CAIRO — Egyptians will choose their next president in elections starting Monday, with President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi expected to easily secure a second four-year term.
Some 60 million people in Egypt, the most populated Arab country, are registered to vote in three days of polling on March 26, 27, and 28.
They will have the choice between the incumbent and one other candidate: Moussa Mostafa Moussa, a little-known politician who registered right before the closing date for applications, saving the election from being a one-horse race.
“Moussa Mostafa Moussa has little chance of winning a significant number of votes. His campaign is weak, many people do not even know he is running, and he is generally little known,” said Mostafa Kamel al-Sayed, a political science professor at Cairo University.
In an interview broadcast on Egyptian television this week, 63-year-old Sissi said the absence of serious opponents is not his doing.
“I wish we had one, or two, or three, or 10 of the best people and you choose however you want,” said Sissi.
Result known in advance
In the 2014 election, Sissi faced Hamdeen Sabbahi, an established left-wing politician much better known than Moussa. Still, Sissi won 96.9 percent of the vote.
With Sissi’s win effectively guaranteed, the authorities’ concern this year would be turnout to enhance the legitimacy of the vote. Sissi has stressed in his pre-election appearances the importance of voters turning out in large numbers.
In 2014, about 37 percent of voters participated in the two-day election, prompting authorities to add a third day to obtain a final participation rate of 47.5 percent.
It is unlikely this year that even that 37 percent will be achieved, said Sayed.
“The result is known in advance, and this does not encourage Egyptians to go out and vote,” he said.
“And there is no campaigning: The voters are not exposed to and getting familiar with the candidates’ ideas.”
During the campaign, Sissi appeared frequently on television and in newspapers, hailing factories and infrastructure projects built over the last four years.
Egyptian cities, especially Cairo, are flooded with banners featuring photographs of Sissi and messages of support from business owners. Posters vowing support for Moussa, 65, are rarely seen.
Many of the pro-Sissi banners carry praise for the relative calm of recent years, following the turmoil unleashed in the wake of the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.
But with an economic crisis and gruelling price hikes — and the return of a regime seen as at least as authoritative as that of Mubarak — support for Sissi appears to be slightly in decline.
In his first term, Sissi had promised to restore stability, including in the economy.
In 2016, he launched a three-year economic reform programme, part of a $12 billion International Monetary Fund loan, which included the floating of the pound, leading to a loss of half of its value and causing prices to soar.
Crackdown on dissent
But even as inflation spiked, no public displays of protest were witnessed under Sissi, who has led a wide crackdown on dissent since taking office.
Sissi, the fifth president to hail from the military since the monarchy was overthrown in 1952, was elected president a year after leading the military ouster of former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, amid mass protests against him.
Morsi, who hailed from the Muslim Brotherhood, became Egypt’s first democratically elected president in 2012, in the first vote after Mubarak’s ouster.
But after year of divisive rule, with many Egyptians concerned about rising Islamist leanings in government, mass protests took place against him across the country, and Sissi, then head of the army, announced his ouster after an ultimatum for Morsi to call early elections.
Hundreds of Morsi’s supporters were killed in the August 2013 dispersal of two protest camps in Cairo, and thousands were arrested — including Morsi himself — and sent to mass trial in procedures condemned by the United Nations.
A year later, a popular Sissi was elected as president, with the initial crackdown on Morsi’s supporters expanded to include liberal and leftist secular activists.
According to Reporters Without Borders, 30 journalists are currently imprisoned in Egypt. Nearly 500 websites are also blocked, while art is subject to rising censorship