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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Egypt's neglected countryside turns to only option: President Sisi

Sisi expected to win as final voting day comes to an end

Women queue to vote in the historical Gamiliya district of Cairo on March 26, 2018, the first of three days of voting in Egypt's presidential election. Dana Smillie for The National
Women queue to vote in the historical Gamiliya district of Cairo on March 26, 2018, the first of three days of voting in Egypt's presidential election. Dana Smillie for The National

From the wheat fields of the Nile Delta to the soybean farms in Upper Egypt, President Abdel Fatah El Sisi's twin promise of economic development and enhanced security rallied the conservative countryside.

Wednesday marked the third and final day of a public mobilisation exercise that has been more about voter turn-out than a choice between candidates.

"I voted for El Sisi because there is no alternative," said Mohammed Yousef Falah, 37, owner of a four-acre farm on the outskirts of Bassioun a village in Gharbia, a Nile Delta governorate.

"Not going to the polls will bring the Muslim Brotherhood back and they eradicated agriculture and worsened the conditions of the peasants,” he said.

Despite the cultural dominance of metropolitan Cairo, rural governorates comprise a majority with 57.8 per cent of

Egypt’s estimated 94.8 million citizens living outside of cities.

Mr El Sisi and his supporters are counting on the countryside to validate the incumbent president's mandate for a second four-year term.

Shames Eddin Mohamed, 23, voted in the Gamiliya district on the first day of the presidential elecitons in Egypt. Dana Smillie for The National
Shames Eddin Mohamed, 23, voted in the Gamiliya district on the first day of the presidential elecitons in Egypt. Dana Smillie for The National

“Rural areas can boast of higher participation numbers than cities,” said Samir Al Bahy, head of the Council of State Club, a professional association for Egyptian judges.

Preliminary results are expected on Wednesday, while final results will be announced on April 2.

Mr El Sisi worked hard to secure rural support, said Hussain Abdulrahman, General Secretary of Egypt’s Farmer’s Union.

“Half a million acres of cotton seeds have been provided to restore [cotton] to its 'throne' as the king of Egypt’s agriculture and the president dedicated many new silos to store wheat and grain in Upper Egypt" said Mr Abdulrahman.

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Mr El Sisi, he added, spearheaded projects which contributed to an increase in the production of meat, milk and dairy products.

But it’s a raft of new social protection and income security measures for rural residents that drew Egypt's previously neglected countryside to the former general.

“Unlike [former president Hosni] Mubarak, President Sisi is committed to our wellbeing,” said Awatef Gerges a 71-year-old smallholder in the agricultural village of Bani Mazar.

“Mubarak had thirty years and did nothing, so I would support another two terms for El Sisi who is actually getting things done.”

The owner of a twelve-acre plot, Yusuf Adel, exemplifies the countryside's private sector campaign for El Sisi.

"Helping the people of the village vote is the least I can do for the country,” said Mr Adel, 54, who volunteered to chauffeur less prosperous peasants to the polling station in his 17-year-old Toyota Avalon.

Despite Mr El Sisi's seemingly successful attempts to woo the country's farmers, last year’s massive currency devaluation and the consequent rise in the cost of fertiliser and fuel has dented the president's popularity among some farmers.

A judge displays the ballot at a polling station in Shubra. Dana Smillie for The National
A judge displays the ballot at a polling station in Shubra. Dana Smillie for The National

“Chemical, pesticide and agricultural fertilisers have soared in price since last year,” said Radi Al Oun a resident of Al Kosheh, a farming village in Sohag governorate.

As in previous elections, officials have raised the specter of a financial penalty for citizens who fail to participate in the balloting.

“The authority maintains its legal right to impose a fine of EGP 500 (Dh104) on those who abstain from voting in the ongoing presidential elections,” said Mahmoud Al Sherif, a spokesman for the National Electoral Commission.

That’s too hefty a price for Amal Abdul Aziz, a 53-year-old housewife in Singot.

“Nobody here knows anything about the man running against El Sisi," said Mrs Abdul Aziz in reference to Moussa Mustafa Moussa, who registered at the last minute and had announced his support for the president.

"And since [Mr El Sisi] is going to win anyway, the only reason I’m voting is to avoid the penalty.”