The Egyptian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, has swept to a landslide victory after an election in which his only challenger was a supporter of his rule.
Results announced on Monday afternoon gave Sisi 97.08% of valid votes on a 41.5% turnout, a slight increase in the number of votes in his favour despite a dip in turnout from the previous election in 2014.
Moussa Moustafa Moussa, the alternative name on the ballot whose party previously endorsed Sisi, claimed just under 3% of valid votes. Spoiled ballots accounted for 7.27% of the overall result, after some citizens bowed to pressure to show up to the polls but did not vote.
Preliminary results released last Thursday morning had indicated that roughly 40% of the electorate turned out to vote, with 92% of them choosing Sisi. On Friday, this was revised to 42%, with Sisi securing 96.9% of valid votes – the same as the last election in 2014.
Following an election that included no public debates, Egypt’s fragile opposition is hoping that Sisi’s second term will present new opportunities to make their voices heard. Sisi crushed all dissent in his bid to seek a second term in office, with five potential opponents prevented from getting on the ballot. Despite Sisi’s inevitable victory, the race also highlighted discontent at his rule from within the state itself.
“I don’t think Sisi wants any kind of real politics in Egypt,” said Hamdeen Sabahi, a former two-time presidential candidate. “He put politics and politicians under siege. He hates politics. He hates other opinions.”
Sabahi previously joined with a coalition of other pro-democracy figures to call for a boycott of the vote, but they swiftly found themselves under investigation by the country’s public prosecutor and accused of attempting to overthrow the regime. Another signatory, Abdel Moneim Fotouh, was arrested in a raid on his home and later added to the country’s terror list.
Mohamed Anwar al-Sadat, the nephew of Egypt’s former president who dropped out of the race citing intimidation of his supporters, told the Guardian that Egypt’s president has created antipathy within the state by limiting power to a tight circle of trusted confidants.
Sisi conducted two dramatic reshuffles in recent months, dismissing the former military chief of staff Gen Mahmoud Hegazy last October while the Ministry of Interior dismissed top-ranking security officials including the head of national security. In January, Sisi fired the intelligence chief Khaled Fawzy, replacing him with longtime aide Abbas Kamel.
But the harsh treatment of those in the inner circle has also been matched by a crackdown on anyone seen as pushing back. The former military chief of staff Sami Anan, previously the second-in-command of the supreme council of armed forces, was seized from his car in central Cairo and taken to military detention after declaring his intention to run for president. The former prime minister Ahmed Shafik was deported from the United Arab Emirates before dropping out of the race.
“After what happened to Sami Anan, Hegazy and Khaled Fawzy – these are all signs that something wrong is happening within the system and the closed circle around [Sisi],” said Sadat. “Because these are all the key players he depends on.”
Dr Mahmoud Refaat, the former international spokesman for Anan’s campaign, felt the discontent extended further. “There is boiling inside the army, I can assure you of that,” he said. “Look what Sisi did to Khaled Fawzy, and look what he did to others.”
The next challenge for the opposition is already on the horizon, amid expectations that Sisi will seek to remove presidential term limits during his second term.
Pro-government voices were quick to voice opinions after the vote that presidential term limits were too short. Lengthening terms and removing term limits requires a referendum to change the constitution, and could generate some friction even from nominal Sisi supporters.
“Even Sisi supporters might not like this, they could even stand against it,” said Sadat.
Sabahi said he felt Sisi’s efforts to change the constitution could garner the opposition more support, but admitted it would likely be an uphill battle. “I think Sisi’s second term is set to be very harsh towards all opposition – and if he seeks to amend the constitution, he’ll be even tougher,” he said. Both Sabahi and Sadat felt that one of the principal tasks for the opposition was to learn from this election cycle, and begin grooming suitable challengers for the next presidential election in 2022.
Sadat said he felt positive about the potential for dialogue in Sisi’s new term, hoping the leadership saw the dip in turnout compared with Sisi’s first election as a sign it should listen to dissent.
Yet he remained prepared should the authorities seek to arrest him too. “I’m ready and willing – I always have a bag on standby next to my bed,” he said.