Third term for el-Sisi? Egypt heads for presidential election amid Gaza war

Sisi claims the crackdown was needed to stabilise Egypt and counter extremists

EGYPT-POLITICS-VOTE Supporters hang a campaign banner of Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at a bus on a street in Cairo on December 7, 2023, ahead of the country's presidential election | AFP

Amid the shadows of the Gaza war, Egypt will vote to elect its President, a three-day event which could see Abdel Fattah el-Sisi extending his term for the third time. The results of the polls will be announced on December 18.

The voting that began on Sunday morning people lining up in front of polling stations in Cairo where giant hoardings of Sisi have come up.  Some 67 million people are eligible to vote, and the focus is mostly on the turnout after successive previous elections witnessed a low turnout.

The elections happen at a time when Egypt battles multiple crises, the economy is in a tailspin, inflation is at 40 per cent after the currency plunged, and the public debt in Egypt stood at above 88 per cent of the country’s GDP in 2022. The poverty rate had reached approximately 30 percent and burdened Egyptians are struggling to meet ends.

But, these factors are unlikely to stop el-Sisi from winning the elections. Critics call the elections a sham after a decade-long crackdown on dissent. Coming from the military, el-Sisi's rule saw Egypt jailing thousands of political prisoners, clamping down hard on free speech, and total control of the media and security services stopping opposition from operating.  

Sisi claims the crackdown was needed to stabilise Egypt and counter Islamist extremism. He portrays himself as the icon of stability amid the  conflict on Egypt's borders in Libya, and earlier this year in Sudan and Gaza.

As for his opposition, el-Sisi’s closest rival and left-wing leader Ahmed el-Tantawy withdrew his candidacy in October. He complained of attempts to intimidate him, including the tapping of his phone. Two more prominent opposition figures were stopped from running for the elections, with one in prison and the other awaiting trial.

"Even if the public could envisage a political alternative, there’s the fact that the opposition remains in disarray," David Butter, an associate fellow at Chatham House, told Al Jazeera. "Much of the idealism of the revolution [of 2011] got overshadowed by the Muslim Brotherhood’s campaign, which led to chaos and, eventually, el-Sisi. For many people across Egypt, el-Sisi’s presidency is just a fact."

People feel voting would make little difference."I was aware there are elections happening, but I had no idea when. I only knew that because of the massive Sisi campaigns around the streets," said Aya Mohamed, a 35-year-old marketing executive."I feel indifferent about the elections because there will be no real change," she said.

In the wake of the war in Gaza, Sisi has managed to link it in his favour using media. "There are two million (Gazans) who want to come here... we cannot sit idly by and watch, we will go out and say 'no to the transfer' (of Palestinians)," said one TV presenter, Ahmed Moussa, echoing a speech by Sisi at the start of the war in October.


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