How presidential elections have evolved since Egypt became a republic 70 years ago

Another win for Abdel Fattah El Sisi is highly expected if he runs

It is expected Abdel Fattah El Sisi will run for – and win – Egypt's next presidential election in December. EPA
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Egypt's presidential election in December will be the latest in an evolutionary process that began in the 1950s, starting off as referendum-like voting with only one name on the ballot paper – the incumbent – and morphing over decades into multicandidate balloting.

Over the years, presidential votes, much like parliamentary and local council elections, were dismissed by local and foreign rights groups as unfair or lacking transparency. In some instances, they were marred by en masse irregularities that included vote buying or outright rigging of the ballot boxes.

Even with the most flawed elections, pro-government media celebrated results with lofty phrases, such as “the people spoke” or “the masses chose”.

Egypt's national elections commission on Monday announced the date for the upcoming vote. Egyptians living abroad will vote on December 1, 2 and 3. Those at home will vote on December 10, 11 and 12.

If needed, a runoff will be held in January. The latest possible date for announcing the winner will be January 16.

Referendum-like elections

The presidential elections in the years that followed the declaration of the republic in 1953, which kept the late leaders Gamal Abdel Nasser and his successor Anwar Sadat in office, were essentially referendums with only the incumbent's name on the ballot papers.

They were routinely won with more than 90 per cent of the vote and the elections were deceptively billed as an exercise of democracy or a choice of the people.

Hosni Mubarak, who succeeded Mr Sadat in 1981 after the latter was assassinated during a military parade, kept that practice for nearly a quarter of a century during his 29-year rule.

Egypt's first multicandidate presidential election

Egypt held its first multicandidate presidential election in 2005 following constitutional amendments introduced under pressure from a burgeoning pro-democracy movement and the nation's western benefactors.

In the 2005 election, opposition leader Ayman Nour become Mr Mubarak's chief opponent. Mr Mubarak, ousted in a popular uprising six years later, won that election by more than 88 per cent of the vote. However, the turnout was exceptionally low, at 23 per cent of the 32 million registered voters at the time.

Later in 2005, Mr Nour was sentenced to five years in prison for forging internal documents of his party, Al Ghad. His imprisonment was widely interpreted at the time as punishment for choosing to run and publicly criticise Mr Mubarak. He served four years before he was released for medical reasons.

Muslim Brotherhood's first election win

The first presidential election after Mr Mubarak was forced to step down in 2011, following a popular uprising, was won by Mohamed Morsi, a stalwart of the Muslim Brotherhood party, the largest opposition group to Mr Mubarak's rule. He won the run-off in June 2012 against Ahmed Shafiq, Mr Mubarak's last prime minister and a retired air force general, by the narrowest of margins.

The win gave the Brotherhood its first taste of power since its inception in 1928.

Mr Morsi proved a divisive leader and was removed by the military, then led by Abdel Fattah El Sisi, in July 2013, amid street protests against his rule. The Brotherhood was outlawed later that year and subsequently declared a terrorist group.

A large-scale crackdown by authorities following Mr Morsi's ousting led to thousands of Brotherhood supporters and leaders being jailed. The crackdown did not spare famous figures and well-known activists who had participated in the 2011 uprising.

The 2014 election

Mr El Sisi's role in removing Mr Morsi and the Brotherhood from power gave him the kind of popularity not witnessed in the country since former president Jamal Abdel Nasser during the Suez crisis in 1956.

For a year after he led the military's removal of Mr Morsi, Mr El Sisi was a source of growing power in Egypt, more so than interim president Adly Mansour.

Predictably, Mr El Sisi ran and won the 2014 presidential election with a landslide victory against opposition leader Hamdeen Sabahi, a Nasserist. Mr El Sisi won 96.91 per cent of the vote. The turnout was a decent 47.45 per cent of the 53.90 million registered voters at the time.

Mr El Sisi, promoted to field marshal before he declared his intention to run, became Egypt's sixth president, including two interims – parliament speaker Sufi Abu Taleb in 1981 and Mr Mansour in 2013-2014.

The 2018 election

The 2018 presidential election will be remembered more for what happened to Mr El Sisi's potential challengers and the politician he ended up running against, rather than the actual vote that gave the Egyptian leader another four years at the helm of the most populous Arab nation.

The hopefuls included an army colonel in active service who was put on military trial and sentenced to three years in prison for allegations of breaching the army's regulations on running for public office. It also included a former chief of staff, Gen Sami Anan, who faced the same charge and was subsequently imprisoned.

Mr Shafiq, who was narrowly beaten by Mr Morsi in 2012, faced a large-scale campaign against him by the pro-government media when he declared his intention to run. He was accused of corruption before he bowed out. He has not been publicly seen since.

Two other hopefuls, former MP Mohammed Anwar Sadat and rights lawyer Khaled Ali, dropped out, claiming their supporters and campaign staff had been harassed by authorities.

With no one left to run against and to avoid the perception of a return to referendum-style elections, a last-minute challenger was found. Obscure politician Musa Mustafa Musa, a known supporter of Mr El Sisi, ran against the incumbent.

Mr Musa did not challenge the Egyptian leader or criticise him during his campaign.

Mr El Sisi won 97.08 per cent of the vote. Immediately after the results were announced, he commended Mr Musa for what he called his “classy” performance.

Notably, the election featured the largest number of invalid ballots in any election held in Egypt, a total of 1.76 million, or 7 per cent, of the votes cast.

The 2019 constitutional amendments

Amendments to the constitution were proposed in 2019 by pro-government legislators in a parliament packed with Mr El Sisi's supporters. The changes extended presidential terms from four to six years but kept the two-term cap on the time a president can serve.

However, a clause tailored specifically for Mr El Sisi's benefit excluded from the two terms the four years he had already served between 2014 and 2018.

The amendments were put to a nationwide referendum in which nearly 90 per cent of voters gave them the nod. About three million voters said 'No'.

The upcoming presidential elections

Mr El Sisi has yet to confirm whether he will run for a third term in office but he has been taking part in campaign-style rallies in which he defended his policies and cited his government's achievements in the face of an economic slump exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war.

The best-known hopeful who has declared his intention to run is Ahmed Tantawy, a former MP and outspoken critic of the Egyptian leader.

He claims more than 30 of his campaign staff have been arrested by authorities and that his mobile phone has been spied on by the government.

Researchers in the US said at the weekend that Mr Tantawy was targeted with Predator spyware between May and September, after he had declared his presidential bid. There has been no response from authorities on these claims.

Other hopefuls of note are Gameela Ismail, head of the opposition Constitution party. If she does run, she will be the first woman to aim for Egypt's highest office.

She announced her presidential bid in a statement last week that contained scathing criticism of Mr El Sisi's economic policies.

Another candidate is Farid Zahran, a lesser known politician who heads the Egyptian Democratic Party.


Mr Tantawy, Ms Ismail and Mr Zahran can only officially enter the race if they secure in writing the support of 20 sitting lawmakers or at least 25,000 eligible voters from at least 15 of the nation's 27 provinces. The 25,000 should include at least 1,000 eligible voters from each province.

Barring unforeseen events, none of these hopefuls are expected to defeat Mr El Sisi, who continues to enjoy significant support, particularly among certain demographics like women and the large Christian community. Also, the state's vast resources, like the state-owned media, are available to the president as has been the case with his predecessors.

With the results most likely to confirm another term for Mr El Sisi, the President wants a strong turnout in the December election to hand him a clear mandate to take painful measures to revive the battered economy and press on with the multibillion-dollar projects his government has undertaken, including a new capital in the desert east of Cairo.

Huge billboards bearing his image and listing the mega infrastructure or transport projects undertaken during his nine years in office have popped up around Cairo in recent weeks.

Updated: September 25, 2023, 1:25 PM