Reem stepped out of a hair salon in Maadi’s Sarayat neighbourhood and hailed a taxi from her phone to drive her to her polling station to vote in this week’s presidential elections.
“I am going to vote now. I wanted to be among the first… for him, for Al-Sisi of course. Who else?” Reem asked.
She was speaking in the early hours of the first day of voting in the three-day presidential elections that began on Monday at 9am.
In her late 30s, Reem said that of course she had also voted for Al-Sisi in 2014.
“Then and now I am voting for him out of a real conviction that he is the man who can take the extremely sensitive responsibility of getting things back to normal after the tumultuous times the country has been through.”
“I was convinced he knew what he had to do, and he said it again a few weeks ago — that he would not let what happened six or seven years ago happen again. I was very pleased when he said that. If he does nothing else but prevent the chaos of 2011 from happening again, then I will vote for him again and again and again.”
“Reversing what could have happened to us, our children, and our country in 2011 as a result of the January conspiracy that some people called a revolution was a huge achievement that Al-Sisi delivered. I am very grateful to him for having saved my country from chaos and for having kept the country where I was born and where my parents and my children live safe for today and tomorrow,” Nora, another voter, said.
Nora, in her early 30s, had just voted in the Cairo neighbourhood of Dokki. She was there with her mother Nelly, who seconded everything her daughter said.
Nelly, in her early 60s and a housewife like her daughter, said that she had no doubt that Al-Sisi would have won “anyway”, whatever happened.
“I know he is a winner. This man is legendary. But I am not here to help him win. I am here to thank him for what he has done in sparing the country from the chaos of 2011 and to ask him to keep doing what he has been doing for all our sakes,” she said.
Nora and Nelly said their votes in the 2018 presidential elections were also an act of support for soldiers at the front in Sinai.
“These wonderful men who are fighting the agents of black terrorism and who are giving their lives every day so the country remains strong and solid will find support in our vote for Al-Sisi today,” Nora said.
“They should know that they have the backing of the nation behind them,” Nelly added.
“We had our revolution in June 2013 against the January conspiracy, when we decided to go down and take to the streets to say no to the Muslim Brotherhood and yes to Al-Sisi. Today we are again saying no to the Muslim Brotherhood and yes to Al-Sisi,” added Nora.
An Anti-Islamist Vote
The vast majority of the more than 50 people the Weekly spoke to in the days leading up to the 2018 presidential elections, and those encountered in polling stations in Heliopolis, Maadi, Mohandessin, Sayeda Zeinab, Garden City and Zamalek, said the main reason they supported Al-Sisi in 2014 and are doing so again was because they were determined the one-year rule of the Muslim Brotherhood is never repeated.
“I don’t know how it could happen again. I know that I did not want it when it happened the first time, and I know for a fact Al-Sisi ended it in a very smart way. Al-Sisi deserves my appreciation. God bless him. I will vote for him just as I did in 2014,” said Margaret, a Cairo housewife in her late 60s.
Margaret said her polling station was close to her home in Zamalek “but even if it were at the end of the world I would have walked every step to vote for Al-Sisi”.
She did not cast a ballot in 2012. “I could not have voted in any election that included Islamists,” she says. “My husband, my children and all my relatives voted for Ahmed Shafik but I said I could not have anything to do with an election containing Islamists.”
Now Margaret insists she does not mind that an Islamist faction, the Salafist Nour Party, is on board with Al-Sisi. “It is regrettable that he has not put them on trial for having supported the Muslim Brotherhood during the worst year of Egypt’s history but maybe it is a political necessity to have them on his side. I don’t know. But I am sure he will keep them under control.”
Voting in Dokki, Fouad, a doctor and university professor in his late 50s, said that he was voting for Al-Sisi to keep the Islamists at bay. “I was willing to accept that they could continue to exist on the margins of the political scene, just as things were during the rule of [Hosni] Mubarak before 2011. That was why I voted for Amr Moussa in the first round of the 2012 elections.”
“But things took a different turn and the Islamists assumed power. Today, we have no choice but to take a firm stand against any possibility of them reassembling and making a comeback because if they do they will want power again.”
Fouad said his antipathy to Islamists was something he inherited from his father, a member of the National Democratic Party, the majority party during Mubarak’s rule.
“I always heard him say that it was alright to let the Muslim Brotherhood have some presence, but never to come to the centre of power because if they came there they would never let go. I am supporting Al-Sisi because he would never allow them to come back.”
He added that while he was concerned about allegations of human rights violations in recent years, “the possibility of Egyptians being turned into refugees in their own country, like the Syrians, Yemenis and Libyans, means there is not much of a choice. We have a country to save.”
George, an architect in his late 40s, said he would go to his polling station in Heliopolis, an Al-Sisi stronghold, “to renew my support”.
“I voted for him in 2014 and I will do the same this week with no hesitation whatsoever. I am even more convinced today that my choice in 2014 was right.”
George says he is aware of the debate “in the Western media about the lack of any true opposition to Al-Sisi”. But he is “not at all bothered by this”.
“They say what they want to say and we do what we want to do,” he shrugged.
He added that if he had to choose between democracy and an open-ended state of emergency “to make sure that the Muslim Brotherhood disappears and vanishes” he would support extraordinary measures — “even extra-judicial measures Al-Sisi might want to take to end the Muslim Brotherhood”.
“When can we have democracy? I don’t know. I am not worried about democracy. Why do we have to follow the West? We can have our own style of politics, provided we eliminate the Brotherhood.”
In the Cairo neighbourhood of Sayeda Zeinab, Fatma, a civil servant in her early 40s, was walking on her way to her polling station at around 4pm. She had just finished work and done a bit of grocery shopping.
“I will cast my vote and then go home, but I really had to come to vote,” she said. “I want Al-Sisi to know that we went out to vote for him even though we know he will win. He deserves our support.”
Fatma said she wanted “to thank Al-Sisi for many things, but most of all for stability”.
“We had enough of demonstrations and protests and uncertainty. We are back to stability and this is a blessing.”
Like other civil servants who spoke to the Weekly in the run-up to the elections and during the first two days of voting Fatma said she was finding it “harder and harder to make ends meet”.
“Everything is more expensive. We have cut down on many items and now we are cutting down on basics, but all for the sake of stability,” she said.
Fatma said she was aware of another round of austerity measures to come. “I heard from my son. He is unfortunately opposed to Al-Sisi, but he is only 19 years old. I keep teasing him and his sister,” she added with a smile before stepping into the polling station.
“Stability is not something we can allow to be undermined. Some people talk about it a bit lightly because they take it for granted but when you watch TV and see the stories coming out of Syria you realise the true blessing of stability,” says Salah, the owner of a grocery store in Heliopolis.
Salah said he was “not bothered” about the debate over whether the situation in Syria is the outcome of oppression on the part of the ruling regime or whether it began as a call for democracy.
“I am not Syrian. I am Egyptian and I care about this country. I am 82, my wife is 79, we have no place to go if anything happens to our country. I don’t know what could happen or how. But I want the country to be safe and stable, and that is what Al-Sisi is doing, and this is why I am going to take my wife and vote for him just like we did in the last elections.”
Salah said he was “not blind to the economic challenges that have come with the past four years”.
“I feel it more than others. I see people cutting down on basic grocery shopping even in Heliopolis, a middle-class neighbourhood. But I say that people are putting up with the economic hardships because of their fear of instability.”
What Do They Want?
Supporters of the president voting for him a second time are not just expressing their gratitude for the past four years. They also have a list of demands for the next.
“Of course the last four years have been good with the many new roads and houses built. We want him to continue with his plans, like the land reclamation projects he has promised and so on. I am sure he will go on with this,” says Maha, a civil servant in her late 50s.
Adel, an accountant in his late 50s from Maadi, wants the president to pursue restrictions on social media. He is convinced the “January setback” — his term for the 25 January Revolution — “would not have happened had it not been for social media. Allowing it was Mubarak’s biggest mistake. “If Al-Sisi cannot shut it down, he should make it a lot more expensive so that fewer people use it,” says Adel.
When he votes for Al-Sisi on Tuesday he will do so whether or not Al-Sisi takes the restrictive measures he hopes for.
“I am not sure what he will do in his second term. He hasn’t shared many details. But he has said he will do what it takes to protect the country and even if he allows social media to continue he will make sure it does not harm our hard-earned stability.”
Maintaining stability was something to which almost everyone who spoke to the Weekly referred. Rashed, a doctor and resident of Zamalek, believes “the best way to maintain stability is to make sure the media explains the rationale behind the economic decisions the president makes and highlights the success stories he has had. This will ensure that rumour-mongers do not receive attention.”
For Noha, a housewife in Dokki, “the answer is simpler and more effective: Al-Sisi has to amend the constitution to remove the two-term limit.”
“I know that when the constitution was written people were still influenced by the ideas of 2011 but these are over now. We want Al-Sisi to continue in office. We want him for a second, a third and a fourth term. We want him again and again, all the way through.”
Noha was not bothered by the idea that this will take the country back to simple plebiscites. “Why is this a problem?” she asked. “China has just removed its term limits. Russian President Vladimir Putin is starting his fourth term in office and he will have at least a fifth term. We want Al-Sisi,” she said.
*This story was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly