Egypt presidential elections: Here’s what you need to know

Egyptians will vote for their next president over a three-day period starting on December 10.

Dr Abdel Sanad Yamama,Hazem Omar,Farid Zahran and Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi
Left to right: Abdel Sanad Yamama, Hazem Omar, Farid Zahran and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi [Courtesy of Creative Commons]

The Egyptian presidential elections are scheduled to take place over a three-day period starting on December 10.

A decade after Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi came to power in a coup, he’s preparing to run for a third term.

The former defence minister is the clear favourite despite overseeing a rapidly declining economy and facing criticism from Western partners and rights groups over his human rights record.

In October, el-Sisi announced his bid following a three-day conference called “Story of a Homeland” which presented his accomplishments over the past two terms.

Egyptians living abroad voted at 121 Egyptian embassies and consulates around the world from December 1 to 3.

Here is all you need to know about the upcoming election.

Who is running?

The incumbent, President el-Sisi, is running as an independent candidate despite promising in 2018 that he would not run for a third term.

He served as Egypt’s defence minister from 2012 to 2013 and as deputy prime minister from 2013 to 2014. During those two roles, he was a general in the Egyptian army, serving as director of military intelligence from 2010.

El-Sisi resigned from the army in 2014 to stand for election for president, as he was barred from doing so as a member of the armed forces.

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi at the OIC summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on November 11, 2023 [Saudi Press Agency/Handout via Reuters]

Three candidates are facing off against el-Sisi in this election.

The first is Abdel Sanad Yamama who heads the liberal Wafd Party and is running on the motto “Save Egypt” because, he maintains, Egypt needs saving.

Yamama has said he wants to improve Egypt’s economy and education and to safeguard the legal system from what he described as interference from the executive branch.

Head of Wafd Party Abdel-Sanad Yamama (R) waves to his supporters after submitting candidacy papers for the presidential election
Head of the Wafd Party Abdel-Sanad Yamama, right, waves to supporters after submitting his candidacy papers, in front of the National Election Authority in Cairo, Egypt, October 9, 2023 [EPA-EFE/STR]

The second candidate is Hazem Omar, who announced his bid in October.

Omar is the head of the Republican People’s Party and a wealthy businessman who oversees a tourism company.

He previously served in the government as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in Egypt’s Senate.

Omar is perceived to be a supporter of el-Sisi as he has not disagreed in public with the president during the last 10 years.

Hazem Omar
Wealthy businessman Hazem Omar is running for president [File: Courtesy of Creative Commons]

The last candidate is Farid Zahran who heads the Egyptian Social Democratic Party.

A member of Egypt’s leftist student movement in the 1970s, Zahran now promises to improve the quality of living for all Egyptians if he is elected.

The 66-year-old is also perceived to be close to el-Sisi and the security services.

He helped form el-Sisi’s cabinet after the 2013 coup against Egypt’s democratically elected President Mohamad Morsi.

Farid Zahran, head of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party speaks during a press conference
Farid Zahran, head of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party speaks at a press conference by parties decrying proposed constitutional amendments. Cairo, Egypt, March 27, 2019 [Nariman El-Mofty/AP Photo]

Will el-Sisi win?

As in previous elections, el-Sisi is expected to win by a landslide margin.

In the past, he promised to bring stability to Egypt after a few years of turbulence between 2011 and 2013.

But during his 10-year rule, his government has been accused of severely restricting press freedom, jailing critics and intimidating any possible candidates who were perceived to be a threat, according to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

In May 2023, a left-wing candidate Ahmad Tantawi announced his intention to run for president. According to Egyptian law, he first needed to secure either 25,000 signatures from 15 different governorates or an endorsement from 20 parliamentarians.

Tantawi tried to get the former but, he said, Egypt’s security forces harassed and intimidated him into withdrawing his name last October. Commentators and experts doubt that Tantawi had a real chance of beating el-Sisi, but they believe that his campaign could have expanded the civil space in Egypt.

In September, a statement from Egypt’s Interior Ministry denied allegations that people were arrested for supporting Tantawi’s campaign.

Nancy Okail, president and CEO of the Center for International Policy, a progressive nonprofit in Washington, DC, said el-Sisi could be embarrassed if there is a low voter turnout.

“That’s why the usual combination of intimidation and bribing tactics are at play: Threatening school teachers and civil workers to come out to vote or else they will face consequences, giving out cash to people and providing transportation to bus people in big numbers to show up and dance at the polls,” she told Al Jazeera.

In September, Egypt’s National Election Authority denied that any candidates or their supporters were facing harassment or violations. It added that all procedures meet international standards for a free and fair election.

Over the last two months, Amnesty International has found that the Egyptian government arrested at least 196 people on charges related to participating in unauthorised protests, spreading fake news and terrorism.

Why an election now?

Egypt’s presidential election was originally scheduled to take place in April 2024 but was moved up by el-Sisi.

Mostafa al-A’sar, a non-resident fellow with the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, a non-profit that focuses on Arab voices in policy debates, said el-Sisi wanted to be re-elected before imposing crippling austerity measures.

He explained that el-Sisi wants the legitimacy of a new electoral victory to justify tamping down any dissent that may erupt from his economic policies.

“He’s doing this election to restore his legitimacy,” he told Al Jazeera.

During the last 10 years, el-Sisi has borrowed from foreign creditors to finance several projects such as a new administrative capital. His spending spree has quadrupled Egypt’s foreign debt, which needs more than $28bn to meet repayments next year only.

The IMF had also issued a loan of $3bn to Egypt, but the programme has gone off track due to el-Sisi’s reluctance to sell off state assets and float an already devalued currency.

Despite the challenges, al-Sisi brushed off popular anger with rising prices that are making food staples such as bread unaffordable.

He called on Egyptians to sacrifice to help the country enter a phase of prosperity in the future.

“If progress, prosperity and development come at the price of hunger and deprivation,” he said in October, “then Egyptians will not shy away from progress. Don’t say: It is better to eat.”

Okail believes the main audience for the election is Western states and senior officers in the army who would like reassurance that el-Sisi is secure.

Source: Al Jazeera