Egypt presidential election seen as little more than a referendum on the rule of President Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi.
At three polling stations across Cairo, a trickle of mostly elderly voters on Monday and Tuesday walked past heavy security, including armed soldiers and police, to get to the ballot box. At one polling station in the Giza neighbourhood of Haram, a young soldier guarded the entrance from behind a pile of sandbags, the barrel of his gun pointed at the path of incoming voters.
After an election campaign in which five of Sisi’s potential challengers were prevented from getting on the ballot, the battle in this election is for turnout. Sixty million people are eligible to vote in Egypt. Yet despite the lengthy voting period, with the polls open from 9am to 9pm every day, voters appeared in short supply.
At a polling station in downtown Cairo on Tuesday afternoon, judge Ahmed Abdel Raoof listened to nationalist pop music as he watched over the empty room of a school that was being used as a polling station. There were no booths at any of the polling stations visited by the Guardian, meaning voters filled out their ballots in full view of others.
“There are 3,000 people registered to vote at this school. So far just over 500 have voted, yesterday and today,” said Abdel Raoof. He blamed the low turnout on a high proportion of elderly voters in that district who, he said, would have trouble getting out to vote.
But young people have been a rare sight at polling stations. Almost 61% of Egypt’s population is aged under 30, yet voters from that demographic were almost impossible to find.
In a petrol station cafe in Cairo’s upscale Zamalek neighbourhood, the pink ink stain on 19-year-old Farid Fadhy’s little finger marked him out as a rare young voter. “I hope that whatever comes next is better,” he said, explaining what drove him to the polls.
With voter numbers in doubt, the Egyptian authorities continued their push for a high turnout. The governor of Beheira in the Nile Delta declared that districts with the highest turnout would be rewarded with upgraded water and sanitation infrastructure. Egypt’s state news agency Mena reported that people boycotting the vote would be fined 500 EGP (roughly £20).
Down the street from a polling station in Haram, Mamdouh Abdel-Moneim, 21, and his friend Ahmed Said, 20, leaned against a car as they watched a procession of older voters go to the polls. A group of elderly women had gathered outside the polling station to wave banners in support of Sisi, dancing and ululating to earsplitting pro-government music.
“I’m not going to vote, as I know the result – Sisi will win,” said Abdel-Moneim. Said, however, said he would vote for Sisi’s challenger, Moussa Mostafa Moussa, who entered as a candidate at the last minute, even though his party previously endorsed Sisi. “If he wins, it’s OK, if not, it doesn’t matter. It’s not that competitive,” he said.
Kholoud, a 22-year-old student who declined to give her full name, said she would not be voting.
“I live across the street from my polling station in Heliopolis, but I won’t participate [in the election],” she said. “There is no credibility in all of this. I will not vote because I do not matter to this country. I am nothing in this equation. My voice is not important.”
She added: “I don’t want to judge the people who are voting. But the old people who are voting and dancing in the polling stations learn nothing from history. They should know that when they give leaders carte-blanche support like this, it’s us who end up getting screwed.”