Egyptians head to the polls

Gamal Essam El-Din , Saturday 9 Dec 2023

Presidential elections, due to start on Sunday, come at a time Egypt is facing critical challenges.

Presidential elections
photo: AFP


Voters in Egypt head to the polls on 10-12 December. The ballot for expats ended on Sunday. First round results are due on 18 December. Should a run-off prove necessary, it will take place in January.

On the ballot paper are incumbent President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, head of the Wafd Party Abdel-Sanad Yamama, head of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party Farid Zahran and Republican People’s Party head Hazem Omar.

With campaigning due to end on 8 December, the candidates’ campaign teams have used the last week to tour governorates, hold press conferences and give interviews.

President Al-Sisi’s campaign continued to rely on the support of the pro-regime Mostaqbal Watan and Humat Watan parties which organised public rallies in the governorates of Cairo, Menoufiya, Luxor, Kafr Al-Sheikh, Qena, and Aswan

Al-Sisi’s campaign manager Mahmoud Fawzi held a press conference on 28 November to urge Egyptian expats to vote.  “We live in a troubled region,” he said. “The election is being held at a time when Egypt’s national security is facing several challenges. There is a war on our eastern borders in Gaza and civil wars on our western and southern borders in Libya and Sudan. We need to elect a man who has experience and knows how to defend our country.”

Fawzi said when Al-Sisi was chief of military intelligence in 2019 he helped draft a law banning foreigners from owning land in Sinai. Elected president, he focused on fighting terrorist organisations in Sinai and then embarked on a comprehensive campaign aimed at achieving integrated development on the peninsula, measures which helped protect Egypt’s national security.

Elected for another six-year term, Fawzi said the president will focus on completing Egypt’s 2030 development vision which is focused on introducing political, economic, and social reforms, including amending laws regulating the exercise of political rights and political parties, and holding long-delayed municipal elections.

Egypt’s 2030 Vision, added Fawzi, will also reform the judicial system, reinforce the role of professional syndicates, tackle corruption, and automate the operation of cabinet ministries and other state institutions. Al-Sisi is also committed to fighting inflation, incentivising industry, doubling the area of agricultural land and supporting the private and energy sectors.

Fawzi said Al-Sisi will further empower women, upgrade pre-university education, support scientific research, and improve the quality of public services.

“Egyptians lived on just seven per cent of the land for over 7,000 years. Between 2014 — the year President Al-Sisi came to office — and 2023, the seven per cent inhabited area increased to 14 per cent. The target now is to double that to reach 28-30 per cent by 2030,” said Fawzi.

In a TV interview on Sunday, Fawzi added Al-Sisi will tackle the ongoing economic crisis and foreign exchange shortage by boosting exports, reducing imports, and doubling the area of land cultivated with wheat to reduce expensive cereal imports and ease pressure on foreign exchange.

In a visit to the Catholic Church, Fawzi stressed the president supports the principle of citizenship and believes citizens are equal regardless of religion and is keen to change the law to make it easier for Christians to build churches and allow them greater leeway to refer to their religious traditions in personal status matters.

This week, Zahran toured the governorates of Minya, Sohag, Luxor, and Qalioubiya, and visited the Anglican Church in Cairo where he urged all Christians to actively participate in political life.

In the Minya district of Samalout on 30 November, Zahran said that if elected president, he would prioritise the needs of upper Egyptian governorates which have suffered too long from underdevelopment.

He stressed that his election platform is based on advancing democratisation and political reform. “If I am elected president, as part of my political reform initiatives I will be in constant consultation with the Press Syndicate to advance media freedoms,” said Zahran.

He promised to release all journalists held in custody pending trial in publication cases and to end censorship of newspapers and news websites.

In a TV interview on Sunday, Zahran said he would also change the government of Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli.

“The new government will be led by a high-profile political figure who will be in charge of implementing an ambitious development programme that will help Egypt emerge from its economic crisis within six months,” said Zahran.

“Economic reform depends on political reform. Once our political system is democratic, it will be easy to implement a successful economic reform programme.”

Zahran argued state ownership should be limited to a handful of strategic sectors like the Suez Canal, the steel and iron industries, railways, and electricity and water projects. He added his economic programme will focus on reducing and rescheduling foreign debts and “ensuring foreign borrowing is restricted to projects with proven economic returns.”

“Instead of productive agricultural and industrial projects the current government chose to borrow to spend on giant infrastructure projects like the New Administrative Capital,” he said.

Yamama held public rallies in Cairo, Port Said, Daqahliya, and Gharbiya and plans a final rally in Giza on Wednesday.

During a rally in Nasr City on 1 December, Yamama blamed Madbouli’s government for Egypt’s worsening economic conditions, saying it had overseen a transition to a consumer-led rather than productive economy.

He claimed “the irrational and extravagant policies of this government have led Egypt to fall into a vicious circle of excessive foreign borrowing and heavy debts.”

Like Zahran, Yamama said he would negotiate with international lending institutions like the International Monetary Fund to reschedule Egypt’s foreign debts which stand at a record $165 billion. Yamama would also ban state authorities from foreign borrowing for five years and raise minimum wages to LE5,000 a month.

Omar held his final public rallies in Cairo this week during which he reiterated his intention to restrict spending on infrastructure projects in favour of investment in agriculture and industry. Omar also criticised the performance of the Madbouli government, arguing that its “spendthrift policies have left Egypt bogged down in huge debts and highly vulnerable to external shocks like the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine.”

* A version of this article appears in print in the 7 December, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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