Egyptians are called to the polls on Sunday for a presidential election largely overshadowed by the war in the neighboring Gaza Strip and unsurprisingly, the incumbent, Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, seems assured of winning a third term.
In this country of 106 million inhabitants facing the most serious economic crisis in its history, questions linked to purchasing power will be the priority, with two thirds of the population living below or just above the poverty line.
Some 67 million voters are expected to go to polling stations on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday from 9:00 a.m. (07:00 GMT) to 9:00 p.m. (7:00 p.m. GMT). The official results will be announced on December 18.
Apart from the outgoing president, three candidates generally unknown to the general public are in the running: Farid Zahran, at the head of the Egyptian Democratic and Social Party (left), Abdel-Sanad Yamama, from the Wafd, a century-old but now marginal party, and Hazem Omar, of the Republican People’s Party.
Despite Egypt’s difficulties, no serious opposition seems to exist under the reign of Mr. Sissi, the fifth president from the ranks of the army since 1962, who rules the country with an iron fist.
Thousands of opponents were imprisoned, and if the presidential pardons committee released a thousand in one year, “three times as many people” were arrested during the same period, according to NGOs.
Far from exciting the crowds, the presidential campaign took place in November in the shadow of the war between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas in power in Gaza, a conflict which has monopolized the attention of the media and the public since its outbreak on October 7. opinions in all Arab countries.
Talk shows, close to the intelligence services and fervent supporters of President Sissi, are now trying to link the two.
Campaign poster for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, December 7, 2023 in Cairo / Khaled DESOUKI / AFP
“There are two million (Gazans) who want to return home (…), we cannot sit and watch, we are going to go out and say ‘no to the transfer'” of the Palestinians, argues presenter Ahmad Moussa, repeating word for word a speech by Mr. Sissi at the start of the war.
Two opposition figures tried to present themselves for a time but were quickly dismissed. Today, one of them is in prison and the other awaiting trial.
Journalist and activist Khaled Dawood denounces “a stifling atmosphere of suppression of freedoms, total control of the media, and security services which prevent the opposition from taking action in the streets”.
“We have no illusions: the vote will be (…) neither credible nor fair,” he wrote on Facebook. But he will vote for Mr. Zahran, in order to “send a clear message to the regime”: “we want change”, because “after ten years, the living conditions of Egyptians have deteriorated and we risk bankruptcy because of (his politics”.
Supporters of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi hang a campaign poster with his image on a bus, December 7, 2023 in Cairo / Khaled DESOUKI / AFP
In the presidential elections of 2014 and 2018, former Marshal Sissi, who came to power in 2013 by overthrowing the Islamist Mohamed Morsi, won with more than 96% of the votes.
He has since extended the length of the presidential term from four to six years and amended the Constitution to extend the limit from two to three consecutive presidential terms.
In this context, eyes will turn towards participation. In the last presidential election, it reached 41.5%, or six points less than in the previous election.
Many Egyptians who support Mr. Sissi believe that he is the architect of the return to calm in the country after the chaos following the “revolution” of 2011 and the fall of Hosni Mubarak after 30 years of reign.
From the start of his first term in 2014, Mr. Sissi promised to bring stability, including economic stability.
An ambitious but painful reform program, with devaluations and reductions in state subsidies, has been undertaken since 2016.
Market in Cairo, December 7, 2023 / Khaled DESOUKI / AFP
Measures which led to a surge in prices, fueled popular discontent and saw Mr. Sissi’s popular base and even foreign support decline over the years.
His economic management has seen the debt tripled, and the mega-projects often attributed to the army have so far not produced the promised returns.
But, notes researcher Yezid Sayigh, “Mr. Sissi cannot impose changes on the army, because it could cost him his presidency.”