Egyptians headed to polling stations on Tuesday for the second day of voting in the country’s presidential elections, which are widely expected to result in a comfortable victory for incumbent President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.
Polling locations in several parts of Cairo appeared quiet for much of the day on Tuesday, the second of three days of voting, with voters trickling in periodically to cast their ballots.
Speaking outside a polling booth located in a school in the upscale neighbourhood of Maadi, 52-year-old housewife Mona Ramzy said she had voted for the president, flashing a finger stained with pink ink.
"I can't vote for someone I don't know, so that we fall into the trap again," Ramzy said about El-Sisi’s sole challenger, politician and businessman Moussa Mostafa Moussa.
Her comment referred to the divisive one-year presidency of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi, who was overthrown following mass protests in 2013.
El-Sisi, who won by a landslide in 2014, remains popular with many Egyptians, who view him as a bastion of security and stability following years of unrest since the 2011 uprising, despite tough economic measures that have sent inflation soaring and introduced painful subsidy cuts.
"It's enough that we can now walk in the streets feeling safe. High prices are everywhere, not just in Egypt," said Samia Girgis, a 54-year-old public servant, while waiting in line to cast her ballot at a school-turned-polling station in the working-class Cairo district of Dar El-Salam.
Outside the school compound, which was festooned with posters proclaiming local businessmen’s support for the president, there was a bustle of activity; pro-Sisi campaigners in a makeshift tent looked up registration details on laptops for those with queries about where to vote, staff manning a beverage stall offered free tea and coffee to voters, and sreet vendors loitered, offering deals on pictures of the president and Egyptian flags.
"El-Sisi has done a lot for the country, and we have to be patient," Girgis added, raising her voice to be heard over the loudspeakers blasting patriotic songs outside the polling station.
Egyptians women entering a polling station in the neighbourhood of Dar Al-Salam, Cairo, Egypt, March 27, 2018 (Photo: Ayat Al-Tawy)
Apathy among the youth?
Egyptian authorities and local television and radio broadcasts have been urging Egyptians to vote en masse, describing voting as a national obligation in the face of what officials have said are foreign conspiracies to undermine Egypt by advocating a poll boycott.
State news agency MENA said on Monday that a fine of up to EGP 500 pounds (approx. $28) could be enforced for non-voting, a penalty that has not been rigidly imposed in elections in past years.
The country’s National Elections Authority, the body responsible for managing the vote, on Tuesday called off a one-hour afternoon break given to polling station staff on the first day of polling, to allow more people to vote after they leave work.
Nonetheless, with El-Sisi's victory seemingly a foregone conclusion, some Egyptians said they had stayed away from the polls.
"I'm not voting,” said 24-year-old Ahmed Mahmoud, a clothes shop owner in the working-class Cairo district of Sayyeda Zeinab.
“The elections have no use. He's taking [office] again anyway,” he said.
Others said they had chosen to spoil their ballots.
"I'm not convinced there is an election. I haven't seen a single banner for Moussa. No one knows who he is and there was no chance for others to appear and face off [with El-Sisi]," said 26-year-old Layla Mostafa, who had marked her opposition on her ballot paper.
Moussa, the head of the Ghad Party, had initially endorsed President El-Sisi for a second term, before he entered the race just hours ahead of the deadline for candidate registration.
He has dismissed criticism that his candidacy is just for show, saying he decided to run to save the vote from being a one-man referendum which would have benefited Egypt's "enemies" and hurt the country's image, after all other contenders dropped out, with some citing fears of an unfair campaigning environment.
El-Sisi has said that he had hoped for more contenders in the election, to give electors greater choice, but that the country was “not ready," blaming political parties for failing to field candidates.
Some observers say that young people in particular are showing signs of a lack of interest in the vote.
"For the youth, the election is like football. If it's a decisive final match, everyone will watch, but when it's a friendly, they won't really care," writer and election systems researcher Akram El-Alfy told Ahram Online.
"A vote means conflict, competition or an electoral battle, but everyone taking part sees it as a national duty, and this absolute loyalty is more of a trait of the elderly," he added.
El-Alfy also argued that the issue of apathy among young people was not an Egyptian phenomenon, and that around the world young people were less interested in the ballot box.
Official voices and observers have so far praised the polling; the electoral authority on Monday reported "high participation" on the first day of the vote, including in North Sinai, where the military is battling Islamist militants, and has stressed the orderliness of the voting process.
Election monitors from a number of international bodies, including the African Union, said Tuesday that they had not witnessed violations at the polls so far, and that the voting process has been smooth.
There were no comments on turnout or participation from the NEA on the second day of voting, however. Polls will close at 9pm on Wednesday, and the result is expected to be announced on or before 2 April.
Azza Ezzat, 60, told Ahram Online that she was sceptical of the apathetic. "Those who don't want to vote are the enemies of the country, who want it to be destroyed," she said.
In 2014, El-Sisi won a landslide victory with about 97 percent and a 47 percent of the electorate. Observers say that the president is likely to win a second term by a comfortable margin, and some of his admirers say they would like him to remain in office for decades.
"I wish they would cancel the constitution and keep El-Sisi there for good," 65-year-old Um Sherif said as she, her nephew and her granddaughter pushed their way through the crowds in a bustling Cairo street market, on their way to a nearby polling station.