|Date: Mar 17, 2018|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|Presidential vote opens for Egyptians abroad|
|CAIRO: Egyptians abroad began voting Friday, 10 days before polls open at home in a presidential election that President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi is effectively guaranteed to win, but in which turnout could provide an indication of his popularity.|
The former army chief’s only challenger, Mousa Mostafa Mousa, leads a party that had initially backed the Egyptian president’s bid for re-election.
Other opponents halted their campaigns citing intimidation by the authorities.
One top challenger was jailed.
Voting will take place in Egypt over three days from March 26-28.
The president in recent days has echoed calls he made in 2014, just before he was first voted into office, urging Egyptians to turn up to polling stations worldwide.
A year after toppling Egypt’s first competitively elected leader, Mohammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, after mass protests against his rule, Sisi won nearly 97 percent of the vote in 2014.
Fewer than half of eligible Egyptians voted in that election even though it was extended to three days.
“I’ve come to vote for the continuation of safety and security in Egypt,” Mohammad Zaghloul, 47, told Reuters at the Egyptian Embassy in Khartoum, capital of neighboring Sudan, where dozens of people were lined up to vote.
State television showed hundreds of voters crowding outside the Egyptian embassies in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Other Egyptians abroad said that they would have nothing to do with the vote.
“Bottom line is that the election process is a sham. The fig leaf of democracy is so see-through that even Moussa Mostafa, the only contender who ran to meet the cutoff, is hardly taking the race seriously.
“With such a predetermined outcome, what’s the point?” a 40-year-old Washington, D.C.-based Egyptian said.
He asked that his name be withheld for fear of reprisal from the authorities back in Egypt.
In a January speech, the president warned Egyptians, “Watch out – that stuff that happened seven or eight years ago [the 2011 democratic uprising] will not happen again in Egypt ... it looks like you really don’t know me well.”
Such words play well with Sisi’s supporters, who include many Egyptians who have had enough of the turmoil that followed Mubarak’s ousting.
Since then, the country has grappled with a persistent extremist campaign that killed hundreds, along with long-deferred economic reforms that have resulted in skyrocketing inflation.
“The priority is to fix the situation, and not necessarily according to the traditional standards of a democracy,” said Mostapha al-Feki, a prominent government supporter and head of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, a major library in Alexandria.
“This is his priority and this is the higher interest of the Egyptian people. I and most Egyptians believe he is on that course.”
It is difficult to ascertain what most Egyptians believe given scant independent opinion polls and a domestic media that often touts Sisi’s achievements while underplaying criticism against him.
His security services tolerate little outright dissent like that which foreshadowed the 2011 uprising.
For now, the opposition – a collection of small parties and groups that hold little sway on the street – is merely trying to “exist,” said Khaled Dawoud, a prominent dissident.