In western Egypt, Bedouin tribesmen break with Muslim Brotherhood

 

McClatchy Newspapers

In the tribal lands of western Egypt, the Bedouins may appear the same – long dresses, turbans, and sun-burnt complexions – but their political allegiances have shifted like the sands.

Months after backing Islamist politicians in parliamentary elections, many Bedouin tribesmen had thrown their support behind former dictator Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, Ahmed Shafik, instead of the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate in this weekend’s runoff election for president.

“It was a disappointing partnership with the Islamists,” said Saleh Salem, a 32-year-old deputy chief of the Jebeihat, a powerful tribe that occupies lands stretching from the coastal Egyptian city of Alexandria and the Libyan port of Tobruk.

Noting the Egyptian constitutional court’s decision last week to dissolve Parliament on legal grounds – a move that was heavily criticized by the Brotherhood, the largest bloc in Parliament – Salem said, “This Parliament deserves being dissolved and I am endorsing Shafik for the presidency.”

The decision by Bedouin tribesmen such as Salem to support a holdover from the old regime – despite being severely marginalized during Mubarak’s 30 years of strongman rule – reflects the disillusionment felt by many Egyptians with the Muslim Brotherhood, whose candidate, Mohammed Morsi, was contesting the presidential runoff against Shafik.

In interviews at a coffee shop in the seaside desert town of Marsa Matrouh, tribesmen expressed disappointment with the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies, the ultraconservative Salafists, who together were the big winners in parliamentary elections last fall but have been outmaneuvered by the ruling military council in recent weeks. Morsi seemed likely to lose the presidential runoff to Shafik, with final results expected by Thursday.

Salem, who is prominent locally for his acres of olive trees, says his tribe lost all confidence in Islamists “because of their shameful performance as parliamentarians.”

“They started by turning their backs on us when it comes to community needs, and ended with sex scandals,” said Salem, referring to the Salafist Nour Party parliamentarian Ali Wanis who, according to security officials, was caught “performing public indecency with a girl in his car” last week.

But the tribesman had less respect for the Brotherhood than for the Salafists.

“The Muslim Brotherhood wants to impose their ideology on tribal customs and traditions that ruled this part of the world for hundreds of years.”

While millions of Egyptians refer to Shafik as “flool” – a disdainful term for remnants of the Mubarak regime – Salem accused the Islamists of being “like Mubarak, who never respected us, understood or even tried to understand us.”

“They want to invade this community and erase our tribal character,” he said.

Officials with the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party in Marsa Matroh, who were following the elections from their headquarters two blocks away from the coffee shop, expressed confidence that their candidate, Morsi, would prevail in the voting. But they acknowledged that their support had slipped.

“Some people lost confidence in us because they were fooled by the constant smear campaign led by the military government against us,” said Fouad Zaghlol, the party’s secretary-general in Marsa Matroh.

Zaghlol argued that the dissolution of Parliament, in which the Brotherhood held 47 percent of the seats, increased support for Morsi after people realized the “counter-revolutionary conspiracy” led by the ruling military council.

On Sunday, the second and last day of runoff voting, judges here complained about the low turnout. One polling station received less than quarter of its registered voters by Sunday afternoon, eight hours before voting ended.

Heavily armed military personnel were stationed at every polling station on the western coast leading to the Libyan border, from which countless weapons have been smuggled into Egypt since the uprisings in both nations began early last year.

Mahmoud Sharaf, who voted for Morsi on Sunday, had one month earlier voted for Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, the defected Muslim Brotherhood official.

“I am voting for Morsi because he comes from an Islamic ideology, from an organization that will apply Islamic law,” said Sharaf, a 45 year-old driver who covered his car windows with Nour Party logos.

But Salem, the tribesman, said he couldn’t trust Salafists “because of their changing decisions.”

“They might announce endorsing Shafik tomorrow,” he said.

Sabry is a McClatchy special correspondent.

Read more World Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
A Palestinian vendor plays with balloons at the market in the Jebaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip, Sunday, July 27, 2014. During normal times, families in Gaza would be busy now with preparations for Eid al-Fitr, the three-day holiday marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. Traditionally, children get new clothes, shoes and haircuts, and families visit each other. In the outdoor market, vendors set up stands with clothes and shoes, but said business was slow.

    Gaza war rages despite Hamas, Israel truce pledges

    Israel and Hamas launched new attacks Sunday in the raging Gaza war, despite going back and forth over proposals for a temporary halt to nearly three weeks of fighting ahead of a major Muslim holiday.

  • UN Security Council calls for Gaza cease-fire

    The U.N. Security Council called for "an immediate and unconditional humanitarian cease-fire" in the Gaza war between Israel and Hamas at an emergency meeting just after midnight Monday morning.

  • Girls killed, hurt in attack in Thailand's south

    A 12-year-old girl was killed and seven people, including two other girls, were wounded in a roadside bomb attack near an army base in Thailand's insurgency-plagued south, police said Monday.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category