CAIRO,- Egyptians cast their ballots on Tuesday on the third and last day of a presidential election expected to give President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi a sweeping victory in the absence of real competition.
Many Egyptians have shown little interest in or knowledge about the election, although authorities and commentators on tightly controlled local media have been urging them to vote out of national duty.
“I will not vote because I am sick of this country,” said 27-year-old taxi driver Hossam, who said his quality of life had deteriorated under Sisi’s decade-long rule.
“When they hold a real election I will go out and vote,” he said.
The election which began on Sunday is Sisi’s third since taking power in 2013 after the overthrow of Egypt’s first popularly elected president Mohamed Mursi. An Islamist, Mursi won the presidency a year after the ousting of long-ruling autocrat Hosni Mubarak in a popular uprising.
International monitors have criticised Egypt’s human rights record under Sisi’s rule, accusing the government of repressing political freedoms.
In the new capital under construction in the eastern part of Cairo, patriotic music blasted from a loudspeaker outside a polling station on an avenue lined with newly built banks and neo-pharaonic ministries.
Construction and office workers milled around outside, some waving Egyptian flags, dancing and holding up a banner with a large photo of Sisi. A few dozen people lined up to vote as plainclothes security officers looked on.
Sausan Ades, a 34-year-old state health employee, said she had come to vote “because it’s our country”.
“We love Egypt. It’s important to take part,” she said.
She said the new capital, which some criticise for its $58 billion price tag at a time when Egypt’s debt is surging, was necessary for development.
The election featured three other low-profile candidates. The most prominent potential challenger halted his run in October, saying officials and thugs had targeted his supporters – accusations dismissed by the national election authority.
Critics say the election is a sham and former general Sisi’s popularity has been eroded amid a grinding economic crisis and a decade-long crackdown on dissidents.
Sisi’s human rights record has come under fire as tens of thousands, many from Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood, have been jailed over the past decade. The government has sought to address these issues, including by opening a national dialogue and releasing some prominent prisoners.
Sisi says stability and security are paramount, a message that resonated with some voters that spoke to Reuters.
The government’s media body has said the elections are a step towards political pluralism and authorities have denied violations of electoral rules.
On Monday, the National Election Authority said that turnout on the first two days of voting had reached about 45%, surpassing that of the last presidential election in 2018, however critics cast doubt on these figures.
Reuters reporters who have been covering the elections in Cairo, Giza, Suez, and al-Arish over the last three days have witnessed crowds in front of polling stations, some being bussed in, but a relative trickle of citizens casting their votes.
“Each time Egyptians are asked to vote they are poorer than the last time, and Sisi is less popular, yet turnout is on the rise? No one, not even Sisi’s few remaining supporters, believes this is a real election,” said Timothy E. Kaldas, a policy fellow at Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.