Abdel Fattah al-Sisi needs no election campaign. The general-turned-president’s crackdown on challengers and dissent, which critics say surpasses that before Egypt’s 2011 uprising, has already ensured he will win a second term.
Central Cairo is nonetheless adorned with banners and billboards proclaiming support for Sisi, who led the overthrow of Egypt’s first freely elected president in 2013 and returned the military establishment to power.
Next Monday, seven years after the Arab Spring protests that ousted Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and others in the Middle East, Egypt will once again hold the kind of vote that kept those leaders in power for decades.
Voters have two choices: Sisi, or a second, barely known candidate who backs Sisi. The election commission says the vote will be free and fair.
For activists who led the 2011 protests demanding accountability and free and fair elections, next week’s vote shows how those hopes have been dashed.
“There’s no meaning to the election … people aren’t interested in it,” human rights campaigner Laila Soueif, 61, said by phone. The vote is simply a way for Sisi to show he is “well and truly in control”, she said.
Sisi has supporters. Those who will turn out to re-elect the former field marshal for another four years hope he can restore security and improve the economy of the most populous Arab country by crushing Islamist militants and seeing through austerity measures.
In downtown Cairo, posters showing the president standing at podiums, wearing a hard hat and looking through binoculars read: “Sisi for stability” and “to eradicate terrorism”.
Opponents, however, say his presidency has brought Egypt’s toughest crackdown on dissent and freedoms, while his popularity has eroded as the economic reforms, including a steep currency devaluation, have left most Egyptians worse off.