Egyptians vote on final day of presidential election

Election has been overshadowed by the war in neighbouring Gaza and Egypt's economic challenges

Election banners for President Abdel Fattah El Sisi in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis. Bloomberg
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Egyptians were voting on Tuesday on the third and final day of a presidential election overshadowed by the war in neighbouring Gaza and an economic crisis that has badly hurt the poor and middle class.

President Abdel Fattah El Sisi is seeking a third term in office, which could keep him in office until 2030 − or 16 years after he first assumed power in the most populous Arab country.

Results are expected to be announced on December 18.

Many who are eligible to vote have stayed away, and authorities and commentators on tightly controlled local media have been urging people to vote out of national duty.

For three straight days, state TV networks have shown footage of jubilant scenes outside polling stations, with flag-waving voters standing in queues to cast their ballots.

Patriotic songs blared from giant speakers outside polling stations, as some of the voters danced. Many held posters of the incumbent.

This is Mr El Sisi’s third election in just under 10 years. As was the case in the last two, his victory is almost a foregone conclusion, a fact that may have dissuaded many of the 67 million eligible voters from casting their ballots.

“I'm not sure going to vote is something that I want to do,” said a 70-year-old retiree from Cairo who only wanted to be identified by her first name, Ibtesam.

“It’s just more of the same,” she said.

Such voter apathy is not only rooted in the perception of the election being a predictable affair.

Mr El Sisi is challenged this time round by three relatively unknown politicians, who made no vigorous attacks against the incumbent, making do with polite criticism of his economic policies.

That Mr El Sisi, 69, hasn’t really campaigned – although he has daily been in the news over his meetings with scores of foreign dignitaries to discuss the Gaza war – points to his confidence that he would secure a landslide victory.

The vote took place as Egyptians are preoccupied with the Gaza war, with many seething over the death of more than 18,000 Palestinians and the perceived failure of Egypt and fellow Arab nations to stop the violence.

Anti-western sentiments are also running high in Egypt over the support extended by the West, particularly the US, to Israel's military onslaught in Gaza.

The economy is another distraction, with the Egyptian pound having lost more than half its value since early in 2022 and inflation running at about 35 per cent. A persistent foreign currency crunch has suppressed imports and hurt local industries dependent on foreign materials.

Should he win, Mr El Sisi’s 16 years in office will have been courtesy of constitutional amendments proposed by a parliament packed with his supporters in 2018.

Adopted in a national referendum in 2019, the changes extended presidential terms from four to six years but kept at two the number of terms a president can serve.

However, a clause was also added to the constitution disregarding the four years he served from 2014 until 2018.

Mirroring the narrative by loyal TV networks, the president’s supporters have flooded social media with messages of support and lavish praise of his governance although the country is mired in its worst economic crisis in decades.

The government has blamed the pandemic and a global inflation surge worsened by Russia's war in Ukraine for the problems.

“We are all going to vote for your sake, oh Egypt!” declared a Facebook post by a pro-government account.

The online editions of pro-government publications splashed images of celebrities such as film stars and footballers at polling stations as evidence of the president's popularity.

“I voted for El Sisi because he is a real leader,” 1970s and 1980s film star Mirvat Amin told Youm7, the online edition of a daily newspaper by the same name.

Posted on similar accounts are images of supporters who have endured hardship to reach polling stations, such as the elderly and disabled.

One voter went to cast her ballot wearing a white abaya bearing several images of the president. A young couple – a bride and groom in full wedding attire – wanted to mark the special day by voting together.

The election commission said on Monday that, after two days of voting, the turnout was about 45 per cent, higher than it was in the 2018 vote.

Updated: December 12, 2023, 6:48 PM