In North Sinai, Islamist parties expected to prevail

ARISH Fifty-eight candidates and 13 party lists face off Tuesday in the third round of People's Assembly elections in North Sinai.

The North Sinai constituency carries six seats: four for the list-based system and two for single-winner candidates, which are split between professional and worker/farmer seats.

North Sinai is noticeably absent of candidates from revolutionary parties that were formed after 25 January. Older parties, like the Wafd, have a bigger presence than the new liberal parties. And the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and Salafi-led Nour Party are more prominent here.

Another aspect of the elections in Sinai is the proliferation of feloul, or former National Democratic Party (NDP) candidates who are now running as independents. Those include Suleiman Arada, the winner of a professional seat in the 2010 election.

The 2010 election in North Sinai was marred with violence due to disputes between supporters of Arada and of his closest competition Fayez Abu Harb, also an NDP candidate but from a different tribe.

Two shootouts occurred in Sheikh Zowayed and Arish that led to the death of a young man. Tribalism colors everything in North Sinai, including politics.

Wafd list-based candidate Radwan Salman said, "Our tribal loyalties are greater than our political affiliations."

This time around, the favorite for the professional single-winner seat is the FJP's Abdel Rahman al-Shurbagy. Also in the running are former NDP candidates Ramadan Farhan and Arada, as mentioned before, as well as independent Mohsen Abdel Rahman.

For the worker/farmer seat, the frontrunner is the Wafd Party's Hamada Sukar, who is facing competition from former NDP candidates Farag Abu Helwa, Suleiman al-Beira and independent candidate Saleh Abu Ragash.

For the lists, the FJP and Nour are expected to be the frontrunners, and even though there are lists from the liberal Egyptian Bloc and the moderate Islamist Wasat Party, the main competition comes from feloul parties as well, such as the Reform and Development, Egypt National and Union parties, formed by former NDP Secretary General Hossam Badrawy.

Even though the Nour Party is expected to make the biggest gains in list-based seats, in North Sinai it is beset by a schism that might hinder its prospects. For many Salafis, especially around the Rafah area, the elections are prohibited because it goes against their particular brand of Salafism.

Salafis in Arish and Sheikh Zowayed known as Salafis of the Dawa, or calling are in favor of contesting the elections, but those farther north toward the border, known as Salafis of Jihad, are against participation in the elections.

North Sinai is a hotspot of turmoil, because of its proximity to the Israeli and Gazan borders and the way Hosni Mubarak's regime and security forces treated residents over the past three decades.

There are issues of identity and equal rights in North Sinai that will need to be addressed by its representatives in the upcoming parliament. There are also "failures in developing" North Sinai, according to 25 January Revolution Youth Coalition member Saeed Ataik, who sees little to be optimistic about in the elections regardless of their results. This is because the institutional failures responsible for the ills of North Sinai go much further than the elected assembly.

Echoing comments made by Ataik, Hassan, a resident of Sheikh Zowayed, said, "There is still much that needs to be changed here, and elections are not the answer. We are in a state of revolution and we need revolutionary not reformist solutions. The revolution continues."

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