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On Cusp of Egypt Vote, Ex-Army Chief Sissi Dominates

  • Heather Murdock

After more than three years of turmoil, Egyptian voters are expected to elect their overwhelmingly popular former army chief, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, as the next president, hoping he will bring stability and economic growth to the country.

Meanwhile, some activists say election set for Monday and Tuesday is “not real,” because the opposition has almost no chance of winning. Others say that, though the opposition may not win, a strong turnout by activists would emphasize their view that Egyptians shouldn’t have to live under military rule.

A rally Saturday in the capital left no doubt about Sissi’s popularity.

Firecrackers went off as crowds and a parade of cars bearing Sissi posters and Egyptian flags filled the streets.Young people danced in his honor.

Sissi supporters say their man is most likely to end the insecurity and choking economic problems that have afflicted Egypt since the revolution in 2011.

Ahmed al-Saidi, a taxi driver whose vehicle displays a Sissi poster, said he wants what's best for his country, not "anything bad." He called it his patriotic duty to support the former military chief's presidential campaign.

Opponents want to send message

But on the other side of town, supporters of opposition candidate Hamdeen Sabahi said the election was complex, and far from over.

Hamdeen Sabahi, seeking Egypt's presidency, speaks at a rally in central Cairo May 23, 2014.

Hamdeen Sabahi, seeking Egypt's presidency, speaks at a rally in central Cairo May 23, 2014.

“Lots of people think that Sissi is going to win, but we are trying to support Hamdeen [Sabahi] to prove that we’re here, said Mohammad Adam. “We exist. We have a voice. We are going to vote for the opponent of Sissi.”

Sabahi's supporters are not in the race to win. They want enough votes to make it clear to the government that Egyptians do not want to live under military control.

Despite polls that predict Sissi will claim over 90 percent of the vote, activists say it is too soon to declare him the winner.

Waving flags with the motto “One of us,” Sabahi supporters say they do not want to choose "between safety and bread."

Other young Egyptians plan to ignore the election and boycott the vote altogether.

“We know from the beginning … that we have a problem with the election environment,” said Osama Melouk, who supports Misr al-Qawia, a political party that attracts youth activists. “It’s being controlled by the military.”

Voter turnout has been declining in Egypt, partly because many people have tired of politics after at least six elections in three years.

The authorities' crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood also has affected activist youth groups. Melouk said many young Egyptians have become despondent and uninterested in either voting or boycotting the election.