Former military chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi won Egypt's presidential election with about 92 percent of the popular vote, but despite that, his mandate to tackle the country's myriad problems will be smaller than expected.
Preliminary figures released by the Egyptian authorities suggest a turnout of 46 percent, a respectable figure when compared to other post-revolution polls, but one that was only eked out by extending the polls for an additional day and taking other extraordinary measures.
The results are viewed very differently by supporters and opponents of Mr. Sisi. His fans will focus on a healthy turnout and high margin of victory. His critics point to the heavy-handed way in which these were achieved, saying they were the product of repression and disillusionment.
A high turnout without the extra effort might have added legitimacy to an election process coming amid controversial circumstances – the vote came less than a year after Sisi led a popular coup against former president Mohamed Morsi, outraging Islamists and discomfiting western allies. Turnout in the election that brought Mr. Morsi into office was 52 percent, and Sisi previously said that he hoped for three-quarters of the country to vote, according to the Associated Press.
After sluggish turnout at polling stations throughout the scheduled two-day vote, the authorities extended voting by another day, non-voters were threatened with fines, and the transport ministry promised free rail fares to encourage people to get out to the polls.
“What are we going to say to the world?” exclaimed one pro-Sisi talk show host as he implored people to vote. “We have to open the prison, reinstate Mohamed Morsi, and tell him, ‘Your Excellency, Mr. President Morsi, go ahead and rule.’ ”
Many view Sisi as a national hero after his move against Mr. Morsi last July, and have endorsed his aggressive crackdown against the former president’s unpopular Muslim Brotherhood. As news of Sisi's landslide victory emerged, flag-draped revelers gathered in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of Egypt’s 2011 uprising, and celebrated late into the night.
But the vote revealed Sisi’s support to be smaller than many thought, raising questions over his ability to maintain popularity as he implements an economic austerity program that could require Egyptians to tighten their belts further than at any point during the country’s three-year long economic crisis.
The state’s open attempts to massage turnout figures have also diminished the credibility of the electoral process for Egyptians, particularly Morsi supporters, who have repeatedly cried foul in the months since the coup. An aggressive state-led crackdown has wiped the Brotherhood off the electoral map and crippled Sisi’s secular opponents. More than more than 16,000 people have been arrested and at least 2,000 have been killed by security forces since the army seized power last July.
Election monitors weren't satisfied. In a press conference today, European Union Chief Observer Mario David described freedom of expression, association, and assembly prior to the election as “areas of concern.”
Robert Goebbels, a senior member of the EU mission, said "high turnout is not necessarily proof of democratic elections," noting that turnout in totalitarian states like North Korea with only one candidate can reach 99 percent.
In a statement, Democracy International’s monitoring team concluded: “Egypt’s repressive political environment made a genuinely democratic presidential election impossible.”