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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Egyptian presidential election begins with overseas voting on Friday

Expat voters kick off polling that is expected to see President Abdel Fattah El Sisi win comfortably

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi kisses a child of a fallen soldier during a conference commemorating the country's martyrs in Cairo on March 15, 2018. Mohammed Samaha / Egyptian Presidency via AP
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi kisses a child of a fallen soldier during a conference commemorating the country's martyrs in Cairo on March 15, 2018. Mohammed Samaha / Egyptian Presidency via AP

Egyptian expatriates will kick off the presidential election on Friday when they begin casting their ballots at diplomatic missions in 124 countries around the world.

The polling booths will be open from 9am to 9pm. According to Egypt's statistics agency, there are 9.5 million Egyptians living outside the country, including about 765,000 in the UAE.

The overseas voting triggered the first of two 48-hour “campaign silence" periods mandated by Egyptian law, said National Elections Authority spokesman Mahmoud El Sherif.

“No electoral campaigning activity is allowed in the media during the silence period, yet public discussion about the elections and its procedures is welcomed,” Mr El Sherif said.

The second silence period will take effect before three days of polling begin in Egypt on March 26.

President Abdel Fattah El Sisi and Moussa Mostafa Moussa, a supporter of Mr El Sisi who leads the small Ghad party, are the only names on the ballot.

With Mr El Sisi expected to win a second term by an overwhelming margin, the only speculation among analysts is about how many of the 59 million eligible voters take part in the election. The president and officials have repeatedly called for a large turnout.

“I’m calling on citizens to participate in these elections,” Mr El Sisi said on Wednesday as he inspected the new Crisis Management Centre at the interior ministry’s Cairo headquarters, “regardless of their views and opinions. This [election] is an expression of their free will and a contribution to the building of the homeland.”

In January, Mr El Sisi issued a thinly veiled threat to those calling for a boycott of election, saying he would act against anyone who tried to "mess" with the country's security.

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Mr El Sisi won 23,780,104 votes in the 2014 presidential election, capturing nearly 97 per cent of the vote with a turnout rate of 47.5 per cent.

To boost numbers this time, the Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce is asking private-sector companies to give employees paid leave to vote, a practice already widespread for the more than six million public sector workers.

"I realise I am a little-known figure to many, I hope only to achieve an honourable result,” Mr Moussa told the daily Al Ahram on Thursday. He said he refused to give interviews to foreign media after international outlets focused on allegations of human-rights violations and an election boycott call issued by opposition groups.

The official State Information Service is particularly incensed over a recent BBC report on human-rights infringements, including police torture, and has called on officials and prominent individuals to boycott the UK broadcaster.

Tension between the authorities and foreign media escalated this week as the General Prosecution announced it had set up hotline numbers for citizens to send complaints about “fake news” and reporting that "aims to endanger the nation’s security or public interests”, either as text messages or through WhatsApp.

Despite Mr El Sisi’s re-election campaign entering its triumphant final lap, parliamentarians say they are concerned that social media undermine a national political consensus and that foreign funding supports the persistence of the political opposition groups.

Members of parliament's Information and Communication Technologies Committee on Tuesday introduced a bill that could ban Facebook in Egypt.

Article 7 of the bill grants authorities the power to “order the censorship of websites” if “evidence arises that a website broadcasting from inside or outside the state has published any phrases, photos or films, or any promotional material or the like which constitute a crime, as set forth in this law, and poses a threat to national security or compromises national security or the national economy”.

Next week Egypt’s cabinet is expected to discuss regulations banning NGOs from engaging in political activity and mandating state approval for receiving foreign funds.

“Unfortunately, we are not expecting this government to loosen up after these elections,” said Amr Abdel Rahman, former spokesman for human rights lawyer Khaled Ali, who dropped his presidential bid in January.

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