Cairo: Having just cast her ballot in Egypt’s presidential election, Farida Adel opted not to go home. She joined dozens of women and men gathering outside a polling station in North Cairo, chanting patriotic slogans while waving the national flag.
“You’re protected, Egypt. Long live Egypt,” the 53-year-old woman shouts with others.
“I’ve insisted on coming and voting although the polling station is far from my house,” Farida, an accountant at a private construction company, said. “It’s important that each and every voter shows responsibility for preserving stability of this country even if the outcome [of the election] is a forgone conclusion,” the mother of three added.
President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi is poised to win the election. His sole challenger is obscure politician Mousa Mustafa. The opposition has called for boycotting the election, describing it as a sham.
The voter turnout is being seen as a gauge of popularity of Al Sissi, who has been ruling Egypt since 2014.
On several occasions, Al Sissi has praised Egypt’s women for their “understanding” of painful economic reforms that have triggered spikes in prices of different goods. He has repeatedly defended the steps as unavoidable in order to revive the country’s battered economy.
“The woman is the voice of the pulsating patriotic conscience. I expect a lot from her for this nation,” he said in remarks at a ceremony in Cairo honouring ideal mothers last week.
Female voters have been in the lead of Egyptians who cast their ballots in the first two days of the election that ends on Wednesday. Some 59.7 million Egyptians, including 29.3 million women, are registered voters.
Over the past two days, many women have been seen letting out traditional joy cries and dancing in celebration outside the polls in Egypt.
“I’ve come to vote in order to tell Al Sissi: We are with you,” Marwa Sedki said as she waited at a women-only polling booth in the Cairo district of Hadayek Al Qoba. “He is working hard in order to make Egypt the best country in the world. We should support him and be patient,” the government employee added. “Boycotting the election only serves enemies of Egypt.”
Stability over prices
In 2013, Al Sissi, the then defence minister, led the army’s ouster of president Mohammad Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood following mass protests against his one-year rule. Egypt has since experienced a spate of deadly militant attacks, which authorities have blamed on the Brotherhood and its sponsors abroad.
Over the past four years, Al Sissi has been interested in boosting the status of women in Egypt and cracking down on sexual harassment, a big problem in the country. He has empowered women in the Arab world’s most populous country. Last year, Egypt had its first female governor appointed in the Delta province of Beheira. Women make up around 20 per cent of the current ministers. Last week, Al Sissi said that he might install an all-women government.
“Al Sissi is taking care of women and always salutes them for their national role,” Nadia Abdul Wahab, a housewife, says. “He knows that life is becoming hard for Egyptians, but he is working to make things better. After all, it is better to live with high prices than live as a refugee as is the case with people of several Arab countries,” she added. “With stability, everything will be fine, God willing, in Egypt.”
Al Sissi is largely credited with re-establishing security in the country, ending the turmoil that followed the 2011 revolt. He has also ordered a major military campaign against Islamist militants mainly in Sinai and the area bordering troubled Libya.
Female voters accounted for around 54 per cent of the Egyptians, who cast ballots in the 2014 election that gave Al Sissi a landslide victory.
Some commentators see nothing surprising about women’s high-profile backing for Al Sissi.
“The Egyptian woman considers the president as her saviour from the Brotherhood,” says Mohammad Ameen, a columnist in independent newspaper Al Masry Al Youm.
“She was the one who felt the harm from having the Brotherhood in power,” he adds.
During its one year in power, the Islamist group and its ultra-conservative allies were seen as hostile to women by encouraging practices of child marriages and female circumcision.
“The woman has also accepted the economic reform [initiated by Al Sissi] out of the belief it is a bitter pill that should be taken,” says Amin.