Egyptians head to polls to hand Sissi fresh term as president

Longtime leader who seized power in 2013 coup faces no serious challengers, with Cairo’s attention on Gaza, but authorities still hoping for high turnout to lend results legitimacy

An Egyptian man casts his ballot during the presidential election, at a polling station in downtown Cairo on December 10, 2023 (Khaled DESOUKI / AFP)
An Egyptian man casts his ballot during the presidential election, at a polling station in downtown Cairo on December 10, 2023 (Khaled DESOUKI / AFP)

CAIRO, Egypt — Egyptians began voting Sunday in a presidential 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 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. The crisis stems from mismanagement of the economy but also from the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing Russian war in Ukraine, which rattled the global economy.

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 Sunday, with a runoff 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.

Egyptians queue in front of a polling station to cast their ballots in the presidential election, in downtown Cairo on December 10, 2023. (Khaled DESOUKI / AFP)

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.

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

Vehicles pass under a billboard supporting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi for the coming presidential elections in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Dec. 8, 2023. (AP/Amr Nabil)

Sissi was reelected 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 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 longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

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

Supporters of Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi gather with national flags and chant slogans during an election campaign rally outside the Cairo University campus in Giza, the twin-city of the Egyptian capital, on October 2, 2023. (Khaled DESOUKI / AFP)

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. Egypt is the world’s largest wheat importer and has traditionally imported most of its grain from Ukraine and Russia.

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