Egyptians vote in Parliament elections dogged by apathy

Women queue up at a polling station in Cairo on the first day of the second and final round of the country’s parliamentary elections.

Women queue up at a polling station in Cairo on the first day of the second and final round of the country’s parliamentary elections.

Egyptians voted on Sunday in the second phase of elections that are meant to restore Parliament after a more than three-year gap but which critics say have been undermined by widespread repression.

The elections have been hailed by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi as a milestone on the army’s road map to democracy but voter turnout has been low, with only a quarter of the electorate casting ballots in the first phase on Oct. 18-19.

El-Sisi supporters won a landslide in the first leg and are expected to repeat their performance on Sunday and Monday when voting takes place in the capital Cairo and 12 other provinces.

El-Sisi cast his ballot at a girls’ school in Cairo soon after voting opened at 9 a.m. State television once again showed footage of largely empty polling stations.

The government announced it was giving public sector workers half a day off on Monday to encourage them to cast their ballots.

Many who abstained said they felt the polls offered little genuine choice in the absence of the main opposition Muslim Brotherhood and other critics and that Parliament would change little in lives dominated by the struggle to earn a living.

Egypt’s top Muslim cleric Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, head of Al-Azhar, the center of Islamic learning in the country, likened boycotting to disobeying one’s parents, a grave sin in Islam.

“I urge everyone, especially the youth, to participate and cast their ballots,” Al-Tayeb told journalists outside the polling station where he cast his vote.

“We tell boycotters to stop this immediately; Egypt is like your mother, boycotting is like disobeying your parents.”

The new Parliament will contain 568 elected members — 448 elected on an individual basis and 120 through winner-takes-all lists. El-Sisi may appoint up to a further 28 lawmakers.

“For the Love of Egypt,” a loyalist electoral alliance led by former intelligence officer Sameh Seif Elyazal, won all 60 list-based seats contested in the first round, which covered Egypt’s second city of Alexandria, the province of Giza, which includes parts of Cairo west of the Nile, and 12 other provinces.

In the absence of the Brotherhood, critics say the ballot offers many names but little genuine choice.

Egyptians have participated in two presidential elections, two parliamentary elections and three constitutional referendums since the 2011 uprising. Polls often drag out over several weeks with different rounds and run-offs draining them of momentum.

“Zamalek is so empty because all the schools are closed; traffic is great. I wish we had elections here all the time,” said Ahmed Abbasi, a 44-year-old electrician.


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