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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - CAIRO — Egyptians have begun voting in a presidential election in which President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi faces no serious challenger and is almost certain to win another term, keeping him in power until 2030.
The election has been overshadowed by the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. Almost all Egyptians' attention has been on the war on their country’s eastern borders and the suffering of Palestinian civilians in the coastal enclave.
The three-day vote, beginning on Sunday, is also taking place amid a staggering economic crisis in Egypt.
It’s a country where, among a population of some 105 million people, nearly a third live in poverty, according to official figures.
The crisis stems from mismanagement of the economy — but also from the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing Russian war in Ukraine, which has rattled the global economy.
El-Sissi faces three other candidates: Farid Zahran, head of the opposition Social Democratic Party; Abdel-Sanad Yamama, chairman of Wafd Party; and Hazem Omar, head of the Republican People’s Party.
An ambitious young presidential hopeful, Ahmed Altantawy, dropped out of the race after he failed to secure the required signatures from residents to secure his candidacy. He blamed his failure on what he said was harassment by security agencies of his campaign staff and supporters.
El-Sissi voted at a polling center in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis as soon as the polls opened at 9am local time.
A runoff is scheduled for 8-10 January if no candidate secures more than 50% of the vote, according to the National Election Authority, a judicial-chaired body that runs the electoral process.
Egyptian expatriates have already cast their ballots earlier in December.
Ahead of the vote, the interior ministry, which oversees police forces, deployed thousands of troops across the country to secure the election.
More than 67 million people are eligible to vote — and authorities are hoping for a high turnout to give the election legitimacy.
A career military officer, el-Sissi was first elected as president in mid-2014, a year after he, as defence minister, led the military overthrow of an elected but divisive Islamist president amid widespread street protests against his one-year rule.
El-Sissi was reelected in 2018 for a second, four-year term.
Then, he faced only one challenger, a little-known politician who joined the race at the last minute to spare the government the embarrassment of a one-candidate election after several hopefuls were forced out or arrested.
In 2019, constitutional amendments, passed in a general referendum, added two years to el-Sissi’s second term, and allowed him to run for a third, six-year term.
The economy has become a headache for el-Sissi’s government which initiated an ambitious reform program in 2016.
The program, supported by the International Monetary Fund, has aimed to reverse longstanding distortions in the country’s battered economy.
It’s included painful measures like subsidy cuts and the flotation of the local currency. In return, Egypt received a series of loans from the IMF, and recognition from the west.
The war in Ukraine has added to the burdens as the Middle Eastern nation has run low on foreign currency needed to buy essentials like fuel and grain. Egypt is the world’s largest wheat importer and has traditionally imported most of its grain from Ukraine and Russia. — Euronews
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