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Egypt heads to the polls

March 26, 2018

Polls have opened in Egypt for a presidential election in which voters will choose between the current president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, and a little-known challenger. Some 60 million people are eligible to vote.

Egyptian voters queue up outside a polling station
Image: Getty Images/AFP/K. Desouki

Polls opened on Monday morning in Egypt for a three-day vote in which Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi is virtually guaranteed to win his second term. El-Sissi voted in Cairo just minutes after the polls opened at 0700 GMT, according to state TV.

Observers have slammed the vote for the lack of competition for el-Sissi, whose only rival on the ballot is his long-time supporter, Moussa Mustafa Moussa.

Moussa stepped in as a presidential candidate just as the deadline for submitting applications was set to expire. He has publicly denied being a "puppet" of the regime.

Previously, several more serious challengers were either detained or decided to bow out of the race under apparent pressure from the el-Sissi government.

Read more'El-Sissi is on the side of the autocratic rulers'

Ex-general Sami Annan was arrested in January just days after announcing his intention to run for president. The Egyptian Armed Forces claimed Annan forged official documents that would allow him to take part in the election. His chief aide, Hisham Genena, was also attacked and beaten by unknown assailants. Abdel-Moneim Abul Fotouh, who ran in 2012, was arrested on suspicion of joining the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and incitement against government institutions. 

Man looks up while casting his ballot in Egypt
Some 14,000 polling stations have been set up to accommodate the 60 million eligible votersImage: Getty Images/AFP/M. El-Shahed

Prominent human rights lawyer Khaled Ali also dropped out in January, saying the authorities harassed and intimidated his supporters. Former lawmaker Mohammed Anwar Sadat and former air force general and 2012 presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq have also withdrawn their candidacies.

'We are just not ready'

In a televised interview, president and former military leader el-Sissi said the lack of serious rivals was "completely not my fault."

"Really, I swear, I wish there were one or two or even 10 of the best people and you would get to choose whoever you want," he said. "We are just not ready."

With some opposition leaders calling for a boycott, the government has stepped up efforts to motivate people to go out and vote. Banners and billboards praising el-Sissi were ubiquitous in Cairo and across Egypt, with advertising for his rival Moussa much less noticeable.

El-Sissi hopes for a clear mandate to continue his austerity reforms and tough security measures he claims are necessary in the nation, which is often targeted by terror groups.

Once widely popular, el-Sissi won nearly 97 percent of votes in his 2014 run against left-wing politician Hamdeen Sabbahi. However, turnout was only 37 percent for the planned two-day vote, prompting authorities to add an additional day to the election. The final participation rate was just over 47 percent.

Analysts believe a much smaller percentage of Egypt's nearly 60 million voters would take part in this week's three-day ballot. The final results are expected next Monday.

dj/kms (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)