Trying to figure out who will win the Egyptian election is a losing proposition, since the polls are contradictory and up to forty percent of the voters are still undecided.
But a few hours spent interviewing people in the working class district of Imbaba – which provided a lot of votes for the Muslim Brotherhood in last fall’s parliamentary elections – revealed that the Brothers have lost a lot of ground. “We chose them before because we wanted to give them a chance,” I was told by teacher Saad Mohammed, “but they just talk and don’t do anything. We hoped for security and jobs.”
I heard variants of this refrain over and over. Last fall the Brotherhood candidates for parliament were viewed as “good people” because of their charitable work and their religious piety. But now there is buyer’s remorse. An elderly tea server in one café told me, “Forget about the propaganda the Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood) used the first time. Now there is chaos and we need someone strong. “
So of twenty or so people I spoke with in several cafes – drivers, carpenters, laborers, and the unemployed, the large majority were voting for the two secular candidates associated with the Mubarak regime – Ahmed Shafiq or Amr Moussa.
Then there was the logical argument made by housepainter Shaaban Abdullah, who voted for Brotherhood candidates last time but said he doesn’t believe that the president and parliament should come from the same party. “We need to make some kind of balance,” Abdullah said, “or else we will go back to the old way of (ousted president) Hosni Mubarak where he was the head of everything.” Abdullah is voting for the moderate Islamist Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh was was kicked out of the Brotherhood last year.
But before you draw any conclusions from this you must consider that the attitudes in Cairo don’t necessarily reflect those in the vast hinterlands of upper Egypt or the Nile Delta. Nor do they tell us whether the Muslim Brotherhood’s vast, well-oiled network of charitable and business operations can turn out so many voters that it offsets the disappointment with how their members of parliament have performed.