Egyptians will soon head to the polls in a presidential election set to deliver an easy win for incumbent Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, with turnout the main focus after opposition figures complaining of repression called for a boycott.
While many Egyptians see the US-allied former general, as vital to stability in a country where unrest since 2011 has hurt the economy, critics have dubbed Monday’s vote a charade after several credible candidates withdrew apparently under pressure.
Sisi, 63, who led the military’s overthrow of Egypt’s first democratically elected President Mohamed Mursi in 2013, is seeking a second term after a first four-year mandate he says has brought stability and security.
But a lower-than-expected turnout could suggest Sisi lacks a mandate to take more of the tough steps needed to revive the economy, which struggled after the 2011 revolution drove away tourists and foreign investors, both sources of hard currency.
Sisi’s sole challenger in the March 26-28 vote is Moussa Mostafa Moussa, a longtime Sisi supporter widely dismissed as a dummy candidate: Moussa’s Ghad party had actually endorsed Sisi for a second term before he emerged as a last-minute challenger.
Moussa dismisses accusations he is being used to present a false sense of competition, and the electoral commission says it will ensure the vote is fair and transparent.
An editorial in state-owned newspaper al-Ahram acknowledged the narrow choice for voters but suggested the mere holding of the ballot signalled Egypt was regaining its strength in the face of current domestic and foreign threats.
“The importance of presidential elections this time is not fierce competition or a real (electoral) battle, but a message to the world that Egypt is on its way through a recovery phase,” it said.
Critics say Sisi’s popularity since his 2014 election has been hurt by austerity reforms and a muzzling of opponents, activists and independent media. Courts have passed death sentences on hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters since 2013.
Sisi’s backers — which include Western powers and most Gulf Arab dynasties — say the measures are needed to keep the country stable as it recovers from political chaos and tackles an Islamist insurgency focused in the Sinai Peninsula.
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