Protest Roil Alexandria Before Egyptian Elections

Protests continue in Egypt ahead of Monday's parliamentary elections, the first since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak and his replacement by a military council. Audie Cornish speaks to NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson about the scene in Alexandria.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish. In Egypt today, protests are continuing ahead of tomorrow's parliamentary elections, the first since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak and his replacement by a military council. The turmoil is not limited to Cairo. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in the city of Alexandria and she joins us now. Welcome, Soraya.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Audie.

CORNISH: Describe the mood today in Alexandria.

NELSON: Well, it's very peaceful. It's certainly in stark contrast to what we've been seeing in Cairo in Tahrir Square. On the protests, the quite violent protests in fact that were taking place earlier in the week, have ended. But the people, as happy and relaxed as they seem, express a great deal of apprehension about the vote which is supposed to begin here tomorrow.

CORNISH: Soraya, what kind of questions are you hearing about the legitimacy of the election? Has the violence between military police and protests made people question elections or threaten boycotts?

NELSON: Well, the people that I've spoken to, they are looking forward to elections but they're also very apprehensive. They no longer trust the military leadership in this country to guide this country to democracy. They feel that their legitimacy has been tarnished by some of the violent events that have occurred over the past few months. Certainly, the cops here in Alexandria - this is the orthodox Christian sect; one in 10 Egyptians belongs to that sect - they're very upset about the soldiers' clashes in Cairo with Christian protesters which led to many, many dead, and also with what's happened this past week in terms of the violence in Cairo and Alexandria. But having said that, they feel that this is really the only way to move ahead. They don't necessarily see another choice but to allow the military to sort of continue in this leadership role until the elections are finished.

CORNISH: One of the groups that we read is expected to do well is the Muslim Brotherhood. Can you tell us what kind of base of support that they have in Alexandria?

NELSON: Well, there are a lot of impoverished people here and certainly the brotherhood has been very active in this area in supporting them, providing services and the like. The candidates here representing the Muslim Brotherhood party, which is the Freedom and Justice Party, are quite confident in the victory they will have tomorrow. In fact, this was a place where the police cracked down quite a bit during last November's parliamentary elections. And so, tomorrow they feel that they will have the upper hand. There is also a new Islamic faction, the Salafis, who are also quite strong here. They gained some prominence in Alexandria a few weeks back when some of the members of the party came out and covered up a statue of mermaids, you know, because her breasts were showing or her breasts were showing. And the fear here is, because this is still a fairly cosmopolitan town, they don't really necessarily want Islamist rule.

CORNISH: Soraya, in the minute we have left, do we have any sense of what kind of turnout are you expecting there in Alexandria?

NELSON: Well, here in Alexandria, where peace has returned, everyone I've talked to, without fail, has said they are casting ballots tomorrow, even if they have doubts and even if they worry about violence. I mean, that is interesting to note that most of the people I talked to are planning to go in groups to the polling stations. They worry about plainclothes thugs, they worry about clashes with security forces and with Islamists who might be out trying to intimidate voters. So, it seems that there will be a good turnout here tomorrow and we'll just have to see that the violence that everybody is fearful of happens.

CORNISH: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Alexandria, Egypt. Soraya, thank you.

NELSON: You're welcome.

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