Egyptians vote in presidential polls clouded by economic crisis, Gaza war

Incumbent Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is likely to secure a third term despite the country facing severe economic crisis.

A billboard banner supporting Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo, Egypt
A billboard banner supporting Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Cairo, Egypt [File: Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters]

Egyptians are voting in a presidential election overshadowed by war in neighbouring Gaza and economic woes, with the incumbent, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, likely to secure a third term.

Polls opened at 9am (07:00 GMT) on Sunday, with dozens of voters queueing in front of polling stations in central Cairo amid heavy security.

Voting will take place until Tuesday, between 9am and 9pm (07:00-19:00 GMT) each day and the official results are to be announced on December 18.

Some 67 million people are eligible to vote, and all eyes will be on turnout after successive previous elections mustered low participation figures.

Analysts say economy is on top of voters’ mind in Sunday’s vote as the country has been gripped by the most severe financial crisis in its recent history – inflation has hovered near 40 percent after its currency, the Egyptian pound, lost half its value since March.

Even before the current crisis, about two-thirds of the country’s nearly 106 million people were living on or below the poverty line.

Despite Egypt’s afflictions, a decade-long crackdown on dissent has eliminated any serious opposition to el-Sisi, the fifth president to emerge from within the ranks of the military since 1952.

Under his rule, Egypt has jailed thousands of political prisoners, and while a presidential pardons committee has freed about 1,000 in one year, rights groups say that three to four times that many were arrested over the same period.

Egyptians, meanwhile, have paid little attention to electoral campaigns that have taken place in the shadow of the Israeli war on Gaza.

Rivals not well-known

The three other candidates are all relatively unknown among the public: Farid Zahran, leader of the left-leaning Egyptian Social Democratic Party; Abdel-Sanad Yamama, from the Wafd, a century-old but relatively marginal party; and Hazem Omar, from the Republican People’s Party.

El-Sisi, a retired field marshal in the Egyptian army, came to power in 2013 after leading the overthrow of the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi. The Muslim Brotherhood, to which Morsi belonged, was outlawed in the wake of the 2013 coup.

In the elections in 2014 and 2018, he won landslide victories with more than 96 percent of the vote, according to official results.

El-Sisi later extended the presidential mandate from four to six years and amended the constitution to raise the limit on consecutive terms in office from two to three.

The incumbent president is not without supporters, many of whom credit him with engineering a return to calm in the country after the chaos that followed the 2011 uprising that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak.

From 2016 onwards, el-Sisi has undertaken a host of economic reforms that saw the currency devalued and the number of civil servants slashed.

Those reforms, coupled with high-cost projects including a multibillion-dollar new capital, have led to surging prices, fuelled public discontent and undermined el-Sisi’s support at home and abroad.

Under el-Sisi’s economic stewardship, the national debt has tripled, while the various megaprojects – often led by the military – have failed to deliver on their promised benefits.

Source: News Agencies