Egyptians stage mass boycott of presidential poll

Observers say turnout may only be 15 per cent as youth groups mobilise against the poll. Alastair Beach reports from Cairo


The most important election in Egypt's modern history was in danger of sparking new a backlash against the country's establishment last night as many voters appeared to shun both candidates and disillusioned youth groups spearheaded a nationwide campaign to void the poll.

Observers said many polling stations had seen barely a trickle of voters over the past two days – a stark contrast to previous elections this year, when large numbers of people queued for hours to cast ballots.

Outside one school in the western Cairo suburb of Dokki yesterday morning, television reporters appeared at one point to outnumber voters. When an army officer was asked by The Independent how many people had arrived to vote, he pointed mockingly towards the gate and said: "Look. Can you see any voters?"

In an election which has pitted two highly polarising candidates against each other – the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi and Hosni Mubarak's last Prime Minister, Ahmed Shafik – there has been mounting outrage among many political groups over the paucity of options on offer. The trend has manifested itself most starkly with a high-profile campaign to encourage voters to spoil their ballot papers. Orchestrated through a group called Mobteloon, whose name means "nullifiers" in Arabic, many voters have voided their ballots in a bid to register their disillusionment. "The future president will not have any legitimacy," said Mohamed Ghoneim, one of the founders of Mobteloon. "We are building a revolutionary front against whoever comes next."

In theory, all spoiled ballots should be included in the final count. Mr Ghoneim said the aim of the Mobteloon movement was to use these ballots to generate a springboard for a second uprising targeting the next President and Egypt's military establishment.

Official turnout figures were not released yesterday, but electoral observers it could be as low as 15 per cent. From an electorate of 50 million, that would mean Egypt's next President had been chosen from a total of about seven million votes. "We think the turnout definitely did not exceed 15 per cent," said Sherine el-Touny, of the Egyptian monitoring body Shayfeencom. "Even if it was 30 per cent, that would mean we had seen 17 million voters on the streets, but I don't think we saw that today."

Another organisation monitoring the poll, a committee from Egypt's Lawyers' Syndicate legal union, also said it believed the overall turnout was about 15 per cent.

Many blamed the scorching summer heat, with temperatures in Cairo soaring to nearly 40C yesterday. There was speculation that with voting hours extended until 10pm last night, the numbers of people entering polling stations would pick up by the evening. Yet other factors are at play. Following a tumultuous 18 months, which was initially infused with widespread optimism following the fall of Hosni Mubarak, many Egyptians feel they have been betrayed by the presidential choices now on offer.

A result is expected within the next few days, with the authorities nervous that it could send protesters spilling back on to the streets. On the one hand is Mohamed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood mandarin who can depend on legions of well-drilled followers, but who is detested by millions fearful of his Islamic agenda.

On the other there is Ahmed Shafik. The former fighter pilot is believed to have the backing of the military and is beloved by those Egyptians who want a return to order after 18 months of chaos. Many Christians have also identified him as the candidate who is the best person to protect their interests. Yet Mr Shafik is also distrusted by huge numbers of Egyptians. Many remember his brief stint as Prime Minister during the notorious "battle of the camel" last year, when groups of Mubarak supporters charged into Tahrir Square on horseback and camels to attack anti-government demonstrators.

"We have no choice at all," said Eid Muhamed, who works in a tea house in the dirt-poor Cairo district of Boulaq. "Both of them are awful."

There is also the military to consider. After the controversial dissolution of parliament last week, the generals have underlined their position as the eminence grise of Egyptian politics. Given the ruling council's alleged ties with both candidates – Mr Shafik was a former colleague, while many revolutionaries believe, without much hard evidence, that Mr Morsi has cut a deal with the ruling council to secure the presidency – the power of Egypt's single most influential institution will lurk behind the candidate who finally ends up claiming the presidency.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before