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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
News
i100
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

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot