Egypt old guard feel tide has turned
FAYOUM, Egypt (Reuters) - Seif Dawi is drawing on political experience garnered as a member of Hosni Mubarak's ruling party to help the toppled leader's last prime minister defeat the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt's presidential election.
Heading Ahmed Shafik's campaign in the rural province of Fayoum, Dawi is proud to describe himself as "feloul", pejorative Egyptian political slang used to refer to "remnants" of a ruling establishment demonized since Mubarak was toppled.
"My entire family were 'feloul', and it is an honor," said the 35-year-old, sipping tea in a cafe and taking a stream of phone calls from fellow activists on the first day of voting in a run-off ballot between Shafik and the Islamist Mohamed Morsy.
Former members of Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP), officially dissolved last year, have sprung back into action in the run-up to an election which they hope will bring Shafik to power and re-establish some of the influence they once had.
"Only a military man can govern Egypt," Dawi declared.
Ostracized for almost a year and a half, NDP loyalists have looked on as Islamists and others have filled the political space once dominated by their party with the help of state resources and oppressive laws that kept any competition at bay.
But with Islamist political gains of the last year reversed on Thursday by a court ruling dissolving the new, Brotherhood-led parliament, stalwarts of the old order are starting to feel the tide has turned in their favor.
In Fayoum, a province where Islamists won nearly all the seats over the winter in voting for parliament, former NDP activists see new legislative polls following the dissolution as a chance to rebuild. They even talk of founding a new party.
To the pro-democracy activists who rose up against Mubarak, the steady revival of figures associated with his rule confirms their worst fears about the direction of a political transition they hoped would lead to a new, democratic era.
Always suspicious of the military rulers who pushed aside Mubarak to appease street protests, reformists are now contemplating the prospect of a major reversal. Shafik, a former air force commander who has described Mubarak as a role model, has played down such fears, promising to be a president for all.
But capturing the gloom among reformists, the words "Opening Soon" have been daubed on the gates of the NDP's headquarters in Cairo, an imposing building on the Nile that was abandoned after being gutted in an arson attack during the uprising. Some warn of a "second revolution" for democracy should Shafik win.
Reflecting concern within the Brotherhood, the group has warned of the kind of foul play that typified elections of Mubarak's era. There were allegations - denied by the election commission - that members of the security services were mobilized to vote for Shafik in the first round of the election.
Addressing some of the criticism, the 70-year-old Shafik has said he will "not produce the old regime again".
"I will not use any leaders of the former regime, or its members, due to age," he said in a pre-election newspaper interview. "They are no longer capable of giving."
He criticized the term "feloul" as "a Brotherhood creation" designed to slander anyone who was part of the NDP, founded in 1978 by Mubarak's predecessor Anwar Sadat. Its membership had grown to several million by the time it was dissolved.
The NDP became a forum to connect the state, headed by Mubarak, big business and traditional networks of local notable families in places such as Fayoum.
In Fayoum, where support for the Islamist movement runs deep, many Shafik campaign posters have been torn or had "feloul" scrawled across them. Dawi said the Shafik camp had given up on hanging banners altogether in Fayoum.
He said former NDP activists had coalesced around Shafik out of a sense of self-preservation as the man best placed to defend their interests, adding that recent steps to strip political rights from those who held power in the Mubarak-era had only given them a further incentive to come back together as a group.
"They tried to make the people think that everyone in the NDP was corrupt," said Dawi, a civil servant who served as a local councilor for the NDP in Fayoum and whose brother, cousin and uncle were all members of parliament in Cairo.
"These people are not taking a stand for the sake of Ahmed Shafik," he said of those who were campaigning, "But because of their own interests first and foremost.
"They are the rich people of the area, the elite."
Dawi's local campaign team included a man who said he had spent 30 years working in the NDP's youth and sport wing and another, a member of Egypt's Christian minority, who had also served as an NDP local councilor. Many Christians fear a rise in religious intolerance if the Brotherhood take power.
Many of the Islamists' supporters denounce what they see as a campaign behind Shafik to re-install Mubarak's old establishment: "It's clear that Ahmed Shafik has the state apparatus completely behind him," said Ahmed Abdel Moneim, 49-year old Brotherhood activist at a Fayoum polling station.
"You have to be concerned."
While the Brotherhood reels from this week dissolution of a parliament in which they had more than 43 percent of the seats and a working majority with fellow Islamists, the former NDP activists in Fayoum saw Thursday's news as a major boost.
The Brotherhood's popularity has also declined since the legislative polls a few months ago - in the first round of presidential voting last month, Morsy won only half as much support as Brotherhood candidates had in the parliamentary vote and a new legislative election will likely cost the group seats.
Mohamed Arfeh is a Shafik campaign activist who works at the Ministry of Youth and Sport. A cycling coach, he speaks proudly of his years of work with the NDP and said he is ready to hit the campaign trail again for the next parliamentary election:
"Once Ahmed Shafik gets comfortable in the presidential seat," he said. "We will be ready for any battle."
(Additional reporting by Tamim Elyan; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)
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