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Health Care missing from Egypt politics
Health Care missing from Egypt politics
The recent health care reform battle between Republicans and Democrats in the United States has illustrated what is vitally missing in Egypt’s political parties.
Wednesday, March 31,2010 10:52
by Baher Ibrahim BM&Ikhwanweb

The recent health care reform battle between Republicans and Democrats in the United States has illustrated what is vitally missing in Egypt’s political parties. Congress has its eyes on upcoming mid term elections, while most Egyptians either don’t know or don’t care about upcoming parliamentary elections this fall. Most are negative or at best apathetic about politics. The ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) is widely expected to win, and most Egyptians couldn’t care less about who is representing their district in the People’s Assembly (PA). The NDP is going to win anyway, they say, so what difference does it make?

They are right; the NDP will probably win a majority of the seats. However, this begs a closer look at the reasons behind their expected victory. Allegations of corruption and vote rigging are commonplace, but such oversimplifications do not explain the fact that a majority of Egyptian citizens will vote for the NDP candidates, who won’t need vote rigging to win.

Believe it or not, there are 24 political parties in Egypt, not counting the Muslim Brotherhood (the Brotherhood is officially banned, but its candidates are allowed to run as independents). Practically nobody can name more than a few of them. Many have no parliamentary presence anyway. So why are they there in the first place, and why do they fare so poorly in elections?

The World Bank estimates that 23 percent of Egyptians live below the poverty line. A large proportion of those above the poverty line are still struggling to make a living. Illiteracy rates are at 26 percent. In the face of these grim statistics, a very large proportion of Egyptians simply do not care about the words democracy, transparency, freedom of speech or thought or the abolition of emergency law.

This is not to say that they should be denied these basic rights. However, when these (legitimate) demands are the only words used by the opposition parties, they simply fail to strike a chord with the average Egyptian who is mainly concerned with making a living and receiving proper services such as health care.

This explains why the NDP is just as popular among the poor as it is among the business elite. In Alexandria, the Talaat Mustafa family is very popular. It is well known for its philanthropy and loved by many. Talaat Mustafa hospital is famous among the poor residents of ezbet al Matar around Alexandria airport. Anybody who has had to go through the anguish of waiting for days in Alexandria University hospitals for his turn to have a plain X-ray appreciates the presence of immediate (not optimal, of course) health care for free.

Another of the family’s philanthropic endeavors, Dar al-Hanan school for the mentally disabled, is light years away from other poorly funded government projects for the disabled. In addition to these, the family runs several orphanages in Alexandria. Tarek, son of the late Talaat Mustafa, is assured re-election to his PA seat every time. No other candidate offers constituents such benefits. During his brother Hisham’s trial, an outpouring of public support proved peoples’ love and support for the family.

NDP and Shura Council member Mohamed Magdy Afifi (Muharram Bey district) adopts a similar strategy. He routinely appears at charity events and his charity organization offers several social and health care services, including a cancer chemotherapy center, care for orphans and widows and Umra (pilgrimage) trips to Mecca.

Another NDP and Shura Council member, Mohamed Farag Amer, recently opened his own Faragallah Charity hospital in Alexandria. Once again, it may not be state of the art, but no one can say no to cheap health care, especially when you can’t afford an expensive private hospital and don’t want the poor service of a government hospital.

It is this precise strategy that allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to fare so well in the 2005 elections, when they won 88 seats in the PA. The Brotherhood runs 22 hospitals in Egypt and has schools in every governorate. It also runs numerous care centers for poor widows and orphans as well as training programs for the unemployed. Such programs bolster support for the Brotherhood among people growing increasingly dissatisfied with the government. The MB does not try to appeal to its constituents solely through vague ideological arguments about Islam and Sharia. Rather, they offer material benefits which over time garner popular support for them.

On the other hand, why would the people who give their votes to the MB offer them to the Ghad, the Wafd, the Tagammu or any other party that has done nothing for them? Voters aren’t necessary attracted to the MB’s ideology; it’s the wide ranging social programs that give the MB such appeal.

Obviously, other smaller opposition parties do not have the power or financial resources of the NDP to offer programs on the same scale. What they can do, though, is learn to organize like the MB. Most are indifferent to the poor majority and concentrate on Egypt’s elite, while others are torn by inner party struggles. For the most part, even Egypt’s elite does not have much trust for the opposition parties. If they can’t solve their inner differences and keep fighting over party leadership, how will they behave if this country is in their hands, they wonder. Egypt’s opposition should unite and find common ground; the good of Egypt and the Egyptian people.

One is not suggesting that parties simply buy peoples’ votes with charity. That is what the NDP does to preserve the status quo, and it works. In order for Egypt’s opposition to be in a sufficiently strong position to demand the change and reforms needed, they need the support of Egyptians as a whole. By providing services and programs to compete with those of the NDP and the government, they can prove there are better alternatives for the future. If this does not happen, then Egypt’s fragmented, disorganized opposition is destined to fail.

Republished with permission from Bikya Masr

tags: Political Reform / Reform Of Muslim Brotherhood / Corruption In Egypt / Election Fraud / NDP
Posted in Reform Issues , Human Rights , Democracy  
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