Four years after Egypt’s last presidential election, incumbent President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi is seeking a new mandate in a contest that is generating little suspense. To most observers, it appears clear that Sissi will win. But the main question is, by what margin?
The president's re-election bid comes after a four-year term that has been marked by a number of successes, including a Suez Canal expansion and the discovery of major offshore natural gas reserves in the Mediterranean Sea.
But Egypt under Sissi has also been buffeted by sporadic terror attacks against churches and mosques, and a protracted war against insurgents in the Sinai, and along the border with Libya. Still, Egypt is doing better than many other Arab states such as Syria, Libya and Yemen, a fact that Sisi frequently points out.
Sissi, who ousted his Islamist predecessor Mohamed Morsi, whose year in power was marked by widespread turmoil, has supporters who rallied around him. His detractors want Egyptians to boycott the election.
Political activist Khaled Dawoud told a recent news conference that the group of opposition parties of which he belongs and that has ties to the civil democratic movement, has decided “not to take part in the upcoming elections.”
In 2014, 25 million people voted, and Sisi won 23.6 million of those votes. This year, however, some of those voters are feeling disenchanted, observers say.
Analyst and commentator Hisham Kassem said there is a sense of letdown in various quarters. Voters “who stood there and said, ‘We want to be involved in the process,’ are not pleased,” he said.
Kassem stressed that many of those voters are “not political and (don’t belong to the) Muslim Brotherhood, but are regular citizens who want (Egypt) to be a democracy.” Now, “four years later,” he said, they’re asking themselves, “Is this what we get?”
Earlier this month, Sissi urged Egyptians to be patriotic, and called for a large turnout. He insisted that he would not be bothered if some voters cast ballots for his opponent, so long as they turned out to vote.
He frequently alludes to rival nations, whom he claims are trying to sow turmoil inside the country, and appeals to his countrymen's sense of nationalism and civic pride. In a speech in late January, he claimed that those adversaries would have to reckon with him before making mischief.
“(Those countries) who would like to play with Egypt will have to get rid of me, first. (But) I swear to God that I won’t allow it,” he insisted, “I will not allow it.”
Many of Egypt’s African neighbors are privately backing Sissi, whom they prefer to the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and the group’s suspected ties to terrorism.
London-based Africa analyst David Otto of Global Risk Management, argues that the security situation “in the Middle East and North Africa is very, very precarious,” causing many African leaders and officials to favor Sisi, “because of his military stance against jihadist organizations.”
High inflation, following the 2016 devaluation of the Egyptian pound, has caused a considerable amount of pain to middle and working class Egyptians, and has made the economy one of the biggest sore spots for the president in this election.
Nevertheless, many businessmen and public figures continue to support him because of his pro-business stance.
Sissi’s sole opponent, Mussa Mustapha Mussa, belongs to the small El-Ghad Party. He has put up campaign posters across the Egyptian capital of Cairo and has held a number of rallies to try and enliven the contest.
Several more heavyweight candidates, including former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq, and former army chief of staff Gen. Sami Anan, either dropped out or were disqualified.
Salma Al-Swirki, Mussa’s campaign media coordinator, remains upbeat.
“It doesn’t matter who wins,” she said. “What matters is that Egypt wins.”
Kassem told VOA it was not until 2005 that Egypt held its first contested presidential election — under former President Hosni Mubarak.
“Prior to that, it used to be a referendum, where we ended up with 99 percent (of the vote) for the president,” he said. Kassem explained that “it was a struggle to take things (to the point) where we finally had a proper election,” adding, with a glint in his eye, that “it took a revolution to get there.”
Sissi is Egypt's fifth president since the monarchy was toppled by military officers in 1952. Four of those presidents, including Sisi, were military men.
Egypt's longest-serving modern leader — Muhammad Ali Pasha, who ruled the country from 1805 to 1849 and founded its last dynasty — was also in the military.