CAIRO — During a protest staged by physically disabled protesters on Monday, a question was directed to a girl in her early twenties: “What do you expect in the next parliamentary elections?”
She replied, “Elections? What elections are you talking about? Ones that might bring further injustice to these people or ones that will liberate them?”
On the streets of the capital, it is difficult to find any indication that three weeks from now, voters must cast their votes on who should be their representatives in the next Egyptian parliament — the same parliament charged with selecting the assembly that will create Egypt’s new constitution.
Instead the streets of Cairo are filled with fear and sorrow.
The group of physically disabled protesters, stationed in front of the ministerial cabinet headquarters, threatened that they would commit collective suicide if the Prime Minister Essam Sharaf did not meet with them. They were taken lightly until they doused themselves with gasoline. Sharaf still did not appear.
The ministerial cabinet headquarters in downtown Cairo has been the magnet that attracts the city’s labor sit-ins, all in hope of getting time with their “revolutionary” prime minister or someone in power willing to listen. Thousands of state workers have launched strikes and protests around the country in the months since former President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, trying to draw attention to economic woes they say no one is addressing.
The fast-spreading strikes include teachers, drivers, doctors, and private companies demanding pay raises and better government services.
At the same time, most of the leading political parties seem to be ignoring labor demands. Leaders’ own political agendas have taken priority, raising the question of whether labor groups will be inspired to cast votes for the next parliament at all.
As vocal as anti-government activists have been, most Egyptians stand with the government against the strikers, claiming that anyone who protests during this fragile economic time is a traitor to the country.
“They have to stop their sit-ins at once, every single Egyptian who loves this country should wait until it is able to stand strong again and then start asking for his rights. We should be optimistic despite how broken is the Egyptian economy,” said Sameh Laben, 50, standing in the Abdel Moneim Riyad autobus station waiting for one of the very few drivers not taking part in a scheduled sit-in to arrive.
Many of these same people denounce the political parties and the parliamentary elections, questioning their legitimacy.
“I will not vote during the parliamentary elections,” said Nawal El Taweel, a government employee.
She is one of the many people who have already decided against voting, lacking trust in Egypt’s rulers to secure “free and fair” elections. Some groups say they’ll leave the country during election time in case things turn violent, while others doubt that the elections will take place at all.
“Are you asking me about elections? I doubt it will ever happen with what SCAF [Supreme Council of the Armed Forces] is doing now,” said Haider Ghaleb, a software developer.
SCAF has been a subject of growing criticism in Egypt since it became the Egypt’s ruling body after Mubarak’s ouster. Criticism is particularly fierce of the continued military trials civilians face in Egypt.
SCAF is also accused of cracking down on protesters on Oct. 9 in the Maspero incident that led to the death of 27 and more than 300 injured. That left many Egyptians pushing against the military council instead of worrying about the parliamentary elections.
Although SCAF denied that army forces used live ammunition against Maspero protesters or that personnel intentionally used armored vehicles to run over civilians. But instead of calming people down, SCAF then cracked down on the media, leading to the resignation of a well-known TV personality Yosri Fouda in mid-October.
SCAF fueled more dissent when it recently ordered the detention of activist and blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah for 15 days pending investigations on charges of inciting violence during the Maspero clashes.
That decision came only days after thousands rallied protesting the death of two people who died from police brutality, Essam Ali Atta who human rights groups say died after police officers forced water through his mouth and anus. The other, Moataz Anwar, was allegedly chased then killed by bullets from the police.
Tensions have been particularly high over the past few weeks, some progressive political groups have already started to talk about a second revolution.
“Egypt is a country that had a revolution but not justice. It’s a country that people upraised against tyranny but they still live in one,” said Mohamed Maged, a physician.
Leading parties contending for parliament include Al-Wafd, Tagammu and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, holdovers from the Mubarak era.
New political parties have come onto the scene and activists like Asmaa Mahfouz and Mahmoud Sallem may run for office (and blogger Sandmonkey already is), but the consensus is that the next parliament will be more old than new.
“I am very excited because this is the first time I will ever vote, but I am also pessimistic about the outcome,” said Nourhan Abdel Rahman. “I don’t think there will be a real change any time soon, maybe next round of parliament but not this time.”