I have the privilege to bring you two excellent links today, to an article by Aaron Jakes, a fellow grad student researching at the National Archives in Cairo, and a map by Issandr El Amrani, journalist and chief of the Arabist blog, that should go together like scrambled eggs and Sriracha. (Try it!)
Issandr, with a team of local activists and statisticians, has produced a district-by-district map of the results of the March 19th referendum to amend the old (seriously flawed) constitution. The urban leaders of the revolution and the upper classes generally campaigned for a “no” vote, to throw out the 1971 constitution and start from scratch, but they lost 23%-77% overall. Still, this generally open election has produced the first meaningful political data about Egypt for decades. Follow the link to a zoom-able map, useful because most of the dissent was in the smallest districts. Here’s a screen capture of Cairo and the Delta, in which at least two-thirds of Egypt’s population lives:
Except for the desert, his yes = green, no = orange-to-red color scheme makes the map approximate what Egypt looks like from outer space: the rural areas are overwhelmingly green, and those red areas in Heliopolis, the even newer “New Cairo” and Giza are where one can find a Hardees restaurant on every corner.
Seriously, though, the map confirms in extreme detail the suspected rural-urban divide in the results. Those yellow dots in the delta are the provincial capitals of Tanta, Banha, Damanhur, Mahalla Al-Kubra, etc. The port and canal cities of Damietta, Rosetta, Port Said, Ismailia and are also yellow, though Suez, site of some of the worst violence in the revolution, is greener than I might have thought… Beni Suef, the first large city south of Cairo and a few areas of Alexandria are “majority no” orange. Despite the probable tendency for Coptic Christians to vote “no” (see the red district surrounding Mar Girgis in southern Cairo) there is no other regional pattern to the results that I can see. But Issandr & co. are busy at work on a more detailed analysis.
Aaron has a complementary analysis at Al-Masry Al-Youm of the historical domination of the national government in Cairo over the countryside that has (among many other things) resulted in this stark political geography. Cairo’s centuries-long struggle to control the agricultural surplus of Egypt’s richly productive land achieved its most sophisticated form starting around a century ago, hand-in-hand with the British-introduced administrative and financial reforms: a nationalist ideology that denied that ignorant country folk could be authentic citizens of a modern nation. This ideology shaped the reality it described, resulting in long-term mutual mistrust of both the regime and urban intellectuals of the sort who led the revolution. But state television is one of the only relentless and ubiquitous news sources outside the city, and its message of stability-and-security framed the conservative yes vote in these areas. (I discussed the Islamist impact on the referendum earlier.) As Aaron points out, under a fully representational system, liberal reformers are going to have to try much harder in the coming months to woo the rural vote to have influence on the national level.
P.S. President Ford never told New York City to “drop dead” when the city was broke in 1975… and yet this is one of the things for which he is most remembered. My thanks to the always-outrageous copy editors of the New York Daily News.