In the lead up to the elections, there were nearly ten potential hopefuls who had begun campaigning in an effort to showcase their platform and garner the needed support to present his or her candidacy.
But from the known of group of eight (Khaled Ali, Sami Anan, Colonel Konsawa, Ahmad Shafiq, Mohamed Anwar Sadat, Mortada Mansour, Essam Heggy and Mona Prince), none were on the ballot box. Konsawa and Anan were arrested; while the others say they were either harassed or felt the elections were not shaping up to be fair and pulled out.
That left Sisi with no viable competitor until 15 minutes before the deadline when Moussa Mustafa Moussa presented his candidacy.
Villages, towns and cities were awash with posters from numerous local businesses or officials declaring their support for Sisi. In this sea of Sisi, the occasional poster of Moussa would sail across, but it was a rare sighting.
Just before and during the three days of polling (26, 27, 28 March), Rfi spoke to voters across the capital and in the southern cities of Asyut, Beni Suef and Tunis.
Those were going to vote or had voted were in favour of Sisi. When asked about Moussa, the same answer was often heard “Moussa who?”
In an old building just off of Tahrir square in downtown Cairo, the headquarters of Moussa’s el-Ghad party hardly seemed the hub of electoral fever.
In his office, just a few hours after casting his vote on the first day of polls, Moussa sat down to an interview with Rfi.
When asked why the people don’t know about his platform yet alone his name, the candidate spoke candidly and explained “very simple, because I decided to step in at a very late situation when I found out that Shafiq left, so this was my start-up decision to go ahead with my party.
"So it was a very short period of time to prepare ourselves. But what’s good [is] that we have a programme, this is why we decided to participate with our programme; if we didn’t have a programme we would not have participated at all…I need time for people to know me; they [won’t] know me in one day like that.”
In the run-up to the polls, there were headlines referring to the elections between Sisi and Moussa as a farce, especially since the head of Ghad was once a supporter of Sisi.
There were instances in which Moussa was referred to as ‘the puppet of Sisi’. “I say that’s bull shit, if you don’t like the word that’s fine, but you can say it on my behalf,” responded Moussa when asked about such comments.
He said he feels this round will give voters a chance to know about him so that during the next election in four years he will have more supporters.
In the end, the polls became more about voter turnout rather than a contest between the two candidates.
As the elections drew on, low voter turn-out was noted amongst Rfi and other media, despite what local Egyptian media was reporting. And those who did vote did so in support of Sisi.
The African Union observer’s mission also noted in its final conclusions that “voter turnout was generally slow without significant build-up in queues through the three days of voting….turnout was high for women …however there was low turnout on the part of the youth.”
The government had tried to create enthusiasm to vote by employing teams of people at the stations sporting the colours of the Egyptian flag, black, red and white, while waving flags and dancing to music praising the country.
Even a song by Sherine, a musician who was sentenced to six months for insulting the country when she joked at her concert to drink Evian water and not the Nile to avoid illness, was blasting just outside the polling station of Sisi’s childhood neighbourhood el-Gamaleya.
But such efforts were in vain because at around 4pm local time on the last day, the National Elections Authority invoked article 43 from the Election Laws obliging every person to vote or risk a fine of 500 Egyptian pounds (28 euros). Voting time was also extended to 10pm rather than 9pm to encourage later votes.
While there was a surge in voters following such efforts, the numbers remained low and voter turnout was noted to be at 40 percent rather than the 47 that came out to vote in Sisi in 2014.
Elections for show?
What is notable is that at many of the voting stations, regardless of the social-economic class of the neighbourhood, many Egyptians were not oblivious to the fact that the elections served no real purpose in terms of offering choice.
One head of a company, a man in his early 30s, noted that the elections are merely a means for people to demonstrate their support for the country; not necessarily to make a difference in the results. Both he and his friend agreed that while they didn’t bother to vote themselves given the outcome is known, they didn’t feel the election itself was a sham.
People need to feel like they can support their country and support someone whom they feel has already taken drastic decisions to change the country. Western-style democracy with a multi-ballot and party system is the long term goal, but as was the case in many countries, such as France, democracy takes time to develop and must also take into consideration its local culture.
Ashraf Naguib, the head of Global Trade Matters, a think tank that works with the private sector and the government also noted that Egypt has an “immature democracy”.
But before it can reach the level of a thriving one, it needs to take steps to repair the economy that has suffered for nearly 40 years. That means a focus on economic reforms to steer the country towards stability, such as a devaluation of the pound, an end to food subsidies, and repairing the deteriorating infrastructure. Such measures will hurt in the short term, but will hopefully prove fruitful in the long run.
Samy, a 33 year engineer, who works in the family business, also explained that Sisi “has the guts and is making the moves in the right direction that for instance, Mubarak never had the guts to go in that direction.”
But the atmosphere of fear created by Sisi’s noted crackdown on dissidence has fueled much criticism from the international community and also from within the country.
Egypt remains heavily divided by social classes and many from the middle admit Sisi’s heavy-handedness is unnecessary given he has support that cuts across all classes.
But if such fear is a small price to pay for stability in the long run, Samy admits “if I would compare it to the time of Mubarak, we are more on the path of having a state, and I think that’s the essential part: having a powerful state because I cannot think of a single government that did well without having a proper state.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by many other Egyptians encountered during the three days of voting who just want to taste stability more than anything else.