Watani talks to MP Mona Gaballah
In the mostly conservative Islamic community that is Egypt, a woman has a substantially reduced chance of winning against men; a Coptic women has even a lesser possibility of winning. Yet one Coptic woman decided to take the plunge and contest the parliamentary elections. And she did not choose to run in one of the more liberal constituencies that might have given her a better chance at winning; she ran in the constituency of Manshiyet Nasser and al-Gamaliya, two overpopulated Cairo districts where poverty and poor education are rampant. She won, and resoundingly so. That resolute, courageous woman: Mona Gaballah, member of al-Masriyeen al-Ahrar (The Free Egyptians) political party.
Watani talked to Ms Gaballah.
“Yes, it was difficult to win the parliamentary elections, not only because I am a woman, but also a Copt,” Ms Gaballah told Watani. “I found out first-hand, however, that shared human sentiment and interest go a long way towards reaching people, far beyond anything that has to do with gender or religion.
“I feel for the poor and needy, and believe in their plight. My campaign focused on answering their needs; the result is that Muslim and Coptic men and women voted for me,” she said.
It is no secret that in Egypt, “election platform” means very little to the man-in-the-street; many believe it to be no more than a collection of election promises that vanish into thin air once the candidate is elected.
“How did you persuade the people in your constituency that you were serious?” Watani asked Ms Gaballah.
“The people felt how sincere I was,” Ms Gaballah said. “This sincerity broke the candidate / voter barrier and they came to understand that I would work for their benefit. I had already done volunteer work in the Manshiyet Nasser district, and the people there knew first-hand that I was as good as my word.
“I did not hold public conferences or resort to sloganeering. Instead, my campaign was mainly a ‘door-knocking’ one; I visited the people, especially the more needy. I knocked on every door and talked to everyone, the owners of both the humble and bigger shops; I talked to ordinary people at coffee shops; they welcomed me and we understood one another. The result was that the people got to know very well who Mona Gaballah is,” she said with a note of obvious pride.
Ms Gaballah revealed that al-Masriyeen al-Ahrar had given her the choice of nomination in one of two constituencies: the up-scale, liberal Heliopolis constituency or Manshiyet Nasser and Gamaliya,
“I picked the latter,” she said, “where I can reach everyone and serve the needy. Manshiyet Nasser and Gamaliya were among the districts I had served during my 15-year history of volunteer work to help the underprivileged, protect the environment, and fight pollution.
“My first priority as MP will be to strive to establish a secondary school for girls in Manshiyet Nasser. The neighbourhood does not have any, and parents have to send their daughters to schools that are far away. This constitutes a source of worry for all, especially given that populous districts more often than not have high crime rates.
“I also plan to work on promoting the educational level of children by increasing the number of teachers in primary schools. Al-Masriyeen al-Ahrar is concerned with health issues, and will work as to provide populous areas with more doctors, and better health services through a comprehensive health insurance programme.”
Watani asked Ms Gaballah about which parliamentary committee she would be joining, now that she is in the House of Representatives. She replied that she would join the committees of local development and housing.
“Through these committees,” she said, “I will be best able to serve my constituents’ urgent needs through passing the appropriate legislation. One bill that my party is very interested in passing concerns reforming local government and bringing it under control; local government in many places in Egypt is notorious as a hotbed for corruption.
“I will also join the foreign affairs committee in order to participate in interaction with parliaments all over the world and convey the Egyptian viewpoint on various issues.”
Balancing the public and private
Ms Gaballa won her seat in parliament even though she is a wife and mother of five. Watani was curious as to how she managed that feat.
“No doubt, balancing my family life with my public endeavour was no easy task,” she said. “In all honesty, my family had to take a backseat while I was busy campaigning. But my husband Fady Riyad, who is an engineer, was understanding and absolutely supportive; he positively helped me a lot. My children were also very accommodating; I think they really cared to see their mother in parliament.”
Would MP Gaballah care to send any message to anyone? Watani asked.
“To my family: Thank you so much for bearing with me; I promise I will balance the needs of my work and my home in the future.
“To my constituents: Every vote you gave me is a credit I cherish and will do my best to make it well-earned. Together, we will develop Gamaliya and Manshiyet Nasser.
“To all Egyptians: Egypt needs every helpful hand. Together we can build our beloved country.”
4 January 2016