CAIRO// The re-election campaign of President Abdel Fattah El Sisi staged its first mass campaign rally on Friday with the aim of mobilising women to participate in the balloting that runs from March 26 to 28.
As workers draped large banners with the image of Mr El Sisi over buildings in the capital reading “Yes” and only one nominal opponent, Moussa Mostafa Moussa --leader of the small Ghad party --remaining as contender, the re-election effort now appears increasingly to be a referendum with the president’s campaign squarely focused on boosting turnout with the aim to exceed the 47.5 per cent participation rate of the 2014 presidential vote.
“The participation rate of women will be unprecedented in this election,” said Manal Al Absi, president of the Arab Academy for Leadership Development, a Cairo nonprofit that provides executive skills training. “We support the president for providing real solutions that get done by the promised deadlines.”
Ms Al Absi, the chief organiser of the Women for Sisi rally said the 11,000 supporters of the president who showed up at the Cairo Stadium Friday would go on to organise a get out the vote effort in all of Egypt’s 27 governorates.
“The women of Egypt have increased their political activity since the January 25 Revolution,” said Ms Absi “And we have to pay back him back to preserve our land and guard our national security.”
The president’s supporters often praise Mr El Sisi as they compare what they view as Egypt’s relative stability with the carnage caused by wars and terrorism in Syria, Iraq and neighbouring Libya.
“When we look at the countries around us, we will say, ‘Praise be to God. We are much better off than them,’” said Ayda Hassan, a 39-year-old administrator at the Al Massala Preparatory Girls School in northern Cairo.
Women’s inclusion has been a consistent theme of Mr El Sisi’s first term who has declared 2018 “The Year of Egyptian Women”.
“Unfairness is what causes most of Arab women’s problems,” said the president at a November public forum.
And four days before his January 19 candidacy announcement, the president moved to add two women to his 33-member Cabinet, bringing the total to six females.
With a percentage of female ministers at just over 18 percent — Egypt improved the gender ratio over neighbouring Israel, which stands at four out of 23, or 17 per cent.
“El Sisi is the only president who has showed this value for women,” said Ibtesam Abdul Ghany, a 49-year-old office manager from the Upper Egyptian city of Minya.
Ms Abdul Ghany said the president’s law and order emphasis also appealed to her and other Egyptian women.
“I was robbed by a gunman in 2012 when Morsi [the former president and a leader in the now outlawed Muslim Brotherhood movement] El Sisi gave us security.”
During his one-year administration, Mr Morsi’s deputies cited "cultural specificity" when they rejected a draft UN declaration calling for an end to all forms of violence against women and some Islamist deputies tried to reduce the minimum age of marriage for girls from 18 to as low as nine years old.
“The president understands that we women are half of Egyptian society,” said Maysa Nagya, a petroleum executive and volunteer organizer for Mr El Sisi’s reelection effort in suburban Giza. “By initiating large infrastructure projects, he is building up the economy for long term growth and generating jobs now for Egyptian youth.”
But outside the gates of the stadium dissident voices could be heard with younger Cairines especially dissatisfied with the lack of choices on the ballot.
“Since it’s already been determined, I don’t see any reason to give my approval or disapproval for the president,” said Mariana Bassily, a 32-year-old hotel sales manager. “It doesn’t matter if the ministers are men or women, they are like any other government employees who are just there to obey orders.”