Images and video footage flooded the internet showing Egyptians abroad casting their votes in the presidential election. The vote began on Friday and the last day to cast ballots was Sunday. People also checked in on Facebook at several Egyptian embassies, carrying flags and posters supporting President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, who is expected to win a second four-year term.
Ambassadors of Egypt abroad, local officials, and the media highlighted “high turnout,” amid concerns that the election would witness low participation.
“The number of people who showed up is not bad for the first day, also given that Friday is a working day,” one Egyptian woman named Reham wrote on Facebook, as she checked into the embassy in London.
Several others posted pictures. Pro-state television host Ahmed Moussa had urged Egyptians abroad during one of his episodes to share their pictures while voting on social media to encourage their fellow voters.
The Egyptian ambassador to Australia reportedly told local media that many people were participating in the election, especially youth, who rushed to complete necessary documentation needed in order to be registered in the voters’ database.
Media also reported that the highest turnout for the first day took place in Arab Gulf countries, namely Kuwait. The National Electoral Commission (NEC) is yet to announce official figures. According to state-owned media, Egyptians are voting in 118 countries.
The election comes nine years after Egypt’s 2011 revolution that toppled long-time president Hosni Mubarak and five years after Al-Sisi led the ouster of the short-lived rule of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi amid large protests demanding he step down.
Over the past four years of Al-Sisi’s first term, he led a number of security and economic strategies aimed at rebuilding and reforming the country. However, there has been no meaningful political sphere despite the existence of dozens of political parties.
Egypt is struggling to face international claims of a sham election
The election was described by foreigners as “sham” and “farce”. Critics said the current regime repressed possible rivals and opponents of Al-Sisi, referring to pressure faced by former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq, who was deported from the UAE to his home country when he announced his bid for the presidency.
Furthermore, former military chief of staff Sami Anan was arrested, and remains in military custody, for declaring his intention to challenge Al-Sisi in the election. This is in addition to several civilian candidates withdrawing from the race.
In several instances, Egypt refuted the criticism. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement on Thursday saying that it considers the recent comments by German Commissioner for Human Rights Bärbel Kofler as unacceptable interference with the country’s affairs.
Kofler called on Egyptian authorities to put an end to the crackdown on independent media and civil society, and voiced concern over the arrests that preceded the election, stating that “opportunities for a transparent and free election are not fully exploited.” Earlier in March, the ministry strongly rejected remarks by the UN human rights chief, who spoke of “a climate of intimidation,” saying his claims are unfounded.
One slogan in an official media campaign called on Egyptians to vote to show the world that people are free to choose. State-supporting television hosts have spoken in the same direction. Egyptian authorities have been monitoring foreign reports as much as they have been watching the election.
Those calling for a boycott were categorised as either pro-Muslim Brotherhood or part of a conspiracy plan. On Friday, the NEC said it tracked no violations in the media’s coverage of the election, “with the exception of some Muslim Brotherhood channels telling people not to vote, but were challenged with even greater participation,” state media reported.
In 2014, the turnout for the election was 47.5%. This was a lower turnout than in the 2012 presidential election. Moreover, the NEC had to extend the election for an additional day and pumped messages through the media to push discouraged voters to go to ballot boxes.
On Wednesday, Al-Sisi addressed the public during his visit to the Ministry of Interior, saying that he would rather see millions going to the ballot boxes to say “no” than have one-third of voters cast their ballots for him, asserting once more the need for people to express their opinions.
No serious rival candidate
In 2014, Al-Sisi took that year’s election against his opponent Hamdeen Sabbahi in a landslide, winning 96.9% of the vote to the latter’s 3.1%. Two candidates was a low number of presidential contenders, especially in comparison to the 2012 election, which saw 13 candidates vie for the presidency in the first round of Egypt’s first post-Mubarak presidential election.
In the current election, Mostafa Moussa Mostafa, a last-minute candidate who applied a few hours before the NEC closed its doors to presidential hopefuls’ applications, stands no chance in facing Al-Sisi.
The NEC officially allowed electoral campaigns to kick off on 24 February. Across Cairo’s Downtown and other districts, dozens of banners display support for Al-Sisi. Moussa was interviewed several times by pro-Sisi television hosts who repeatedly expressed to him they were unconvinced he could seriously compete against the sitting president.
In local newspapers, senior writers have barely mentioned him. Op-eds tackling the election mostly focused on slamming opponents to Al-Sisi and calls for boycott, or wrote about why Al-Sisi should be elected for a second term.
Moussa himself had been a strong advocate of Al-Sisi.
On the other hand, Al-Sisi has been inaugurating projects and appearing at national events broadcast on televisions nationwide, including a highly anticipated visit by Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman. During these events, the president shared his accomplishments, future vision, and his plans for the country.
Support for Al-Sisi
The regime fully mobilised for the support of Al-Sisi. Even the country’s religious institutions played a political role. Pope Tawadros II, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, called on people to fulfil their “national and social duty.”
Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the highest seat of Sunni Islamic learning and one of the oldest higher education institutions on the globe, mobilised the entire Al-Tayeb family in his hometown in the governorate of Luxor. According to an article published by state-owned Al-Ahram in February, they organised a public conference hosted by Al-Tayeb’s brother and showed a photo of a banner supporting Al-Sisi in the family’s name.
Dozens of public rallies have been organised by supporters and hundreds working for Al-Sisi’s electoral campaign. The rhetoric used in these campaigns heavily relied on shedding light on the military-backed president, in light of a massive operation launched in North Sinai to fight terrorism.
“Egypt’s presidential election” was a trending hashtag on Twitter from Friday to Sunday, with users tweeting about both support for and opposition to Al-Sisi.
Many writers and experts in political affairs have recently highlighted the importance of political plurality for a healthy democratic system. Yet, they also voiced concerns regarding restrictions on the public sphere and bias towards Al-Sisi, whether in the media or other institutions. Equally, there were opinions supporting Al-Sisi and discussing his achievements.
The election inside Egypt will take place beginning on 26 March for three days.