Egyptians started voting on Tuesday morning for the newly created Senate amid tight measures aimed at reining in the spread of the coronavirus.
Around 63 million Egyptians of the country's population of more than 100 million people are eligible to cast ballots.
The two-day vote for the second chamber of parliament is being held at some 14,000 polling stations across the country.
Voters wearing protective masks were seen standing in line outside polling stations in several parts of Cairo as they waited to cast their vote.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi cast his ballot at a school in Cairo's Heliopolis district soon after voting opened at 9am. Other top government officials and high-profile figures voted early in the day including Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly and Pope Tawadros II, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi
Outside a polling centre in central Cairo, a female police officer handed out free face masks to voters entering to cast their ballots. Dozens of people, mostly women, lined up outside, many of whom said they only came to encourage other voters to cast their ballots.
"We should vote for the stability of our country. The country is being rebuilt and we should help in this," said 42-year-old trader Ashraf Nagy after he cast his vote, raising his voice over the patriotic songs that were blasting from loudspeakers outside the polling location.
The prime minister has called on Egyptians to take part in the vote, which he said is aimed at "bolstering democracy" and "enriching political life in Egypt," the cabinet said in a statement.
Health Minister Hala Zayed, Information Minister Osama Heikal, Trade Minister Nevine Gamea, and Irrigation Minister Mohamed Abdel-Aty were among the officials who cast their ballots early on Tuesday.
The Council of Senators will have no legislative powers and will mainly have an advisory role. It is created in place of the Shura Council, an upper house of parliament that was dissolved in 2014.
The polls are being supervised by 18,000 judges assisted by 120,000 clerks. Polling stations will be open from 9am to 9pm local time.
Chairman of the National Elections Authority Lasheen Ibrahim reminded voters earlier this week that voting is mandatory and that those who do not vote face a fine of up to 500 pounds ($32) – a penalty imposed in previous elections but has not been widely enforced.
Egypt’s Armed Forces and the interior ministry have put in place intensified security measures to secure the elections and ensure a "safe climate" for citizens casting their ballots during the vote, the military said.
Meanwhile, the health ministry is providing around 2,800 ambulances and around 7,000 medical staff across polling locations nationwide.
Some voters said that having little-known candidates running for seats in the chamber should not be a hurdle.
"None of those running wouldn't be good. Currently, there is a firmness in the country thanks to President [El-Sisi], and nothing happening in the country is wrong," said Ayman Nagy, 29.
People wait in line to cast their votes outside a school used as a polling station during Egypt's senate elections in Cairo, Egypt, August 11, 2020. REUTERS
A total of 787 candidates are competing for seats in the new legislative body, which is to be set up as part of constitutional amendments approved last year. Voting for Egyptians living abroad took place in 124 countries on Sunday and Monday.
The Senate, whose term is set at five years, will have 300 members.
Two-thirds of the members will be elected via the individual candidacy and the closed party list systems, and the rest will be appointed by the president. Women will hold a quota of at least 25 percent of the seats in the chamber.
The results of the first round of voting will be announced on 19 August. The run-off vote will take place in September.
The polls are expected to be swept by the pro-government Mostaqbal Watan (the Future of Homeland) party, which fielded the largest number of candidates. A list led by the party will seek 100 seats allocated to party lists uncontested. Mostaqbal Watan has 59 candidates on this list.
Another 100 individual seats will be up for grabs, of which 95 will be contested by Mostaqbal Watan candidates.
Voters fill out their ballots at a school used as a polling station during Egypt's senate elections in Cairo, Egypt, August 11, 2020. REUTERS
Authorities said polling stations had been sanitised ahead of the vote and that all areas used by voters will be sanitised again at the end of the day.
The elections authority has installed disinfection gates in front of every polling station to ensure the safety of voters against infection.
The authority said earlier this week that masks must be worn inside polling stations. It said that all those participating in the electoral process are required to wear masks and abide by social distancing inside polling stations, including the heads of polling stations, candidates’ representatives, media personnel and the representatives of non-governmental organisations.
Egypt has reported 95,666 coronavirus infections since the pandemic arrived in February, including a little over 5,000 deaths.