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Egypt election: Egyptians head to polls with Sisi certain to win third term

Voting for president is taking place amid a historically severe financial crisis and a war in neighbouring Gaza
A man votes at a polling station during the first day of the presidential election in Cairo, 10 December 2023 (Reuters)

Egyptians headed to the polls on Sunday for a presidential election in which Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is poised to win another term as the country grapples with severe economic conditions and a war on its border with Gaza.

Sisi faces no serious challengers in the three candidates, none of them high-profile figures, who qualified to stand against him in the election, which is certain to keep him in power until 2030.

Voting will take place over three days, between 9am and 9pm, with the official results announced on 18 December.

Egyptians voted on Sunday morning in Cairo amid heavy security, with riot police stationed at the entrances of Tahrir Square. Thousands of troops were also deployed across the country.

The three candidates running against Sisi are unfamiliar to the majority of Egyptians. They are Farid Zahran, leader of the left-leaning Egyptian Social Democratic Party; Abdel-Sanad Yamama, from the Wafd party; and Hazem Omar, from the Republican People's Party.

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None of these has support among the youth or popularity in the streets.

Two more prominent opposition figures had attempted to run but were quickly sidelined by the government. Today, one, Hisham Kassem, is in prison, and the other, Ahmed Tantawy, is awaiting trial.

Tantawy, a leftist politician who was backed by Sisi's opposition, withdrew from the presidential race last month citing major violations against him and his campaign members. 

Tantawy and dozens of his campaign members are under trial for fraud, a charge many view as an act of reprisal for challenging Sisi.

Egypt elections: Streets flooded with pro-Sisi signs as people forced to endorse president
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Despite the lack of election rivals, the Sisi government has intimidated business owners to display support for the incumbent president in the weeks before the election, according to sources who spoke to Middle East Eye in different areas across the country. 

Owners of small and medium-sized businesses in three cities said they were visited by "security officers'' who mandated the printing of support banners, their display in main squares, and the mobilisation of voters on election days.

In Cairo on Sunday, small crowds had gathered at polling stations in the capital, where support material for Sisi had proliferated for weeks, ranging from double-sided LED street banners to cloth signs and printed posters.

In Giza, a Reuters reporter saw behind a polling station bags of flour, rice and other basic commodities being handed out to people who showed ink stains on their fingers indicating they had voted.

Egyptians have been struggling with soaring prices as the country of 105 million people, of which nearly a third live in poverty, suffers through its worst financial crisis in recent history. 

Food inflation is hovering above 45 percent, with some people criticising the state for prioritising mega-projects.

Since 2016, Sisi has undertaken a number of economic reforms that include high-cost projects that have failed to deliver promised benefits. 

Meanwhile, the national debt has tripled and the currency has lost half its value, leaving Egyptians struggling to make ends meet.

The election has been overshadowed by the war in neighbouring Gaza, where Israel has been conducting a relentless bombing campaign since 7 October.

The bombing, coupled with a ground offensive, has displaced 1.8 million people across the besieged territory, forcing tens of thousands toward Gaza's southern border with Egypt where they face an uncertain future as to their ultimate destination.

Sisi has said Egypt would reject the forced displacement of Palestinians into Sinai.

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