Egyptians vote in presidential election overshadowed by Gaza war and ailing economy

President Abdel Fattah El Sisi is virtually certain to win a third consecutive term

Powered by automated translation

Egyptians began casting their votes on Sunday in a presidential election overshadowed by the Gaza war and a crushing economic crisis.

President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, running against three relatively unknown candidates, is considered certain to win a third term that, barring unforeseen circumstances, would see him in office until 2030, 16 years after he first took the helm of the Arab world's most populous nation.

"What elections?" said 72-year-old retiree Iman Mohammed in downtown Cairo.

"President El Sisi will win it anyway. So, maybe this is his chance to finish what he started. Besides, I don't even know the three people he's running against."

Another Cairo voter, Ibrahim Mohammed, a 27-year-old bank employee, said he had no intention to vote.

A third term in office for Mr El Sisi comes as a result of constitutional amendments proposed by the parliament which largely supports him, and adopted in a national referendum in 2019.

The new amendments extended the duration of presidential terms from four to six years but kept the number of terms a president can serve to two. However, a new clause was also added to the constitution, disregarding the four years he served from 2014 to 2018.

The election is being held over three days, with polling stations open for 12 hours from 9am. There are more than 60 million eligible voters in Egypt. Egyptians living abroad voted already this month, also over three days.

Dozens of supporters of Mr El Sisi stood in line waiting to cast ballots at some polling stations in central Cairo. Outside several polling stations, some women and men were dancing to patriotic songs blaring from giant speakers. The stations' entrances were filled with Egypt's black, red and white flags.

Footage aired by pro-government television networks showed hundreds of voters lining up outside one polling station in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, waiting for it to open so they can cast their ballots.

The turnout was expected to increase in the afternoon and evening since the vote is being held during the working week.

Underlining the lack of a serious challenge, Mr El Sisi, a former army general, did not take part in a televised debate with his three challengers. A senior member of his campaign participated in the debate instead.

The Egyptian leader did not address any campaign rallies either, but has maintained a high profile in the public eye through dozens of meetings with foreign leaders and dignitaries since the Gaza war began in October.

The election is taking place amid Israel's bombardment of Gaza, bordering Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, with many Egyptians expressing anger over the humanitarian crisis in Palestine. More than 17,700 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since Israel began bombarding the coastal territory on October 7, Palestinian authorities said.

The economy has been a major source of alarm for Egyptians, too, with the local currency shedding more than half its value since early 2022 and a persistent foreign currency crunch suppressing imports and hurting many local industries. Inflation is hovering around 35 per cent.

With the result a foregone conclusion, Mr El Sisi's campaign has been focused on mobilising voters, hoping that a decent turnout will serve as a mandate for the president to make hard decisions to overhaul the economy.

Updated: December 10, 2023, 6:04 PM