World News

Rivals Stifled, Easy Landslide in Egypt

Posted March 29, 2018 8:21 p.m. EDT
Updated March 29, 2018 8:24 p.m. EDT

CAIRO — Early results from Egypt’s election showed President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi headed for a landslide victory with 92 percent of the vote, state news media reported Thursday, an unsurprising margin in a race where he eliminated all serious opposition months ago.

El-Sissi’s token opponent, Moussa Moustapha Moussa, received just 3 percent of the vote, less than the number of spoiled ballots, state media said.

With his main rivals in jail or forced from the contest, el-Sissi relied on voter turnout to demonstrate his popularity. State media said about 40 percent of voters took part in the three days of voting that ended Wednesday, down from 47 percent in the 2014 vote that formalized el-Sissi’s power.

State television said the preliminary results were based on counts in 24 of 27 governorates. It did not say what proportion of the vote had been tallied. Official results are expected Monday.

Voters were subject to bribes, blandishments and threats to get them to the polls. Some said they had been promised bags of free groceries or payments of as little as $3 for casting ballots. Others were promised improved municipal services or a chance to win a pilgrimage to Mecca.

On Wednesday, the election authority repeated a threat to impose a $28 fine on voters who failed to cast their ballots. Voting was extended by an hour that day after a sandstorm lashed Cairo, officials said.

Coverage of those tactics in the international news media drew harsh criticism from the government and its supporters, who accused reporters of presenting a distorted picture of the election.

“So the foreign media chose darkness,” wrote Hany Assal, a columnist with the state-run Ahram newspaper. “It reported and searched for the negative and worked hard to emphasize it.”

The State Information Service warned foreign reporters of unspecified consequences for “unprofessional” election coverage.

El-Sissi’s Western allies were largely silent through the campaign, even as journalists were being arrested and the military jailed a former army chief who tried to run against el-Sissi.

In a message posted to the U.S. Embassy’s Twitter feed Monday, the first day of the vote, the U.S. Chargé d’Affaires in Cairo, Thomas H. Goldberger, said: “As Americans, we are very impressed by the enthusiasm and patriotism of Egyptian voters.”

Timothy E. Kaldas, a nonresident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, said the statement sent the wrong message to el-Sissi.

“To put out an image like that, without any context of the repression that has marred and undermined the credibility of the vote, puts the U.S. government in a position of being complicit with the repression,” he said.

A spokesman for the Cairo embassy declined to comment.

A handful of U.S. observers, invited to monitor the vote by Egyptian officials, praised the vote in enthusiastic social media postings that showed the observers dancing with voters or eating with el-Sissi supporters.

One of the observers, Samantha Nerove, is a military veteran who runs a nonprofit, America Matters. Two others, Andy Braner and Sasha Toperich, wrote an online article before the polls that said, “We should give el-Sissi a chance.”

El-Sissi has jailed tens of thousands of opponents, mostly from the banned Muslim Brotherhood. But he needs a strong showing to anchor his legitimacy as he presses the fight against Islamic State militants in Sinai and pushes tough economic reforms that are squeezing poor Egyptians.

Under Egyptian law, el-Sissi can serve only one more term and must leave office in 2022. He has denied speculation that he will amend the constitution to extend or abolish those term limits.

As a general, el-Sissi led a military takeover in 2013 that ousted the democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, after a mass uprising.

Morsi, who was sentenced to 20 years in connection with the killing of protesters in 2012 and is still on trial on espionage charges, remains imprisoned.

His family says he is in ill health and enlisted five British members of Parliament and lawyers to draw attention to his plight. The group requested permission from the Egypt's government to visit Morsi in prison to assess his condition, it said Wednesday. They did not receive a reply.