Voting underway at a polling station during the first day of the presidential election in Cairo on December 10, 2023. Image Credit: REUTERS

CAIRO: Egyptians began voting on Sunday in a presidential election in which President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi is 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.

ALso read

Al Sissi faces three other candidates: Farid Zahran, head of the opposition Social Democratic Party; Abdul Sanad Yamama, chairman of Wafd Party; and Hazem Omar, head of the Republican People’s Party.

An ambitious young presidential hopeful, Ahmad Altantawy, dropped out of the race after he failed to secure the required signatures from residents to secure his candidacy.

Al Sissi voted at a polling centre in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis as soon as the polls opened at 9am.

Other candidates, also cast their ballots, including Zahran, who wore the black-and-white Palestinian keffiyeh scarf as he voted in a Cairo polling station, and Omar.

Local TV stations aired scenes outside polling centres, with women and children, mostly Al Sissi supporters, seen waving Egyptian flags.

The vote runs for three days with a runoff scheduled for January 8-10 if no candidate secures more than 50 per cent of the vote, according to the National Election Authority, a judicial-chaired body that runs the electoral process.

Egyptian expatriates cast their ballots on December 1-3.

Gaza conflict

Some 67 million people are eligible to vote, and all eyes will be on turnout after successive previous elections mustered low participation figures.

Egyptians, meanwhile, have paid little attention to electoral campaigns that have taken place in the shadow of the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

That conflict has monopolised media and public attention across the Arab world. Talk shows in Egypt have sought to link the two issues in the incumbent’s favour.

“We cannot sit idly by and watch, we will go out and say ‘no to the transfer’ (of Gazans),” said one TV presenter, Ahmed Moussa, echoing a speech by Al Sissi at the start of the war in October.

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.

A career military officer, Al Sissi was first elected as president in mid-2014, a year after he, as defence minister, led the overthrow of divisive Islamist president amid widespread street protests against his one-year rule.

Al Sissi was reelected in 2018 for a second, four-year term. He faced only one challenger.

In 2019, constitutional amendments, passed in a general referendum, added two years to Al Sissi’s second term, and allowed him to run for a third, six-year term.