Amid slow voting, Egypt's Sisi cruises towards victory
Egyptian authorities pressed for a high turnout on Tuesday on the second day of a presidential election designed to give President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi a sweeping victory against no real competition in a contest dismissed by critics as sham.
In an effort to dispel voter apathy, the state news agency reminded Egyptians that voting is mandatory by law and those who do not, face a fine of 500 pounds ($28) or less - a sanction that in previous elections has not been enforced rigorously.
Sisi says he is seeking a second term to repair the economic damage from years of political turmoil, defeat Islamist insurgents and revive Egypt's role as a pre-eminent Arab power.
Sisi's only opponent is an obscure politician loyal to Sisi. More serious challengers were forced to step down and several opposition politicians called for a boycott of the vote, saying repression had removed credible challengers.
But authorities hope that over three days it can mobilise a strong turnout. The president still has many admirers, although austerity measures in recent years and a fierce crackdown on Islamists, secularists and liberals have reduced that support.
Brigadier General Ali Hareedi, head of the government's central elections operations room, said that the first day of voting produced a high turnout "which proves the Egyptian people’s awareness". He gave no figure.
Pro-Sisi media described ballot centres flooded with voters.
"Millions of voters gather in front of polling stations... and rejoice in every square," ran a headline in the newspaper Al-Akhbar.
Two sources monitoring the election, including one from the National Election Commission, said about 13.5 percent of 59 million eligible voters cast ballots on Monday. If that rate is repeated on Tuesday and Wednesday, the turnout would be 40 percent.
At a polling station in Fayoum, a bastion of Islamist support 100 km (60 miles) south of Cairo, an election official reckoned the turnout at 25 percent, only to be quickly corrected by an army officer who said "over 50".
One woman, a 55-year-old civil servant, said she voted partly because her employer encouraged her to, but also because "there’s security now, it’s not like Iraq, Syria or Yemen".
Her husband did not vote though. "He's not happy about the economy, we hope it will improve but God only knows. Not everyone is voting because not everyone is convinced (by Sisi)".
Sisi, who in 2013 led the military overthrow of Egypt's first democratically elected president, Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood, took 47 percent of the vote when he was first elected, in 2014.
Political risk consultancy Eurasia Group said if the government failed to mobilize voters and publicly admitted turnout of below 40 percent, "Sisi would come out of the elections weakened and more vulnerable to domestic pressure."
That seems unlikely, the consultants said, but the pace of voting appeared leisurely, according to Reuters reporters.
The election aroused little interest in Cairo's working-class districts. And at three voting centres in middle-class Dokki, no queues formed and only a handful of people trickled in to vote, about one every five minutes.
Most people voting for Sisi defended his economic policies and lack of democratic life. The blamed their woes on the Brotherhood, saying it had created instability that led to the flight of tourists and investment, and high inflation.
Saeed Mohieddine, 67, a retired employee, said: "I voted for Sisi for the achievements he made. He crushed terrorism, built new cities and started new development projects.
"Inflation started six years ago during the Brotherhood days, Sisi didn't find anybody to stand against him," he said. "Not everything can be done at once. The country needs to get going," he said in reply to critics accusing Sisi of autocracy.
Ahmed Adel, a 50-year-old stock broker, said he voted for Sisi because he had brought stability and security.
"I can now walk in the street feeling secure," he said.
Only two people at polling centres hesitated to say whom they voted for as security men kept a close watch.
The election commission has said the vote would be free and fair, and Sisi said he would have liked more candidates running.
Sisi has said he will not seek a third term, but critics expect him to remove a two-presidential term limit.
At a polling station in the Nile city of Beni Suef south of Cairo, a judge said 471 voters out of the registered 3,592 cast their votes on Monday. That number rose to 510 voters by 10 a.m. (0800 GMT) on Tuesday.
Faten Othman, 40, a teacher, said she'd spoiled her vote. "Nothing good has been done," she said. "(There are) high prices ... and whoever speaks goes to jail."
But a religious cleric in Beni Suef, Mohammed Abdul Sattar, said people should support Sisi. "Participating in the elections is a religious duty and a duty imposed on every man - whoever doesn't vote or participate is a sinner," he said.