Why many Egyptians will not cast their votes in next week's presidential election

The December 10-12 poll has been overshadowed by a worsening economic crisis and the war in Gaza

Supporters hang a campaign banner for President Abdel Fattah El Sisi on a bus in Cairo for Egypt's presidential elections this week. AFP
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Many Egyptians will not be casting their votes next week in what is shaping up to be a lacklustre presidential election.

The poll is widely expected to end in a win for President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, but it has been overshadowed by Israel's war in Gaza and a severe economic crisis that has affected tens of millions of Egyptians.

Magdy Omar, 56, a former accountant who started working as a taxi driver last year after losing his job, told The National that he will not be voting and has not been paying much attention to the election campaign.

“I have been working at least 18 hours every day, so I barely have time to sleep, let alone vote in a presidential election. Especially when everyone knows who is going to win in the end,” said Mr Omar,

“Sugar costs 60 pounds per kilo and onions 35 pounds, and I don’t see how any president is going to be able to do anything about that.”

Egypt’s headline inflation, which was just over 35 per cent in October, is at its highest level in the country’s history.

At the same time, wages have not increased, putting a great strain on the population of 105 million.

That a third El Sisi term is believed to be inevitable by most Egyptians has also made them feel that their effort would be wasted.

“You don’t have to hold an election to know who is going to win. Just take a drive down any motorway in Cairo and you will know who will win the election,” Mr Omar says, referring to the hundreds of billboards bearing the image of Mr El Sisi that have gone up since early November.

The billboards, according to Mr El Sisi’s campaign manager Mahmoud Fawzy, were put up by supporters of the president of their own accord, even after they were told to donate money to Gaza instead.

That explanation has not convinced some Egyptians, and voters told The National that a deep distrust of the state and its ability to improve living conditions is at the heart of their decision to avoid voting.

“Over a decade of promises from the government that things will get better, only for them to turn out much worse has made many people tired,” says Salwa Hamed, 41, a seamstress and housewife in Cairo’s Heliopolis district.

“The government has promised us many things at many elections and every time they ask us to wait, which only turns into more disappointment.

“My daughter has been waiting in line for over an hour at the supermarket every morning for the chance to buy an affordable bag of sugar.”

While his opponents have appeared on talk shows to discuss their platforms, Mr El Sisi – who during past elections was widely visible, making impassioned speeches about his plans – has not outlined a latest political vision.

The incumbent has been largely out of the public eye throughout the past month, which has made some voters think he is too busy with the Gaza war and Egypt’s role in negotiations between Israel and Hamas.

“Egypt’s role in Israel’s war in Gaza is huge, and the president has been hosting world leaders every other day in Cairo. It’s completely understandable that he would be out of sight right now,” says Omar Ibrahim, 29, the owner of a furniture shop in Cairo.

“I know things are bad in Egypt, but we must be grateful that we are better off than other places in the region.”

However, the president’s appearance at a routine test for students at Cairo’s Military Academy on Thursday raised doubts over whether he is too busy to campaign. Some voters think he is avoiding questions about the economy.

“In my opinion he hasn’t outlined his plans because he intends to continue down the path he started with the IMF and the privatisation to foreign companies and all that,” says Ali Ossama, 47, a vegetable wholesaler in Egypt’s Beheira province.

“There is no doubt in my mind that he is embarrassed to face the people. I almost sympathise with him, it can’t be easy disappointing so many people.”

Mr Fawzy has also been largely out of sight at campaigning events and in the media, only giving three televised interviews to pro-government talk shows since the start of the campaign.

During one interview, earlier this week, Mr Fawzy broke down in tears. When asked why, he said he was moved by “the numbers”, by which he meant the indicators that Mr El Sisi’s rule has benefited Egyptians.

“The numbers are shocking. If one would look at the numbers fairly, they would find no words to say,” he said.

Mr Fawzy claimed Mr El Sisi had increased the percentage of land inhabited by the populace from 7 per cent in 2014 to 14 per cent today and reduced unemployment from 13 per cent in 2014 to 7 per cent today, which was mainly achieved through national projects, he said.

However, the interview was mocked on social media. Many people rebutted the talking points with more negative indicators such as the 50 per cent drop in the value of the Egyptian pound and the record rise in food prices.

Analysts say Mr El Sisi needs a decent turnout to give him a convincing mandate for painful foreign and domestic policy decisions.

Egyptians who do go to the polls are most likely to vote for Mr El Sisi, they told The National, for the simple reason that none of the other candidates are seen as able to lead the country through its crises.

Political analyst Abdalla Nasef said that despite the reluctance that many Egyptians might feel towards taking part in the election, the voter turnout would probably match that of the 2018 election – about 40 per cent.

“The state and political parties still have their tried and tested methods to increase turnout by offering various perks and incentives. In 2018, the incumbent ran against only one opponent who was hand-picked last minute yet the turnout was at 41 per cent,” said Mr Nasef, who hosts the popular Tahrir political podcast.

“This year there are four candidates and more than one political party created solely to support the incumbent. This is the time for these political parties not only to prove their loyalty to the regime but also to prove they deserve seats in the upcoming parliament. Accordingly, I think turnout is going to be on par with the 2018 election and the 2019 referendum, if not lower.”

Egypt’s presidential election will take place on December 10-12 with a run-off scheduled for January if no candidate receives more than 50 per cent of the vote.

Updated: December 09, 2023, 10:11 AM