Tuesday, July 12, 2011

More reflections from Minya, Upper Egypt

A second day of field interviews in Minya, Upper Egypt led to the following observations:

1. Former affiliations with the NDP still inform Egyptians' ideas about politics:
Our interview with Aza'a, a young Muslim woman in the village of Abou Korkas who was not just a member, but a local representative of the NDP, proved revealing. She served on a local council under the ruling party and also ran as an NDP candidate for a higher level of governance (whether this was at the district or governorate level was not clear) in 2010.

Aza'a, a politically active woman from Minya
Aza'a did admit that there were some negative aspects of the old regime, though she was reluctant to delve into details. Life after the revolution is better, she said, because there are "less restrictions" on the people. But when asked if Aza'a would support another political party now that the NDP has been dissolved, she stated that she does not trust any other political parties. Why did she trust the NDP, we asked? "Because it was the governing party," she frankly stated. The NDP was the only party able to solve problems in society, and it was therefore the key to change. Clearly, no opposition parties- whether young or old- have won the same sort of legitimacy in her mind.

[As a side note, I've found that for many Egyptians, association with the NDP had much more to do with a desire to participate in civic life than loyalties to the party itself and its policies. Aza'a chose to get involved in politics, which is an unusual choice for jaded Egyptian youth who found the political realm under Mubarak to be frustrating and fruitless, because she saw the impact government policies have upon the people. With no opposition parties that could be taken seriously, the NDP was simply the sole option. She also expressed a notion that people "have to make a decision," implying that to shirk politics in favor of social activism is short-sighted.
I also noticed this trend yesterday in Itsa, where one of the young men at the community center admitted to having worked with the NDP, not realizing the extent of its corruption and shoddy governance. Several others claimed to have been members of a "young people's parliament," which upon a bit of investigation turned out to be one of many government-affiliated leadership programs, more specifically sponsored by the Ministry of Youth.]

2. Opposition parties have failed to penetrate rural Egypt:
This comes as no surprise, as the NDP and the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (through its massive network of social and religious activities) are the only parties with the money and influence needed to build grassroots networks. A young man in Abou Korkas, Mounir, echoed a grievance we've heard regularly in our interviews. Mounir expressed awareness of Egypt's variety of political parties, having heard about them through newspapers. They have made no appearances in his community, though.

Would you travel to [nearby town of] Minya to attend meetings and discussions with different political parties?" we asked. Of course; he would travel to Minya to hear the ideas of political parties as long as they were ready to listen to the people's ideas, too. A political party will earn his vote, he said, when they come to Abou Korkas and show a genuine interest in alleviating the community's hardships.

3. Political platforms are (and will remain) underdeveloped in the short term:
Our interview with a blind woman from Minya was a reminder of how platforms are falling short of comprehensively addressing citizen needs. Najwa related almost every single question back to the issue of disabled citizens' rights. While this didn't necessarily lead to insights into her political thinking, it made obvious that successful parties in Egypt will provide something for everyone. Sophisticated political platforms (in countries with developed rather than nascent democracies) tailor a package of promises for each community. They address senior citizens, youth, students, mothers, workers, farmers, businessmen, Muslims, Christians, and- as Najwa so diligently reminded us- unique communities such as that of the disabled population.

4. Combining religion and politics can both alienate and attract voters:  Finally, we asked Maher, a blind teacher of religion and Islamic civilization, whether he thinks parties should combine religion and politics.  This is a particularly divisive, not to mentioned heated issue in Egypt. Maher explained that he would want a party to incorporate Islamic values into its ideas, but not to impose religious beliefs or rules onto citizens. Does the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party have the right mix, I asked?  No, he said. He rejects the party (though he does respect it as the only one he has seen engage the disabled community in Minya so far). Mixing religion and politics dirties religion. And Islam must be kept sacred, Maher said.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Sarah! You are playing a key role in the civic education process worldwide. Appreciate your posts and perspective.