Fri, May 30, 2014 - Page 1 News List

Al-Sisi sweeps to victory in election

The Guardian, CAIRO

People celebrate former army chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi’s victory in the Egyptian presidential elections in Tharir Square, Cairo, yesterday.

Photo: Reuters

Former Egyptian army chief Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi will be the nation’s next head of state after winning more than 90 percent of the vote in the presidential elections. As few as 3.5 percent voted for his sole opponent, the labor activist Hamdeen Sabahi.

Initial numbers suggested that more than 46 percent of Egypt’s 53 million eligible voters participated in the elections — a respectable turnout comparable with previous post-2011 polls, but which was only achieved after officials announced a last-minute holiday, extended voting to a third day and threatened non-voters with a large fine. It was also substantially lower than the 80 percent turnout al-Sisi had called for in the days before the election.

Yet, statistically, his victory was a strong one — dwarfing the 13 million who voted in 2012 for former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, the man al-Sisi ousted from office last summer. Whether from fear or affection, many have demonstrably placed their trust in a strongman who they hope can stabilize Egypt after three years of post-revolutionary unrest.

“With all this chaos, we need a stronger man than [former Egyptian president] Hosni Mubarak,” said Adel Mohamed, a 45-year-old street cleaner, who voted for al-Sisi on Wednesday.

The scale of al-Sisi’s victory came as no surprise after Egypt’s top generals, media personalities and business elite united to present the former army chief as the only patriotic choice, and most challengers declined to take part in the election. However, the reported 46 percent turnout raised eyebrows because to some it seemed high.

At the end of the second day of voting, Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab admitted the turnout had only exceeded 30 percent, leaving skeptics wondering how so many more voters could have participated on the third and final day.

However, the head of one of Egypt’s only homegrown pollsters, Baseera, said the figures seemed plausible in the context of his company’s exit polls.

“I think it makes sense based on our numbers,” said Magued Osman, who is also a statistics professor at Cairo University.

Baseera’s 220-strong team interviewed more than 12,000 voters over the three days and calculated turnout to be between 42 and 46 percent.

Opposition activists said the election was meaningless amid a months-long crackdown on dissent that has stifled Egypt’s opposition and frightened all but one man from challenging al-Sisi.

The Sabahi campaign claimed that dozens of its activists were arrested after challenging alleged violations at polling stations across the country. A spokesperson said one campaigner, Ahmed Hanafy, was arrested after an argument with an army officer and was now subject to a military trial. Another Sabahi activist, Ayman Zakaria, circulated an image of his beaten torso — said to be the result of a police assault.

Asked for comment, an official at the interior ministry said he needed time to formulate a response.

Mona Selim, a senior organizer at the Sabahi campaign, said: “Police have arrested many members of our campaign. When we say there’s something wrong with the election process, instead of writing a record of this problem, they arrest them.”

The validity of the election was also questioned by one of the poll’s main international observers.

Democracy International said the decision to extend the election into a third day — in what al-Sisi’s opponents saw as an attempt to raise the turnout to give his victory more credibility — was “just the latest in a series of unusual steps that have seriously harmed the credibility of the process.”

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