Egyptians voted for a new president Monday, with the ex-army chief who overthrew the country’s first democratically elected leader and crushed his movement expected to win in a landslide. The two-day election is the first since the frontrunner and former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi deposed president Mohamed Morsi in July, a move that unleashed the bloodiest violence in Egypt’s recent history.
Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement is boycotting the vote, as are revolutionary youth groups who fear Sisi is an autocrat in the making. But the 59-year-old retired field marshall is expected to trounce his sole rival, leftist Hamdeen Sabbahi, amid widespread calls for stability. Polling stations opened at 0600 GMT for 53 million registered voters, with Sisi arriving early at a Cairo polling station to cast his vote amid a throng of jostling reporters and supporters. Many view the vote as a referendum on stability versus the freedoms promised by the Arab Spring-inspired popular uprising that ousted veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
The country of 86 million people has been rocked by sporadic unrest and a tanking economy since then. Mubarak’s successor, Morsi, lasted only a year in power, winning the country’s first democratic presidential election only to quickly alienate many Egyptians who held mass rallies demanding his resignation. “We need someone who speaks in a determined and strong way. The Egyptian people are frightened by this and respect those who are like this,” said Milad Hanna, a 29-year-old lawyer, as he lined up outside a polling station in Cairo. Hanna said he had voted for Sabbahi in the 2012 election that Morsi won, but will now vote for Sisi. “We need someone strong, a military man,” he said. Sisi has said “true democracy” would take a couple of decades to reach Egypt, and suggested he would not tolerate protests that he said disrupt the economy.
He has also pledged to wipe out the Brotherhood, which had won every election after Mubarak’s overthrow after being banned for decades. The movement is boycotting the election and said on Sunday it would not recognise the outcome. “Forgery will never grant legitimacy to a butcher nor will it lessen the determination of revolutionaries,” the Brotherhood said in a statement. The vote, monitored by international and Egyptian groups, is not expected to be marred by widespread rigging. The Brotherhood, now blacklisted as a terrorist group, has been decapitated in a police crackdown that has killed more than 1,400 people, including an estimated 700 protesters on one day in August. dawn