Egyptian Families Finding New Interest In Politics

The first truly competitive presidential election in Egypt's history is just two weeks away. The campaign has sparked lively interest around the country, as the candidates appear at campaign rallies and on televised talk shows. The election is also the major topic of conversation in many Egyptian living rooms.

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Later this month, Egyptians will vote in their country's first truly competitive presidential election. Campaign billboards line the highways; candidates are debating each other, speaking on the stump and making the rounds of political talk shows.

And as Kimberly Adams reports from Cairo, Egyptian families are hosting their own informal debates.

(SOUNDBITE OF CARS)

KIMBERLY ADAMS, BYLINE: The normally slow traffic in Cairo becomes even more jammed up than usual on Friday and Saturday nights, as Cairenes pack into their cars to go on family visits. It's common here for people to meet with their extended families on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, usually at the home of an older relative.

In the upper middle class neighborhood of Heliopolis, a collection of aunts, uncles, and cousins meets in the fashionably decorated living room of 79-year-old Zeina Hamza. Before last year's revolution, she says these family gatherings were just a chance to catch up.

ZEINA HAMZA: Talk about everything; about expensive food, whatever you think about - anything.

ADAMS: But since then, the conversation has changed.

Her granddaughter, Nourhan Osama, is 20 and studies law and English.

NOURHAN OSAMA: You need a conversation, we're completely different about. No, we never talked about politics, never ever - never ever.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

OSAMA: Yes, never ever about anything. We weren't interested.

ADAMS: There's no doubt they are interested now. Political sociologist Said Sadek, who teaches at the American University in Cairo, says these family get-togethers have been a key outlet for political debate in the 15 months since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

SAID SADEK: In Egyptian families who were not usually interested in politics and they were only interested in daily events and entertainment and things like that, politics became very important because it began to affect their lives and now they began to feel that politics are important.

ADAMS: Sadek says the family meetings often reveal the gap in opinion between younger and older generations. That gap exists in Hamza's family. Her granddaughter, Sally, won't support any candidate with ties to the former regime, but Sally's mother supports Mubarak's one-time foreign minister, Amr Moussa, who is among the frontrunners.

But, in this upper middle class family, there is some common ground.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 2: At least all of us - all of us agree on one thing, that none of us are voting for the Islamists.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 3: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 2: OK.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 3: And I'm (unintelligible), so - no.

ADAMS: But some 15 miles outside Cairo in the economically distressed village of Suqayl, posters for Islamist candidates on the sides of dilapidated apartment buildings show the community's support for more conservative leadership. To get to the home of Hayat Ahmed Dawoot, you have to step around huge holes in the dirt road. Men are using cell phones for light as they dig the village's first sewer system.

Inside Dawoot's home, she and her sister, Hekma, both in their 70s, preside over their meeting of adult children, in-laws and small grandchildren. Many in this family support the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohammed Morsi, because they want a president who plans to bring Islamic values to the job.

But others in the Dawoot family want a more secular candidate. There's support for Amr Moussa here, as well as former prime minister, Ahmed Shafit. Even though the debate can get a bit heated at times, Hekma Dawoot enjoys the exchange of ideas.

HEKMA DAWOOT: (Through Translator) Before, people could not talk, but now everyone has an opinion and has freedom. It is very good. The country is better than before.

ADAMS: Political sociologist Sadek says the revolution has put Egypt through a crash course in political participation.

SADEK: And, in the last one year and a half during this transition, the Egyptians are learning everything that they didn't know about politics, from how to write constitution, what is a constitutional assembly, what is a free election, fair election - all the things that did not exist.

ADAMS: The Hamza and Dawoot families may not agree on which candidate to support, but they do agree on one thing - they're all planning to vote.

For NPR News, I'm Kimberly Adams in Cairo.

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