Egypt presidential election: Disillusionment as important as policies or image with Abdel Fattah al-Sisi expected to win vote with ease

 

Cairo

Egyptians will trudge to polling stations on Monday on the first of two days of voting to elect a new president, with the former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi expected to win easily.

Mr Sisi, who helped depose previous leader Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in July last year, has become the candidate of consensus for the forces of Egypt’s old elite, as well as a great many ordinary people who, battered and bruised by three years of street conflict and a floundering economy, say they yearn for a strong hand to restore stability.

“I have no option,” said Salah Mohamed, 32, a government employee, who plans to vote for Mr Sisi. “I’m scared because I have a family to take care of. I’m afraid the economic situation will get worse and then I’ll be in real trouble.”

In interviews, Mr Sisi has exhorted Egyptians to work hard and sacrifice on behalf of the nation; advocating long hours and energy-saving light bulbs. He backs a law which makes protesting illegal without police permission. This has seen at least 16,000 arrested, many of them from the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mr Sisi has been the object of a minor personality cult since last summer’s coup and a hero to those who despise or fear the Brotherhood. His likeness adorns not only hoardings and t-shirts, but cupcakes and the head of one man who asked his barber to shave the field marshal’s silhouette onto his skull. But the breadth of his popularity is this deeply divided country is not all it may seem. What can appear as a consensus in his favour is as much a product of the repression and disillusionment of his opponents as broad enthusiasm.

A recent poll found that 54 per cent of Egyptians have a positive opinion of Mr Sisi, the same margin by which they prioritise stability over democracy. A separate poll by the Egyptian Centre for Public Opinion Research suggested that a fortnight ago just two per cent had decided for his lone challenger, the genial leftist Hamdeen Sabbahy, who came third in the last elections in 2012.

Other candidates withdrew, several referring to the election as a “farce”, in the context of the massive support of both the media and state institutions for Mr Sisi. These objections are also felt by some citizens who feel deep resentment.

Read more: The death of justice in Egypt

Winding his way through choked Cairo traffic on Sunday afternoon, a young motorist loudly played an anti-Sisi song dubbed to the tune of “Gangnam Style” and said he would not vote after one of his friends was killed by police last August while protesting in support of Mr Morsi. “Sisi’s a killer,” he claimed over the din.

 

Abdalrahman Refaat, a 27-year-old engineer sympathetic to the Brotherhood, compared the elections to a television game show. “People are voting for a person not for ideas... and Hamdeen [Sabbahy] is part of the game.”

While Mr Sisi’s victory does not appear to be doubt, turnout will be important, as if it is high Mr Sisi will feel he can claim that the populace is behind him. To reinforce the point of the importance of participation, the country’s interim president on Sunday urged Egyptians to come out and vote in the election, saying it will shape the nation’s future.

In a televised address, Adly Mansour also sought to assure Egyptians that state institutions, including his office, would not interfere in the two-day vote, trying to allay concerns over support for Mr Sisi. “Let us all come out tomorrow and the day after to express our free choice. Choosing, without being guided or dictated to, the person we trust to have the ability to build and run the nation,” Mr Mansour said.

“The state’s institutions, with the presidency at their heart, stand at an equal distance from the two presidential candidates. They have not and will not direct any citizen to a specific choice. Instead, we are all concerned with security and a wide popular participation,” Mr Mansour said in the recorded five-minute address.

Additional reporting by Deyaa Adel

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
Sport
footballLive! Chelsea vs West Ham kicked off 10 Boxing Day matches, with Arsenal vs QPR closing the action
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Sport
football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all