As Egypt's president looks set to return for a third term, voters express their hopes
AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:
Egyptian officials still haven't announced who won last week's election, but incumbent President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi is widely expected to win a third term. The Middle East's most populous nation is in the midst of an economic crisis. But NPR correspondent Aya Batrawy reports the war in Gaza to the north is on voters' minds too.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
AYA BATRAWY, BYLINE: Patriotic songs blared from loudspeakers as voters filed into a polling station in Cairo this week. The music is upbeat, but the crises facing Egypt are grave.
ANGHAM HASSANEIN: (Speaking non-English language).
BATRAWY: Angham Hassanein believes voting is a privilege and a duty, and says she's voting for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for another six-year term because she believes he can protect Egypt's national security.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Tahya masr.
BATRAWY: Some voters chanted tahya masr, or long live Egypt, while waiting to cast their ballots. Others erupted with another nationalistic slogan...
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Seena khat ahmar.
BATRAWY: ...Sinai is a red line. The chants reflect one of the key issues on voters' minds - security. Egyptians are concerned that 2 million Palestinians in neighboring Gaza could be pushed into Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, a territory Egypt and Israel fought repeated wars over. The U.N. warns that hunger, disease and Israeli airstrikes, including in areas near Egypt's border, could lead to a breakdown in public order in the Gaza Strip. And al-Sisi and Egypt's military and the public reject any notion that Sinai be drawn into the war or that there be any permanent displacement of Palestinians from their land.
HASSANEIN: (Speaking non-English language).
BATRAWY: Hassanein says she respects El-Sisi and his government's stance defending the Palestinians and their cause, and how he has put Egypt's interests first by rejecting this scenario.
HASSANEIN: (Speaking non-English language).
BATRAWY: Abdelhamid El-Gabali says he's voting for El-Sisi because Egyptians sacrificed with their blood for Sinai and will never give up an inch of territory.
ABDELHAMID EL-GABALI: (Through interpreter) We stand with the president, and we tell him that all of the Egyptian public stands with you and anything you ask of us. But for Israel's invasion to push Palestinians into No. Sinai is a red line.
BATRAWY: The election was stacked in El-Sisi's favor. In a country with widespread illiteracy among Egypt's poor, his logo on the ballot was literally the star. The other three all-male candidates vetted and approved to run against him aren't really household names and stood little chance of unseating him. But there's growing frustration over the president's handling of the economy.
Egypt's currency has plummeted to historical lows on the black market. His government is expected to devalue the currency soon after the election to bring the official rate closer in line with the black market, a move that was put off for months in the run up to the voting. Inflation is at record highs. Millions of Egyptians can no longer afford cooking oil, lentils, milk, eggs and other basics.
Hala Hassan says not long ago, the economy was all anyone was talking about and people wanted to see change. But as she waited to cast her ballot, she says now all anyone in Egypt talks about is the country's border security. God help us, she says.
HALA HASSAN: (Non-English language spoken).
BATRAWY: Another voter, Jehan Mohammed, didn't say who she's voting for, but says Egypt's politicians need to look at the country's poor...
JEHAN MOHAMMED: (Non-English language spoken).
BATRAWY: ...Who she says are rummaging through garbage to find their next meal. She says before Egypt sends its aid to others outside the country, they need to look at Egypt's poor and do something for them. She was likely referring here to the thousands of tons of aid Egypt has sent to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip during this war to stave off the crisis unfurling at its border.
It's hard to know exactly where El-Sisi's popularity stands among the public in a country with scarce independent opinion polling and where thousands are languishing in prisons for opposing him or his policies. In the lead-up to this election, Hisham Kassem, a prominent independent journalist and spokesperson for a liberal coalition group, was sentenced to six months in prison on charges related to speech. There were others, too - economists and online critics of El-Sisi who were detained or silenced ahead of the elections. El-Sisi is a former military general who has led Egypt for the past decade with an emphasis on security over democracy, and it's clear from the elections he's got more time to carry that out. Aya Batrawy, NPR News.
RASCOE: NPR producer Ahmed Abu Hamda reported from Cairo for this story. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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