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Egypt presidential elections 2018: Turnout is key

The results of the presidential election will shock no one. But that’s hardly the point

Gamal Essam El-Din , Saturday 17 Mar 2018
Dubai, UAE
Egyptians vote in Dubai, 16 March 2018.

Egypt’s two presidential candidates — incumbent Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi who is running for a second four-year term and head of the Ghad Party Moussa Mustafa Moussa — have stepped up their campaigns as the ballot approaches.

The first stage of the elections begins when expatriates head to vote tomorrow. They will be able to vote until 18 March.

Al-Sisi’s campaign has been touring governorates this week, staging 30 public rallies which attracted large audiences.

On Sunday the Support Egypt parliamentary bloc, led by Mohamed Al-Sewidi, held a rally in Assiut which attracted the Upper Egyptian governorate’s leading officials and thousands of citizens.

The Free Egyptians Party, which has 65 seats in parliament, held a public rally on Saturday to urge citizens to turn out and vote in the face of hostile Western media attacks.

Free Egyptians head Essam Khalil said the party is closely following what “anti-Egyptian media and human rights organisations” publish on Egypt’s presidential poll.

“We believe their reports are dangerous because they target the morale of Egyptians and seek to spread disappointment and frustration. For this reason the party is keen to respond directly.”

Ahmed Abdel-Hadi, coordinator of the pro-Sisi “All with You for the Sake of Egypt” campaign, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the pro-Sisi rallies are being funded by supporters and volunteers.

“Most of the rallies being staged in support of President Al-Sisi do not receive funding from his official campaign,” says Abdel-Hadi. “We contribute our own money to spend on public rallies and billboards because we believe in Al-Sisi.”

“That there is only one other name on the ballot is due to the massive popularity of Al-Sisi,” insists Abdel-Hadi. “People knew in advance that they would lose and so opted not to contest the poll. Others, such as leftist lawyer Khaled Ali, withdrew after failing to secure enough endorsements to run.”

Moussa told Al-Ahram on Tuesday that “despite the competition, President Al-Sisi and myself are partners and members of the same national school, that of Egypt’s 30 June Revolution.”

“We are not ideological rivals. We are united in rejecting the Muslim Brotherhood and refusing any kind of reconciliation with this radical group or any movement which has the blood of Egyptians on its hands.”

Moussa said his campaign is budgeted at just LE5 million “even though I am allowed by the National Electoral Commission [NEC] to spend as much as LE20 million”.

“I realise I am a little-known figure to many. I hope only to achieve an honourable result,” said Moussa.

His campaign hopes Moussa’s showpiece rally, to be held a day before the campaign period ends, will attract at least 50,000.

“Egyptian tribes and supporters will do their best to mobilise the largest number of citizens to attend and convey a message to all Egyptians,” said Moussa.

He added that he had refused interviews with Western media outlets.

“I have been contacted by many media outlets such as the BBC and Reuters but I rejected their overtures. Their aim is to exploit interviews to tarnish my image, the image of President Al-Sisi and of Egypt in general.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Hamdi Loza told reporters this week that the Foreign Ministry, in coordination with the NEC, has done everything necessary to facilitate the voting of Egyptians abroad.

“Embassies will not enquire about official documents or legal residence. The only thing that matters to us is providing all the facilities necessary for Egyptians to vote wherever they are,” Loza said.

Voting for Egyptian expats is limited to countries where Egypt has diplomatic missions.

In states such as Libya, Syria, Somalia and Yemen the security situation has rendered voting impossible.

Loza said 139 diplomatic missions will be supervising the elections worldwide, with the greatest number of votes expected in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Dubai which have sizeable communities of Egyptian expats.

Ahmed Al-Kattan, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Egypt, said there are three million Egyptians living in Saudi Arabia and the authorities there would take all necessary measures to ensure they can vote.

Egyptian MPs have already travelled to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries to encourage Egyptians to vote.

Loza hopes the turnout will be similar to the 2014 poll.

“People were keen to vote in 2014. They were aware that Egypt was facing great threats and that their votes would help the country face up to the danger,” said Loza.

“The same applies this year. A large turnout will boost stability and help economic progress.”

Expat voting provides an early sign of how the domestic poll will go. “When the expat turnout is high, it sends a message to Egyptians at home that they, too, should go and vote,” said Loza.

Egyptian expats are included in the national voter database which in 2018 listed 59 million eligible voters, up from 54 million in 2014.

A number of Arab, African and Latin American ambassadors visited the headquarters of Al-Sisi’s campaign this week. They all agreed that hostile attacks against Egypt’s presidential polls have fizzled out.

Habib Al-Sadr, Iraq’s ambassador to Egypt, told MPs this week that “it is clear President Al-Sisi is immensely popular and will probably win by a landslide.”

“But though many view the outcome of the poll as a foregone conclusion it is important a record number of Egyptians vote. It sends a message to the outside world that Egyptians want another four years of stability and economic progress.”

Bahrain’s Ambassador Sheikh Rashed bin Abdel-Rahman Khalifa told Al-Ahram on Tuesday that “President Al-Sisi, as a fighter against black terrorism, has become a symbol for all Arab nations.”

“Arabs will follow the poll closely. How people vote in the Arab world’s most populous nation and what happens in Egypt next has a direct impact on all Arab countries,” said Khalifa.

“We know the West does not view Egypt’s presidential poll in a positive way,” says Al-Ahram political analyst Hassan Abu Taleb.

“They have their criteria for assessing elections and this is a problem. Arabs, Africans and Asians see things differently — they acknowledge the people do not want any radical change.

Few Egyptians care much about the West’s negative reactions. People only want their country to become more stable and stronger. They do not want the election to stir up any trouble.”

Abu Taleb believes a “massive expat turnout will send a very positive message to citizens inside the country — that they should do the same, even if many think the result a foregone conclusion”.

*This story was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly 

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