World

Egyptians vote in election set to give El-Sissi another six years as president

A woman casts her vote in the presidential elections at a polling station in Cairo (Amr Nabil/AP)
A woman casts her vote in the presidential elections at a polling station in Cairo (Amr Nabil/AP) A woman casts her vote in the presidential elections at a polling station in Cairo (Amr Nabil/AP)

Egyptians have begun voting in an election in which President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi faces no serious challenger and is certain to win another term, keeping him in power until 2030.

The election has been overshadowed by the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

Almost all Egyptians’ attention has been on the war on their country’s eastern borders and the suffering of Palestinian civilians in the coastal enclave.

The three-day vote, beginning on Sunday, is also taking place amid a staggering economic crisis in Egypt, a country of 105 million people in which nearly a third live in poverty, according to official figures.

Egypt Elections
Egypt Elections A minibus passes under a billboard supporting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi (Amr Nabil/AP)

The crisis stems from mismanagement of the economy but also from the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic and the Russian war in Ukraine, which rattled the global economy.

Mr El-Sissi faces three other candidates: Farid Zahran, head of the opposition Social Democratic Party; Abdel-Sanad Yamama, chairman of Wafd Party; and Hazem Omar, head of the Republican People’s Party.

An ambitious young presidential hopeful, Ahmed Altantawy, dropped out of the race after he failed to secure the required signatures from residents to secure his candidacy.

He blamed his failure on what he said was harassment by security agencies of his campaign staff and supporters.

The vote runs for three days, starting on Sunday, with a run-off scheduled for January 8-10 if no candidate secures more than 50% of the vote, according to the National Election Authority, a judicial-chaired body that runs the electoral process.

Egyptian expatriates cast their ballots on December 1-3.

Ahead of the vote, the interior ministry, which oversees police forces, deployed thousands of troops across the country to secure the election.

More than 67 million people are eligible to vote and authorities are hoping for a high turnout to give the election legitimacy.

Egypt Elections
Egypt Elections A voter dips her finger in ink at a polling station (Amr Nabil/AP)

A career military officer, Mr El-Sissi was first elected as president in mid-2014, a year after he, as defence minister, led the military overthrow of an elected but divisive Islamist president amid widespread street protests against his one-year rule.

Mr El-Sissi was re-elected in 2018 for a second four-year term. He faced only one challenger, a little-known politician who joined the race at the last minute to spare the government the embarrassment of a one-candidate election after several hopefuls were forced out or arrested.

In 2019, constitutional amendments, passed in a general referendum, added two years to Mr El-Sissi’s second term, and allowed him to run for a third six-year term.

Under his watch, authorities have launched a major crackdown on dissent. Thousands of government critics have been silenced or jailed, mainly Islamists but also prominent secular activists, including many of those behind the 2011 uprising that toppled long-time autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

The economy has become a headache for Mr El-Sissi’s government which initiated an ambitious reform program in 2016. The programme, supported by the International Monetary Fund, has aimed to reverse longstanding distortions in the country’s battered economy.

It included painful authority measures like subsidy cuts and the flotation of the local currency. In return, Egypt received a series of loans from the IMF, and recognition from the west.

However, such austerity measures sent prices soaring, exacting a heavy toll on ordinary Egyptians.

The war in Ukraine has added to the burdens as the Middle Eastern nation has run low on foreign currency needed to buy essentials like fuel and grain.