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Sisi Will Win the Egyptian Election

But he'll have a hard time uniting Egyptians behind him.

There is supposed to be a personality cult around Egyptian presidential candidate and former military chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, but after the first day of voting it looks like it may not be as big a deal as his supporters had hoped.

Since Sisi led the army to overthrow Egypt's first elected president, Mohammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, in July, he has been lionised by a section of Egyptian society which despises the Brotherhood and yearns for a strong leader.


"He saved us from a disease, the Brotherhood," said Fatima al-Howeidy, 30, a housewife queueing outside one polling station with her children. "What more can I ask?" She accused the foreign media of falsely claiming that Egypt was in the grip of a military coup, and of supporting the Brotherhood.

Amid widespread anecdotal reports of low turnout nationwide on Monday, the Prime Minister declared Tuesday to be a national holiday, to make it easier for workers to reach the polls (today is the final day of polling). Both private and state-owned media had already been trying hard to encourage participation, with virtually every newspaper Monday morning urging citizens to vote. Television stations have shown looped footage with the same message. The Interior Ministry produced their own poster telling citizens that the police would protect them – presumably from terrorists – during voting.

Although Sisi's support amongst those who are actually voting is overwhelming – his lone competitor has been polling at around two percent – his campaign has expressed concern that turnout will not be high enough to grant him the broad-based legitimacy he seeks. The Muslim Brotherhood has instructed its supporters to boycott the vote. The pro-democracy protesters who ose up in 2011 are also abstaining.

At queues outside polling stations on Monday, Sisi-backers were keen to talk about their love and their hopes for their candidate. Most of those queueing seem to be older than the average – even Sisi's backers have worried publicly in the past that he is not connecting with the young.


Before voting begun, there were already signs that Sisi's support was not quite as overwhelming or enthusiastic as the unanimous backing of the media and some very enthusiastic grassroots supporters would suggest.

A recent opinion poll put his support at 54 percent, ahead of the Muslim Brotherhood on 38 percent, but not that much further ahead. Another poll conducted in September suggested that Sisi was only slightly more popular than Morsi at the time.

But Sisi fans believe they are vast majority, while the Brotherhood cling to the margins of public opinion. It's an impression which has been fostered by the suppression of both the Brotherhood, and the street protest movement of the secular revolutionaries. Every day, the media tells Egyptians they are united, while to observers they appear bitterly divided. But a lot of lower income Egyptians are counting on Sisi a great deal.

Walid al-Amir is 38 years old, has three children, and works in a cafeteria. Breathlessly, he told me that, as a poor man, he needs Sisi to win. Virtually every Egyptian has been hit by the floundering economy over the last three years, the impoverished especially.

"We are poor people, we want to live, but everything is expensive," he said.

Sisi should put the pensions up, he said, along with government wages and do something to bring prices down, "so we can be comfortable." But also, "We want an iron fist."


The trouble is that Sisi has repeatedly stressed that he isn't offering comfort but rather hard work, austerity, and self-denial while the country repairs.

"We can wait a year," Walid said. Sisi has said that it will take two, and economists think that even that is extremely optimistic.

Nearby, Rehab Tolba and her brother Tamer Tolba were strolling around with Egyptian flags to show their support for Sisi and the elections. A doctor and an architect respectively, they are from the opposite end of the social spectrum. But they know full well that Walid's expectations are common amongst Sisi's working class supporters.

"They think he has a magic wand, but it will take time," Rehab said.

Both reject the Muslim Brotherhood as an organisation and supported its overthrow, but Rehab still has friends in the group. It's hard to talk to some of them, she admits, because they're too angry about all their friends who have been killed in the last year.

"They need to accept that they are a minority," she said, but believes that their resentment is one of the "great challenges" for the next president. "It's not easy to change the minds of the young."

One of those is 21-year-old Sharif, who like many of those opposing Sisi would rather not give his full name. He is a secular leftist, not an Islamist, but when asked if the elections were free and fair, he just laughed. He won't vote.

He puts the popular support for Sisi down to hatred of the Brotherhood and the backing of the media. He used to participate in protests, but hasn't for a while. "Everyone in the country is afraid to oppose Sisi," he said.



More from Egypt:

Watch – Egypt Under Sisi

Watch – Egypt After Morsi

When Will Young, Poor Egyptians Get a Chance to Live?