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Egyptians Shun Long-Awaited Parliamentary Election

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi hailed this parliamentary election as a milestone on the road to democracy. But turnout has been dismal, suggesting Sisi is losing his appeal.
October 19, 2015, 12:18pm
An Egyptian assisting voters sits next to ballot boxes at a polling station. Photo by Oliver Wieken/EPA

Egyptians appeared to be shunning the ballot box for a second day on Monday in what one newspaper called "an election without voters", highlighting growing disillusionment since the army seized power in 2013 and promised to restore democracy.

In 2012, millions of people across the country queued up outside polling stations to excitedly cast their vote in the first presidential election Egypt had ever held — a turnout of around 46 percent. In this parliamentary election, polling stations visited by Reuters correspondents pointed to a turnout of around 10 percent.

Younger Egyptians who make up the majority of the population were virtually absent, with many people dismissing it as a sham or expressing doubt that new lawmakers would change anything. The absence of opposition parties has also fuelled voter apathy.

Coming a day after President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi urged Egyptians to cast their ballots, the low turnout suggested the former general, who once enjoyed cult-like adulation, was losing some of his appeal.

In 2013, then-army chief Sisi overthrew Egypt's first freely-elected president, the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Mursi, and promised a "roadmap to democracy".

He then launched the fiercest crackdown on dissent in Egypt's modern history, jailing thousands of Mursi's supporters as well as activists at the forefront of the 2011 revolt.

Related: Egypt Bans a Businessman, a Belly Dancer, and 'Drug Users' From Upcoming Elections

Last year's presidential election was extended for a third day in order to boost turnout, with pro-government media pushing Egyptians to show up. Sisi won 97 percent of votes.

This time, even Egypt's largely loyalist press focused on the lack of interest in the polls. Analysts say Sisi may try to spin the apathy to his favour by arguing that Egyptians place far more faith in the presidency.

"An election without voters," said a front page headline in the business daily Al-Mal. "Elections without queues," read a headline in Al Shorouk.

Even the pro-government publication Al Ahram zeroed in on the absence of young people at the ballot box.

Egypt has had no parliament since June 2012 when a court dissolved the democratically elected main chamber, then dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, reversing a key accomplishment of the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.

Repeatedly postponed, Egypt's elections are now taking place over two rounds on October 18 and 19 and November 22 and 23. This week, voters cast their ballots in 14 regions including Egypt's second city of Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast.

Related: Egypt's Military Is Killing Civilians in Its 'War on Terror'

"For the Love of Egypt", an alliance of parties and politicians who are loyal to Sisi, is contesting all list seats and is expected to dominate.

The Islamist Nour Party, which came second in the last election, will take part. However, it has lost much support among Islamists since endorsing Mursi's overthrow.

An alliance of socialist opposition parties that had been due to contest eventually pulled out.

But even some who voted for Sisi last year are not planning to cast a ballot this time.

"There is security since Sisi took power and that's good but its not just about security. A lot of things need to change, the economy, tourism, the high prices in the country," said Ahmed, a 35-year-old father of three.

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