is the constitution,\" Zarad declared, prompting two Islamist teachers to make their excuses and abandon the debate in quiet offence. Outside the cultural centre, where the debate was reserved for men, women and their children shuttled busily doing errands across the village, before the farmers come back from the fields with their cattle. Their main concern is the spike in crime around Tafahna since the 2011 uprising that saw police disappear from the streets. Stories of armed marijuana dealers roaming the banks of the canal that irrigates the village have kept them indoors after dark for the past few months. \"I just want someone to make it safe again, to get rid of these criminals,\" said Safa, a colourful tight scarf wraped around her head and tied behind her neck to show two big gold loop earrings. Back inside the cultural centre, the sharp exchanges are suddenly interrupted by the arrival of Mohammed Abu Eissa, the \"Omda\" -- the village\'s equivalent of a mayor -- and his entourage. The men stand to attention, revealing slight creases in their neatly ironed galabeyas from hours of sitting, and greet Abu Eissa, a slight man in his 70s who sits quietly and listens to discussion, squatting the occasional fly. Talk turns to last week\'s unprecedented televised presidential debate between Amr Mussa, a former foreign minister under Mubarak and the head of the Arab League for the last decade, and Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood running as an independent. \"After all these years of presidents imposed on us, we actually don\'t know who is going to be president. And watching these two men trying to prove themselves, it was incredible,\" said Amgad, an employee at the local primary school.

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