A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, April 12, 2012

How Rural Villagers Saw the Egyptian Elections in One Village

There's a very interesting piece at the Egypt Independent: "Who do Egypt’s villagers vote for? And why?"  The author, Yasmine Moataz Ahmed, is a PhD candidate in social anthropology at Cambridge University, and has apparently been doing her fieldwork in a village in the Fayoum. She studied local reactions to the elections, and found the locals favoring the Salafi Al-Nour Party over the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party. But the reasons will surprise: they found the  Salafis less rigid than the Brotherhood. Read it all, but here are key excerpts:
Salafis, on the other hand, are seen as religiously flexible. “Aren’t we all Salafis?” many Nour supporters often repeated to me. For them, Salafis represent a religious understanding that seeks to closely follow the times of the Prophet and his followers — the Prophet was married to a Coptic woman, his neighbors were Jews, he dealt with each situation on a case-by-case basis, hence the perception that Salafis are, believe it or not, lenient. This was reflected on the ground; Salafis, at least in the village where I worked, appear to be more laid-back compared to the Ikhwan, and hence, more sensitive and open to the local context.

Class was also a factor that often worked against the Brotherhood’s candidates. Due to being the most educated cluster, Ikhwani leaders are strongly present in professional occupations in village-level bureaucracies; they are the teachers, the lawyers, the engineers, and more importantly the personnel of the most funded NGO: Al-Jam’eya al-Shar’eya. Ikhwan leaders often use their positions, particularly in the NGO, to promote the Freedom and Justice party through coercing the poorest of the village into long-term charity and debt relations; they fund kidney dialysis operations, pay monthly stipends for orphan children, and distribute money and goods for ad-hoc lists that they prepare once they get orders from their leaders in Cairo.
And note that for the villagers, the only options seemed to be the Brotherhood or the Salafis. Liberals may draw votes in Cairo and Alexandria, but not, apparently, in the rural hinterland that is still much of Egypt.

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