In Egypt, a Vote More for Change Than Faith

In Egypt, a Vote More for Change Than Faith

 Nov. 28 – When the Muslim Brotherhood says, “Islam is the Solution,” Osama Imam hopes they are talking about unemployment.

Muhammad Lotfi hopes they are talking about getting fresh running water into his home.

Shawn Baldwin for The New York Times
Ahmed Abdo Shabun of the Muslim Brotherhood was congratulated yesterday on winning the election.

The New York Times
Voters in Mazghouna ousted the governing party’s incumbent.
Kinawy Essam hopes they are talking about opening a youth center in this poor village, where the roads are unpaved, children run barefoot through dusty, litter-strewn streets, and dozens of young men mill around run-down coffee houses because there are no jobs.

But they were not, they say, voting for an Islamic caliphate.

“We voted for the one who can make a change,” Ali Rifaat, 25, said Monday, adding that had backed a Muslim Brotherhood candidate out of frustration at the stagnation of life in his village.

In a development that surprised even its own leaders, the Muslim Brotherhood won 76 seats in the first two rounds of parliamentary elections, including one in this village where a member of the group defeated a candidate from the governing National Democratic Party. With one more round of voting to go in December, the Brotherhood has established itself as the chief opposition to President Hosni Mubarak’s governing National Democratic Party.

But while the essence of the Brotherhood’s platform is a religious one, and its campaign relied heavily on the slogan “Islam is the Solution,” people in this village an hour south of Cairo said over and over that they had voted for the Brotherhood because they did not believe the governing party was committed to change. The religious component of the Brotherhood’s message was important to some, but in more than a dozen interviews on Monday, often held among crowds of people, everyone said that what was important was tangible improvement to their lives.

“We voted for many people over the years, and they did nothing for us,” said Mr. Lotfi, 31, a driver who said he was tired of having to constantly bribe the local traffic police in order to avoid troubles. “Now, we want the Brotherhood. Maybe they will do something for the people, for the youth. The water here is not even drinkable.”

There are about 15,000 people in Mazghouna, a village that runs along one of the fetid canals channeling water off the Nile River. The main street is a rutted dirt road bordered by two-story brick houses. Women lug large metal bowls and plastic containers down narrow dark alleys to pump water out of the ground for use at home.

This is the village that voted to oust a two-term incumbent, Essam Aboul Magd, a member of the National Democratic Party, and replace him with an imam, Ahmed Abdo Shabun, a longtime member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Mr. Shabun, 46, is a short man with a neatly trimmed black beard who is not a stranger to the villagers.

They know him as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood who for years has worked with a legal charitable organization distributing money to the poor and providing social services to the needy. For many years, he also preached at local mosques run by the same charity, before the government blocked him.

The Brotherhood is an illegal organization, but the charity Mr. Shabun worked for was not – and so as other members have done around the country, he won support for his organization and his cause by legally providing services that the government failed to provide.

“They help us get what we need,” said Abdel Tawab Salem, 46, who said he had six young children but had not had a permanent job since 1986. “In Ramadan we got a bag full of food.”

Mr. Salem said he had voted for Mr. Shabun because his organization had been a part of his life, unlike that of the departing governing party member. “I never used to see him,” he said.

Mr. Shabun, who says the first priority is to bring clean drinking water to the people in the 19 villages he will represent, is however, very focused on the religious component of his group’s agenda. It will be difficult for him to pursue it, so long as the National Democratic Party continues to control a commanding majority of Parliament. But it is very much on his mind.

“This is an Islamic state; we can’t say otherwise,” Mr. Shabun said. “But it is not always following the Islam God ordained. Some ideas have to be adjusted.”

He wants to ban the sale of alcohol: “I would not encourage it, but if tourists want to drink, they can bring it with them.”

He wants to do away with interest payments on money: “I would abolish bank interest and introduce Islamic banking.”

But out on the street, where many of Mr. Shabun’s future constituents walk about idly, there was little emphasis on religious ideas.

“I want change,” Adel Sabagh, 34, a farmer, said as he led his white donkey down the main street of town. “I voted for the Brotherhood for change. The other was here for 10 years and did nothing.”

There were some people who emphasized a religious motivation for picking the Brotherhood, but even with those people the religious was often intertwined with the temporal.

“All people hope Islam helps everything in life,” said Ahmed Ali, 38, a lawyer who spoke in English. “Islam will make jobs. Islam will make freedom. Islam will make everythin