Egypt’s presidential election, a foregone result
by Loula Lahham

Polls open tomorrow. The choice is between Al-Sisi, a former general, and Moussa Moustapha Moussa, an obscure last-minute candidate. Others who wanted to run have either pulled out or been arrested. A low turnout and violence by the Islamic State are major concerns. Yesterday, an attack in Alexandria left two people dead and five seriously wounded.

Cairo (AsiaNews) – A news blackout started yesterday in Egypt ahead of the country’s three-day presidential elections set to start tomorrow. Polling stations will be open Monday through Wednesday from 9 am to 7 pm.

Some 60 million people (out of a population of 100 million) will be eligible to vote, with the opportunity of choosing one of only two candidates: the outgoing president, Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, who has led the country for the past four years, and a certain Moussa Moustapha Moussa, head of a small political Al-Ghad party.

Observers have already concluded that, without any real opposition, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi will be a shoo-in for a second four-year term. For him, the only issue is how many voters will stay away since they already know the outcome. The only major unknown factor will be the turnout.

Who is Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi?

He is a former army general who took over the reins of power in June 2014, following a popular uprising against the Islamist regime under the Muslim Brotherhood. Between 30 and 35 million Egyptians took to the streets for three days in late June 2013 to challenge the sectarian regime that had strengthened Muslim fundamentalism at the expense of national unity and on the backs of Coptic Christians.

In order to revive the country’s troubled economy, al-Sisi embarked on grandiose plans of infrastructure construction. The latter has had some important successes but also led the Treasury to devalue the Egyptian lira in 2016 pushing prices up considerably, affecting increasingly impoverished Egyptians. His adversaries have also criticised him for the lack of freedom of expression and for the police state he runs.

Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, 63, gave orders to restore security and stability in the Sinai Peninsula, to end a jihadist insurgency that has hurt the region for the past five years. The operation did weaken the Islamic State (IS) in the Sinai, which has a thousand radical militants, but, according to some observers, it did not lead to any decisive victory nor end IS attacks.

Moussa Moustapha Moussa, last-minute candidate

He is the only challenger since all other serious contenders have been arrested or forced to pull out. Khaled Ali, one of the emblematic figures of the revolution of 25 January 2011, was forced to drop out under intense pressure. Former General Ahmad Chafiq announced his candidacy after a visit to the United Arab Emirates. On his return to Egypt, he gave up. General Sami Annan, a former chief of staff, was charged by military justice. Colonel Ahmad Konsowa, also a candidate, was imprisoned for "behaviour that harms the needs of the military system".

A candidate was thus needed to give the election a pluralist flavour. According to some, Moussa Moustapha Moussa was hand-picked by the regime, a claim denied by the authorities. He heads a small liberal party that has no seats in parliament and does not represent a serious challenge, given that before putting his name forward, he supported the outgoing president. Moussa filed his candidacy papers 15 minutes before the official deadline for nomination, on 29 January.

Unexpected twist of the Islamic State

Yesterday around 11 am, 48 hours before the election began, a car bomb exploded when a convoy carrying Police General Moustapha Al-Nemr drove by. The general is head of security in the Governorate of Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest city some 220 km north-west of Cairo, on the Mediterranean. He was unharmed, but two officers were killed and five others seriously injured. Prosecutor General Nabil Sadek opened an urgent inquiry into the terrorist act that was claimed by an Islamic State branch that has infiltrated the country.

The authorities expect violence to rise during voting. For this reason, thousands of police officers and soldiers will be deployed to secure polling stations in major cities, from the north to the south of the Nile valley, as well as in the cities of the eastern and western desert and the Sinai Peninsula.

All governorates are ready to ensure that the final results are announced on 2 April. In any case, voters are caught between voting and boycotting. Meanwhile, non-governmental organisations and human rights groups are increasingly worried, especially over the lack of freedom, as epitomised by the recent expulsion of Bel Trew, the correspondent of the Times of London in Cairo.