At last, the ballot box

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Egypt has reached the presidential elections, stage two of the national roadmap.

On this second and last day of Egypt’s presidential elections, it would be extremely tempting to declare Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi the winner, skip the formalities and move on to discuss what as president he can and cannot do for his country. If the early vote by expats last week is a microcosm of what’s to follow – Al-Sisi received 296,628 votes (94.5 percent) while his rival Hamdeen Sabahi garnered 17,207 (5.5 percent) — then Al-Sisi will be declared the overall winner by light years. But because this is a democratic election in a country trying to be democratic, then the public and media are urged to wait for a few days for the official results.

Expatriates vote (Reuters)

Meantime, a look back at the campaign one last time shows it to have been benign, one of going through the motions, not in need of holding collective breaths in the wait for what many see as the inevitable outcome. It was cold and dry, with no one-on-one TV debate and antiseptic interviews of the candidates. There was also very little mud-slinging for entertainment. What little criticism there was came in one-way traffic, from Sabahi directed at Al-Sisi, including the no-no that Al-Sisi worked under the former disgraced president Mohamed Morsi, and that he did not believe in Al-Sisi’s abilities to end corruption, coupled with a warning that Egypt’s new president – who most likely won’t be Sabahi – will suffer a similar fate that befell Hosni Mubarak and his successor Morsi should he disregard the demands of the people. Al-Sisi did not respond, reinforcing the belief that this particular campaign was sterile. It needed more bite but for that to have happened, it needed more teeth.

Sabahi was forced to go on the offensive to win votes against an opponent most people are sure he will win. So wide is the gap that the question they ask is not who will win but by how wide a margin will Al-Sisi’s victory be.

But Al-Sisi’s pin-up popularity is not all what it is touted to be. Only a slight majority of Egyptians look favourably on Al-Sisi, according to a poll released last week by the Pew Research Center, in marked contrast to the hype surrounding Al-Sisi in Egypt’s media depicting him as the beloved hero of the nation.

Presidential candidates Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and Hamdeen Sabahi

The poll, conducted between 10 and 29 April and based on 1,000 face-to-face interviews with adults 18 and older, found that 54 percent of respondents look favourably on Al-Sisi, while 45 percent view him unfavourably.

The apparent change of mood – if indeed there was a change — could be because after Al-Sisi finally spoke to the media after months of silence, he was found to be mortal, of blood and flesh. The hero had turned human.

It might also be a feeling Al-Sisi will not do much, the problems of the country too big even for a superhero.

It might also be Al-Sisi’s curriculum vitae. Was the vanquishing of Morsi and his Islamist rule enough to make one president or does the vanquisher need other prerequisites? For many it seems it is enough, but for others it’s not the sole criterion for becoming the leader.

Disenchantment is growing among Egyptians since the 2011 ouster of Mubarak as president. Seventy-two percent say they are dissatisfied with the way things are going in Egypt, higher even than the 67 percent in 2010, before Mubarak’s ouster. So much for revolutions. It seems getting rid of Mubarak was the easy part. Things got worse, not better, even though change for the better was the No 1 goal of the revolutionaries.

Through more than three years of turmoil and transition that has shaped Egypt and where death has become a daily reality, it may be hard to remain hopeful about a revolution that seems to have been so badly defeated. However, a constitution was drawn up early this year and parliamentary elections, the third and final stage of the roadmap as outlined by the current administration, will be held shortly after the presidential outcome.

The nation has reached the election shores, and it should take the vote seriously. The choice is not just between two candidates. Dislike for either or apathy over a foregone conclusion might lead many not to vote or boycott or invalidate a vote. But people should go out and vote. Only two candidates obviates the need for a run-off, so this is the final opportunity to exercise a formal decision-making process. This is the mechanism by which modern representative democracy has operated for centuries. This is the form of government thousands of revolutionaries died for and what future generations will hopefully live by.