Egyptians go to the polls in elections overshadowed by the Gaza war

  • Sisi is preparing to secure a new six-year presidential term
  • The elections come in the wake of a long campaign of repression against the opposition
  • Voting will take place over three days, and the results are scheduled to appear on December 18

CAIRO (Reuters) – Egyptians went to the polls on Sunday to cast their votes in a presidential election in which Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is expected to win a third term as the country faces an economic crisis and war on its border with Egypt. Gaza.

A victory would give Sisi a six-year term in which his immediate priorities are to tame near-record inflation, manage chronic foreign currency shortages, and prevent the spillover of the conflict between Israel and the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) in Gaza.

Voting extends from nine in the morning until nine in the evening (0700-1900 GMT) over three days, and the results are scheduled to be announced on December 18.

As voting began on Sunday morning, small crowds gathered at polling stations in Cairo, where photos of Sisi had circulated in the weeks leading up to the elections. Riot control forces were deployed at the entrances to Tahrir Square in the center of the capital.

Critics see the elections as a mere sham after a decade-long crackdown on the opposition. The government media body described it as a step towards political pluralism.

Three candidates are eligible to run against Sisi, and none of them are prominent figures. The most prominent potential rival halted his candidacy in October, saying officials and thugs targeted his supporters, accusations denied by the National Election Authority.

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Authorities and commentators in tightly controlled local media urged Egyptians to cast their votes, although some people said they were not aware of the election date in the days leading up to the vote. Others said voting would make little difference.

Aya Mohamed, a 35-year-old marketing manager, said: “I knew there would be elections, but I had no idea when they would be. I only knew about it because of Sisi’s huge campaigns in the streets.”

“I feel apathetic about the elections because there will be no real change,” she said.

As army chief, in 2013 Sisi led the overthrow of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, before being elected president the following year with 97% of the vote.

Since then, he has overseen a crackdown on liberal and left-wing activists as well as Islamists. Rights groups say tens of thousands have been imprisoned.

Sisi and his supporters say the campaign was necessary to stabilize Egypt and confront Islamic extremism. It has presented itself as a bulwark of stability as conflict erupted on Egypt’s borders in Libya, and earlier this year in Sudan and Gaza.

Sisi was re-elected in 2018, again with 97% of the vote.

Rising prices

However, economic pressures have become the dominant issue for Egypt’s rapidly growing population of 104 million, with some people complaining that the government has prioritized expensive mega projects while the state takes on more debt and citizens struggle to cope with rising prices.

Imad Atef, a vegetable seller in Cairo, said: “Enough with projects and infrastructure. We want prices to fall. We want the poor to eat and people to live.”

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The election campaign was characterized by calm, as Sisi followed a typical program of opening an arms trade exhibition, inspecting roads, and conducting tests for candidates to join military and police academies in the week before the vote.

Some analysts say the election, which was expected to be held in early 2024, was brought forward so that economic changes – including the devaluation of the already weak currency – could be implemented after the vote.

The International Monetary Fund said on Thursday that it is in talks with Egypt to agree on additional financing within the framework of an existing $3 billion loan program, which has faltered due to delays in state asset sales and a promised shift towards a more flexible exchange rate.

“All indications are that we will move very quickly after the elections in terms of moving forward with IMF reform,” said Hani Genena, chief economist at Cairo Financial Holding Bank, an investment bank.

(Reporting by Farah Saafan, Sarah El-Safty and Sayed Shaasha). Writing by Aidan Lewis, editing by Helen Popper and David Goodman.

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