Why are some people calling Egypt's presidential election a 'huge embarrassment?'


Egypt's government is determined to get more voters to the polls after a lower than expected turnout in a presidential election threatened to undermine the credibility of the frontrunner, former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.


Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters

Egypt hasn't exactly seen a rush to the polls this week as the country picks a new president. 

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Few Egyptians have bothered to cast a ballot so far, and those who have realize it's all but certain that former army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi will be the next head of state. 

That's according to BBC correspondent Shaima Khalil who's been talking to the electorate. 

"The people who I spoke to mainly said: 'What's the point of going?  The result is already known," Khalil says.  "I know who is going to win and I don't think my voice makes a difference."  

Still, the question remains: How many Egyptians will come out to back the general, and what will the vote mean for the legitimacy and the size of his mandate? 

With that in mind, Egyptian authorities tried to encourage voters to go to the polls Tuesday by declaring a national holiday. Still, turnout was so low officials decided to extend the election for an extra day Wednesday. 

"It's a huge embarassment that not many people — or not as many people — have turned out to be as interested in these elections as the authorities would have thought," Khalil notes. 

The Muslim Brotherhood has won most Egyptian elections since the 2011 revolt that ousted President Hosni Mubarak. Authorities have declared the Brotherhood a terrorist organization and hundreds of its supporters have been killed and arrested.

"Their absense has really been felt in their numbers on the streets and in the numbers at the polling stations," Khalil says. "No one is going to admit their presence on the political scene is going to make any difference, but it definitely has."

El-Sisi will have a tough time governing an unstable country with a wobbly economy. For his supporters though, he's "the man who can come in and save the day," Khalil says. Some Egyptians are carrying signs juxtaposing el-Sisi's image with that of Egypt's former strongman President Gamal Abdel-Nasser 

"It's that going back to the brother leader, to the father figure, to the one-man-hero that's going to save the day," Khalil says. "I wasn't around during the Nasser time, but it is very much the way my father and my uncles talked about Abdul Nasser — he's the man with the answer to everything."

Khalil finds that point of view "extremely scary." 

"People took the streets in 2011 asking for freedom," she says. "And all of this will not be possible if it doesn't harbor a democratic atmosphere and I don't think the country is in that phase at the moment."