"An antibiotic can heal many diseases and many people. It's one of the wondrous things God has given mankind." The candidate for the Salafist al-Nour Party inserts a rhetorical pause and allows his words to take effect on the audience in the working-class district of Shubra El-Kheima in the north of Cairo.
Then he leaves them in no doubt as to the panacea he wishes to prescribe for Egypt. His words resound across the square, triply amplified, preacher-style. "The Islamic community will not prosper if the word of God is not implemented as it was in the time of the Prophet and his successors. The Koran is our constitution," he cries.
Three other candidates nod in agreement and twirl their beards, the trademark of the representatives of this radical Islamist party. The scene on the podium at the rally is reminiscent of a dress rehearsal in which the protagonists are trying to re-enact the days of the Prophet. From the bushy beards to the three-quarter-length trousers and galabeyas – their white, shirt-like robes – the radical Islamist representatives aim to bring something of the bygone flair of Mecca and Medina back to contemporary Egypt.
There are a number of these medieval Oriental folklorists sitting in the audience as well. But most of them are wearing the typical dress of Egypt's poorer districts: worn-out tracksuits and, despite the cool winter evening, plastic flip-flops or, at best, shabby trainers.
It is in precisely these neighbourhoods redolent of hopelessness as well as in the rural regions that the Salafists have done particularly well in the parliamentary elections – the areas inhabited by four out of ten Egyptians who have to get by on slightly more than one euro a day. Across the country the al-Nour Party garnered between a fifth and a quarter of the votes.
By Karim el-Gawhary; Translated by Charlotte Collins
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