Pro-military fervor at polls as Egyptians vote

By Mariam Rizk

Associated Press

Published: Monday, May 26 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

An Egyptian soldier watches a voter cast his ballot in the presidential election in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, May 26, 2014. This week’s key vote is taking place against a backdrop of the turmoil that has roiled the country since the 2011 ouster of Hosni Mubarak and the government’s crackdown against Morsi’s Muslim brotherhood and its allies since last July.

Mostafa Elshemy, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

CAIRO — Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's supporters danced to pop tunes praising the military and sported T-shirts bearing his image as they cast ballots Monday in a presidential election that is seen certain to vault the retired field marshal to office.

But el-Sissi, who last summer ousted Egypt's first freely elected president, is looking for more than a landslide victory from the two-day vote. He also is hoping for a strong turnout to show international critics that his removal of Islamist Mohammed Morsi reflected the will of the people.

The election is a powerful contrast to 2012 presidential elections, the first after the toppling of longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak by a popular uprising the year before.

In that race, there were 13 candidates and a rollicking campaign that saw lively debate over how to achieve the ideals of the "revolution," reflecting the short-lived euphoria that followed Mubarak's ouster.

Morsi, a veteran figure from the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, won in part because even many who distrusted the Islamists preferred him to his opponent — Mubarak's last prime minister Ahmed Shafiq — seen as a throwback to the former state.

This time, the Brotherhood is out of the race, crushed under a ferocious crackdown that has killed hundreds of Morsi's supporters and arrested thousands more since his removal. El-Sissi has been elevated by a surge of nationalism fed by media lauding him as the nation's savior. His only opponent in the race is leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi, who finished third in the 2012 election.

El-Sissi's supporters say he saved the country from Islamists while his secular critics fear he will enshrine a Mubarak-style autocracy once more.

All that most voters want is stability and an end to years of turmoil, despite worries among critics that the 59-year-old el-Sissi will bring it by suppressing dissent.

"He is a strict military man. He will grip the country and bring security to the street," said Olfat Sayed Hasanein, a university professor who voted for el-Sissi. "We cannot afford any more failures."

The next president will be Egypt's eighth since the overthrow of the monarch in 1953. Of the seven past presidents, five came from military backgrounds. Besides Morsi, who ruled for a year, the other civilian president was Sufi Abu Taleb, who briefly held the position in an interim capacity after Anwar Sadat's assassination in October 1981.

El-Sissi, wearing a business suit and tie, voted at a school in the upscale Cairo district of Heliopolis, as women cheered and ululated to greet him. "The whole world is watching to see how the Egyptians will make history," he told reporters.

At many polling stations, voters waved Egyptian flags and wore clothes in the national red-white-and-black colors. Men and women danced to pro-military pop songs, "Bless the Hands" and "A Good Omen," which emerged after the July 3 military ouster of Morsi and have been constantly played in the streets and on the radio since.

"El-Sissi is the greatest person in the world," said Nasser Meghres, a 54-year-old businessman from Heliopolis. "We have absolute faith in the army and the police."

Speaking to reporters as he cast his vote, Sabahi urged Egyptians to "come out and vote for their future." Voting continues for a second day on Tuesday.

Some 500,000 soldiers and police were deployed for the balloting. Security forces in body armor, some of them masked, were in sandbagged positions outside polling stations. Army and police helicopters hovered over Cairo as part of the massive security operation.

Posters with pictures of the security forces were plastered across Cairo to urge voters to the polls, proclaiming, "Come out and we will protect you."

More than seven hours after the polls opened at 9 a.m., no major election-related violence was reported.

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