Egypt goes to polls amid huge security operation

Abdul Fattah al'Sisi is set to win. Picture: Getty
Abdul Fattah al'Sisi is set to win. Picture: Getty
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Millions of voters are casting ballots across Egypt to choose a new president, for the second time in two years.

A huge security operation has been mounted, amid fear of attacks by militants seeking to disrupt the polls. The elections are being held across two days.

Former army chief Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, who deposed Islamist president Mohamed Mursi last year, is standing against left-wing candidate Hamdeen Sabahi. Mr Sisi is expected to win comfortably.

Speaking after he cast his vote at a polling station in Cairo, Mr Sisi said: “The Egyptians are coming out to write their history and chart their future.”

Three years after the historic uprising against Hosni Mubarak, the vote is set to restore a pattern of rule by men from the military after Mr Sisi toppled Mursi, Egypt’s first freely elected head of state and a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Widely regarded as Egypt’s de facto leader since he toppled Mursi after mass protests, Mr Sisi, 59, faces challenges including an economy in crisis and a campaign of Islamist violence.

To the Islamists, Mr Sisi is the mastermind of a bloody coup that led to a crackdown that has killed hundreds of Mursi supporters and landed thousands more in jail. Secular dissidents who led the 2011 uprising against Mubarak have also been imprisoned.

At the same time, several hundred members of the security forces have been killed in a campaign of violence by radical Islamists since last July. The past year has been the bloodiest ­period of internal strife in Egypt’s modern history.

The Brotherhood and its allies, which had declared it “the election of the presidency of blood”, issued a statement saying their call for a boycott had been widely observed. However, the interior minister said turnout was good.

The government says the Brotherhood is a terrorist organisation that has turned to violence, a charge it denies.

Meanwhile yesterday, 11 Brotherhood supporters were arrested while staging a protest in Alexandria, Egypt’s second city, security officials said.

Mr Sabahi’s campaign alleged “systematic violations” by police and army, and said three campaign delegates had been detained. It planned to complain to the body overseeing the vote.

At a polling station in one Cairo neighbourhood, women danced to a song written to build enthusiasm for the election. Women clapped and ululated as they prepared to vote.

The election is the seventh vote or referendum since the 2011 uprising that raised hopes for democracy. But three years on, with democracy seen by some as an experiment that failed, many Egyptians say stability comes first.

Mr Sisi won 95 per cent of votes cast in advance by Egyptians abroad, but an opinion poll by the US-based Pew Research Centre suggests a more mixed picture, with Mr Sisi viewed favourably by 54 per cent and unfavourably by 45 per cent.

“I’m voting for Sabahi because of his programme and because Egypt needs a civilian president to begin building a democratic society like other countries have,” said Fathi Abdelhamid, 58, a manager at an engineering firm.

Interrupting him, the person next to him said: “But most people want someone with experience, and that person is Sisi. Look at his experience in military intelligence.

“He knows how to work with the state.”