In Sisi's old neighbourhood, voters point out the benefits of his first term

Medieval district where the president grew up has seen better security and improvements, residents say

March 26, 2018- Cairo-- A woman stands in line to vote in the Gamiliya district in Cairo. Monday is the first day of voting in Egypt's presidential election. (Dana Smillie for The National)

At a polling station in the historic Gamiliya district of Cairo, a short stroll past the labyrinthine Khan Al Khalili bazaar and the stately minarets of the 12th-century Hussein Mosque, Nour Hussein Nour cast his ballot on Monday morning for his former neighbour, President Abdel Fattah El Sisi.

"His family worked in the arabesque business," said Mr Nour, 50, a metal dealer, referring to the ornate lattice woodwork used in traditional hand-crafted furniture and as privacy screens. "He left he area after he became a colonel in the army."

Mr Nour was among a trickle of early voters on the first day of Egypt's presidential election. Mr El Sisi is seeking a high turnout as an endorsement of his policies to achieve the twin goals of security and economic development. He is virtually assured of victory, with a little known politician as his only rival. after other potential candidates either withdrew or were imprisoned. The opposition has called for a boycott of the election, alleging of intimidation of candidates from civil society and imprisonment of rivals from within the military establishment.

Most of the voters in Gamiliya praised the changes they had seen during Mr El Sisi's first four years in power. The former military chief was elected in May 2014, almost a year after the army removed president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood from office amid mass protests against his rule.

"As president, El Sisi saved us from the betrayal of Egypt by the Muslim Brotherhood," said Mr Nour.

“This area had become unsafe and neglected,” said Nabil Amin, a 60-year-old jewellery maker. “Now instead of sewage bubbling over cracked asphalt, a new sanitation system has been put in and the road is covered with basalt paving stones.”

Mr Amin pointed to the recently plastered and painted buildings across from his workshop on Beit Al Qady Street.

“The area looks better and is safer now because the police have made everyone install security cameras.”


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Even in this closely knit community where everyone knows their neighbours, security emerged as the theme dominating voters' thoughts.

“I am here to vote for Sisi because he restored security in the streets," said Hidayeh Sayed, a 46-year-old homemaker — one of the first people to cast their ballots at the Hussein Preparatory School for Boys, a Sadat-era building built in the shadow of the 14th-century Madrasa Sultan Barquq, a Mamluk-era monument.

Detachments of camouflaged army conscripts and officers supplemented a heavy police presence at the school and other polling stations.

Teenagers wearing T-shirts with the slogan "Long Live Egypt" augmented the turnout, singing along to the Sisi campaign jingle “Good Evening, Mr President” — a track by Emirati pop singer Hussain Al Jassmi.

But neither the clapping neighbours nor the urging of his elders could convince 30-year-old Ali Taha to “come down and participate” in supporting Mr El Sisi.

“Sisi will win the elections whether I vote for him or not,” said Mr Taha, 30. “My uncle and father have been bothering me about this all morning but I really don’t see why I should go.”

At the ِAl Hussein Elementary School, polling supervisor Mohammed Al Hadidi was optimistic that the sealed and numbered ballot boxes would be full by the time the first day of polling closed at 9pm.

Mr Al Hadidi is one of more than 4,000 judges assigned by the justice ministry to oversee polling nationwide.

“This is a tourist area and people work throughout the evening,” he said. “More voters are expected throughout the day, and remember we are still on the first day.”

Many Gamiliya residents said they were not in a rush, given that they still had two more days to cast their votes.

“I am going to vote later,” said Ahmed Hesham, 20, an Arabic-language major at the nearby Al Azhar University. “In his first term El Sisi started important national projects like building new cities, but I do hope he can do something to either lower prices or raise wages because things have been tough here economically for a very long time.”