Across Egypt, the first free presidential election getting underway today is forcing people to take a stand on some of their society’s most divisive issues—sometimes defying their own spouses or other family members. For Basheer Mubarak, it can feel like he’s standing against nearly his entire town. The 37-year-old technician lives in Kafr El-Maselha, the birth place of Hosni Mubarak, where cousins of the ousted dictator—Basheer included—fill several buildings along a city block. Many of them pine for Mubarak’s return and back the candidate whose résumé most resembles his. But not Basheer. “What did he do for this country? It’s one big dump,” he says in the garage of his three-story building on Sadat Street, named for the autocrat, Anwar Sadat, who preceded Mubarak.
Basheer’s complaints mirror those of the young demonstrators who brought down the regime in January of last year during 18 days of protests: Mubarak suppressed dissent, rigged elections, and kept nearly half the country poor and uneducated. But Basheer is especially incensed at how run-down the country remained during Mubarak’s more than three decades of power.
Kafr El-Maselha, about 50 miles north of Cairo, is no exception. While other dictators in the region have invested in their own towns in order to maintain clan loyalty, Kafr El-Maselha is as broken and congested as the rest of Egypt, with ripped-up roads and poor sanitation. In nearby Quesna, where the former leader moved as a youngster and where more Mubaraks reside, the clamor of old rickshaws drowns out just about everything else.