Egypt voters trickle in to elect new pro-Sisi parliament

Tony Gamal-Gabriel
1 / 3

A man casts his ballot in the Egyptian parliamentary elections at a polling station in the Giza district of the capital Cairo, on October 18, 2015

A man casts his ballot in the Egyptian parliamentary elections at a polling station in the Giza district of the capital Cairo, on October 18, 2015 (AFP Photo/Mohamed El-Shahed)

Cairo (AFP) - Egyptians voted Sunday to elect a new parliament that will bolster President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's grip on power after he crushed all opposition since ousting his Islamist predecessor two years ago.

The vote for the much-delayed 596-member parliament is being staged in two phases ending on December 2, with Egyptians abroad casting their votes for the first round from Saturday.

But with an absence of opposition parties -- including the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood that has faced a deadly government crackdown overseen by Sisi -- polling has inspired none of the enthusiasm witnessed for Egypt's first democratic elections in 2011.

Experts say the election's outcome is a foregone conclusion and only voter turnout will be a gauge of popularity for Sisi, who has enjoyed a cult-like status since toppling president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

Voting was listless Sunday in 14 of the 27 provinces where polling is being held over two days.

This prompted the government to announce that public sector employees will work only half a day Monday in order to have time to vote.

Authorities also urged the private sector to "facilitate" voting for their employees.

Polling stations closed at 2100 GMT and were to reopen Monday at 0700 GMT.

Most of the more than 5,000 candidates overwhelmingly support Sisi and are expected to dominate parliament.

Cairo resident Islam Ahmed was unmoved and said he was not taking part in the vote.

"I think the turnout will be low. I don't know any candidate in my constituency... many people don't know candidates in their constituencies," said Ahmed.

Hazem Hosny, political science professor at Cairo University, said: "This parliament will be a parliament of the president.

"It's really a parliament... to keep things as they are, to give an image of democracy."

- 'Would have been migrants' -

Many Egyptians tired of political turmoil since the 2011 ouster of veteran leader Hosni Mubarak support Sisi, who has vowed to revive an ailing economy and restore stability.

Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected civilian leader, was deposed by then army chief Sisi on July 3, 2013, after mass street protests against his divisive year-long rule.

An ensuing government crackdown targeting Morsi's Brotherhood left hundreds dead and thousands jailed.

Hundreds more including Morsi have been sentenced to death after speedy trials, which the United Nations denounced as "unprecedented in recent history".

Sisi, meanwhile, won a presidential election in 2014.

"Sisi is our soul... without him we would have been migrants like those from other countries around us," said Buthaina Shehata after casting her vote.

Scores of policemen and soldiers have been killed in jihadist attacks since the crackdown on Islamists began, with the Egyptian affiliate of the Islamic State group leading a deadly insurgency in North Sinai.

The Brotherhood dominated the last assembly but is now blacklisted as a "terrorist organisation", while leftist and secular movements that led the 2011 uprising are boycotting or are badly represented in the polls.

The Islamist movement had been the main opposition force for decades, fielding independent candidates in parliamentary elections under Mubarak despite an official ban.

Its party took 44 percent of seats in the first free democratic elections following Mubarak's ouster.

That parliament was dissolved in June 2012, but the Brotherhood's popularity shone through days later when Morsi was elected, putting an end to six decades of presidents coming from military ranks.

- Sisi urges voters -

In a television address on Saturday, Sisi called on Egypt's 55-million-strong eligible voters to cast their ballots.

"Celebrate the choice of representatives and make the right choice," he said.

"I am expecting Egyptian youth to be the driving force in this celebration of democracy."

Of the 596 lawmakers being elected, 448 will be voted in as independents, 120 on party lists, and 28 will be presidential appointees.

The main coalition, the pro-Sisi For the Love of Egypt, includes leading businessmen and former members of Mubarak's National Democratic Party. It aims to win two-thirds of the seats.

The openly pro-Sisi Salafist Al-Nur party that backed Morsi's ouster is the only Islamist party standing.

Any run-off in the first phase of the two-stage election will be contested on October 27-28. The second phase starts on November 21.