CAIRO – Election fever has even come to Cairo's Garbage City, the sprawling neighborhood built on — and living from — the waste of the Egyptian capital.
The tens of thousands of impoverished residents of the district are almost all Christians. For generations, they have collected the garbage from the city of nearly 20 million; they sort it then recycle and sell what they can. Their homes are built in and around piles of the refuse, where their livestock graze.
Like other Egyptians, they are now savoring the prospect of having their voice heard as the country begins voting on Wednesday for a new president, the first since the ouster last year of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.
The overwhelming concern for many of them is to stop any Islamist candidate from winning. Many of Egypt's Christian minority — about 20 percent of the population of 85 million — are worried that if the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood candidate wins and moved to implement Islamic law, they will suffer greater discrimination.
As a result, many are turning to the most anti-Islamist candidate on the slate of 13 hopefuls — Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force commander who was Mubarak's last prime minister.
Anwar Rizk, a garbage collector in the neighborhood, says he's backing Shafiq because "I fear the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis," referring to a movement of ultraconservative Islamists. "We have Muslims living here as our brothers in very good conditions, but I fear the Muslim Brotherhood because they are only after their own good."
His fellow resident, Iskandar Shafiq — no relation to the candidate — agrees and is also impressed by the candidate's strongman image.
"Honestly we are going to elect Ahmed Shafiq because he is the one that can provide safety and security," he said. "We feel this man is a politician like no other and frankly we have always known this man as a politician."
Along with Shafiq, the other front-runners in the contest are former foreign minister Amr Moussa; the Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi; and a moderate Islamist, Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh, who has gained support from some liberals for his more open views. A leftist, Hamdeen Sabahi, has also gained ground among those who want neither an Islamist nor a former regime figure. Though few Christians are likely to vote for the Brotherhood's Morsi, the community's vote could be divided among the others.