Current President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi has been in power since mid-2014 and this election is expected to see him remain in first place until 2030.
Egyptians have begun voting in presidential elections 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 elections were overshadowed by the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Almost all Egyptian attention has been paid to the war on their country’s eastern borders and the suffering of Palestinian civilians in the coastal enclave.
The three-day vote, which begins Sunday, will also take place amid a staggering economic crisis in Egypt.
It is a country where, out of a population of around 105 million people, almost a third live in poverty, according to official data.
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 shaken the global economy.
El-Sissi faces three other candidates: Farid Zahran, head of the opposition Social Democratic Party; Abdel-Sanad Yamama, president of the Wafd party; and Hazem Omar, head of the Republican People’s Party.
A young and ambitious presidential candidate, Ahmed Altantawy, has dropped out of the race after failing to obtain the signatures required from residents to secure his candidacy. He attributed his failure to what he called harassment by security agencies of his campaign staff and supporters.
El-Sissi voted at a polling station in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis as soon as the polls opened at 9am local time.
According to the National Electoral Authority, a body chaired by the judiciary that manages the electoral process, a run-off is scheduled for January 8-10 if no candidate obtains more than 50% of the votes.
Egyptian expats have already voted in early December.
Ahead of the vote, the Interior Ministry, which oversees the police force, deployed thousands of troops across the country to secure the election.
More than 67 million people have the right to vote and the authorities are hoping for a high turnout to give legitimacy to the elections.
A career military officer, el-Sissi was first elected president in mid-2014, a year after, as defense minister, he led the military overthrow of an elected but controversial Islamist president amid widespread protests by square against his year-long government.
El-Sissi was re-elected in 2018 for a second four-year term.
Then, he faced just one challenger, a little-known politician who joined the race at the last minute to spare the government the embarrassment of a single-candidate election after several hopefuls had been forced out or arrested.
In 2019, constitutional amendments, approved in a general referendum, added two years to el-Sissi’s second term and allowed him to run for a third six-year term.
Under his watch, authorities have launched a massive crackdown on dissent. Thousands of government critics have been silenced or jailed, mostly Islamists but also prominent secular activists, including many of those behind the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
The economy has become a headache for Sissi’s government, which launched an ambitious reform program in 2016.
The program, supported by the International Monetary Fund, aims to reverse long-standing distortions in the country’s battered economy.
It includes painful measures by the authorities, such as cuts to subsidies and floating the local currency. In exchange, Egypt received a series of loans from the IMF and recognition from the West.
However, such austerity measures have driven up prices, taking a heavy toll on ordinary Egyptians.
The war in Ukraine has added to the burdens as the Middle Eastern nation runs short of foreign currency needed to buy essential goods such as fuel and grain. Egypt is the world’s largest wheat importer and traditionally imports most of its wheat from Ukraine and Russia.