The Road to Presidential Elections [Update 6]

With voting in Egypt’s second presidential elections in two years expected to take place on May 26 and 27, EgyptSource will be providing periodic updates on the latest news coming out of the Egyptian elections process. 

Expat voting concludes

As expat voting concluded on Monday, the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) announced that over 318,033 Egyptian expats voted in the most recent poll exceeding the 301,720 Egyptians who voted during the 2012 presidential run-off between Ahmed Shafik and Mohamed Morsi This came one day after the PEC extended the expat voting period, which began on May 15, twenty-four hours to account for the high voter turnout. The Foreign Ministry called voter turnout unprecedented. Although there is no official number Egyptians living abroad most estimates place the number between 6-8 million. After an earlier decision by the PEC easing expat voting regulations, Egyptians voting abroad needed only to provide their passport or national ID in order to vote, rather than register as they did in 2012. Expat voters were, however, not able to mail in their ballots as was the case in the previous presidential elections. The expat voting was conducted by local embassy staff and was not monitored by any outside organization. 

Former Defense Minister and clear front-runner Abdel Fattah al-Sisi made a strong showing in the five days of voting at Egyptian embassies and consulates worldwide. The final unofficial results revealed that Sisi won 94.5 percent of the expat vote compared to Hamdeen Sabbahi’s 5.5 percent. Another 4,198 of the ballots were determined to be invalid. Saudi Arabia witnessed by far the largest turnout, with over 70,000 voting in Riyadh.

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Preliminary results released Tuesday revealed that at most polling stations, Sisi received 90 percent or more of the vote. Among polling stations with more than a thousand votes cast, Sabbahi faired best in Germany where he won 18.4 percent of the vote. Mona Amer, a representative of the Sabbahi campaign, said that overseas representatives witnessed violations at polling stations. According to an official statement, the violations ranged from insulting Sabbahi supporters inside polling stations to open campaigning on behalf of Sisi in polling stations. Amer reported the violations to the PEC and requested an immediate investigation.

European Union moves forward with observer mission

Mario David, the head of the European Union’s election observers mission (EOM) confirmed that the EU will monitor Egypt’s upcoming presidential elections after Egyptian officials allowed the mission’s telecommunication equipment and medical supplies to pass through customs on Monday. The EU suspended plans to monitor elections on May 26-27 after Egyptian officials blocked a shipment of supplies deemed essential to the mission. According to Hassan Ali, an Egyptian customs official, the shipment arrived in April and was held by customs officials until it was released on Sunday. In statement on Monday, David said that the shipment was block due to paperwork and was not the result of the Egyptian government interfering with the mission. While several members of the mission have already arrived in Egypt some final members are expected arrive Sunday.

Several outspoken voices have criticized the EU’s decision to observe Egypt’s elections, which many see as less of an election and more of a coronation, saying that the mission lends a credence of legitimacy to the elections. Mario David addressed these concerns in a press conference Monday saying, “Monitoring the elections does not mean that the EU is legitimizing the elections.” The African Union, the Arab League, and the United States based NGO Democracy International are also monitoring the election. On Friday, the Carter Center released a report discussing Egypt’s electoral process. In the report former US President Jimmy Carter expressed concern that Egypt’s “political transition has faltered” and called on Egypt’s next president to “take immediate steps to foster dialogue and political accommodation to ensure that the full spectrum of Egyptian society can participate meaningfully in politics.” Among the report’s recommendations are an end to the crackdown on dissenting voices, rescind the protest law, and easing restrictions on media outlets.

Candidates’ media campaigns intensify

As the elections approach Egypt’s presidential candidates have intensified their efforts to court the Egyptian people. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Hamdeen Sabbahi have both sat down with several media outlets over the past two weeks to discuss their visions for Egypt. Sisi sat down for his second television interview in as many weeks on Sunday and Monday. Despite his prevalent air time, Sisi has remained remarkably vague about his vision for Egypt’s future. During an interview with Al-Nahar and Dream and Al-Hayah satellite channels on Sunday Sisi defended the opaque nature of his platform saying that it was due to national security concerns. Sisi went on to describe his development policies as a five-year plan and claimed we would not give specifics to avoid “schemers” from trying benefit from said projects.

In an earlier interview with Reuters, Sisi urged the international community, and the United States in particular, to assist Egypt in its fight against terrorism. During the interview Sisi described Egypt as “fighting a war against terrorism,” adding “We need American support to fight terrorism, we need American equipment to combat terrorism.” He also warned that the Sinai risked becoming “a base for terrorism.” On the subject of Libya, he criticized the West’s failure to ‘complete’ their mission there stabilize Libya after the fall of Qaddafi. With regards to Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, Sisi pledged his desire to maintain peace with Israel and help build regional peace.

When asked about how he would address Egypt’s faltering economy, Sisi said that he would address the issue of subsidies. State subsidies have failed to alleviate poverty in Egypt he said, adding that “he rich get more from the subsidies than the poor.” He also said that the military has an important role to play in building Egypt’s infrastructure while denying reports that it owns as much as 40 percent of the economy.

Late last week Sabbahi sat down with Al-Hayat for his third interview in less than week. During the Interview, Sabbahi framed himself as the candidate of change vowing to bring “down the policies of both the Mubarak and Morsi regimes,” if he is elected president. He also expressed a lack of confidence in Sisi’s ability to fight the corruption that has plagued Egypt. During another interview with the Shorouk, an independent Egyptian paper, Sabbahi warned that Egyptians would revolt against Egypt’s next president if he tried to revive Mubarak era policies that impoverished the country.

Throughout his media campaign Sabbahi has insisted the despite institutional bias in the media and government the elections will be free and he is not angling for a future executive position. He has also sharply criticized many young Egyptians’ decision to boycott upcoming elections saying that they should ‘test’ their strength against the heavily favored Sisi. Sabbahi’s campaigning continues to focus on democracy and social justice. In an interview with As-Safir, Sabbahi criticized Sisi’s support for oppressive policies, such as the protest law, that threaten Egyptians’ hopes for democracy.

Image: Photo: Ahmed Abdel-Fatah