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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Egypt’s president wins re-election with 97 percent of vote

Lasheen Ibrahim, the head of Egypt's's election commission, seen on screen, announces the presidential election results during a press conference in Cairo, Monday, April 2, 2018. (Nariman El-Mofty / Associated Press)
By Hamza Hendawi Associated Press

CAIRO – Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has won a second, four-year term in office, with more than 97 percent of the vote in last week’s election, according to official results announced Monday by the election commission, which put turnout at 41.05 percent.

El-Sissi faced no serious challenger in the March 26-28 vote, after a string of potentially strong candidates withdrew under pressure or were arrested. His sole opponent, little-known politician Moussa Mustafa Moussa, was a supporter of the president who made no effort to challenge him.

Moussa, won less than 3 percent of the vote, and far less than the 1.76 million invalid ballots cast.

In a televised address, el-Sissi thanked voters and promised to work for all Egyptians, saying “those who renewed their trust in me and gave me their votes are no different from those who did otherwise.”

“Egypt is large enough for all Egyptians, so long as our differences of opinion do not adversely affect the nation,” said el-Sissi, who has often insisted that the country’s stability must come before the expansion of political freedoms.

Mentioning Moussa by name for the first time since the French-educated politician joined the race in January, el-Sissi thanked him for the “patriotic, honorable and civilized competition” he and his campaign had shown.

Moussa had earlier congratulated el-Sissi and defended his decision to enter the race at the last minute, which critics had suggested was aimed at sparing the government the embarrassment of a one-candidate race.

“I only had Egypt in mind,” Moussa said. “Those who criticized me had ulterior motives against the country. They wanted it to be a referendum, but I turned it into a free and open election.”

The vote’s result and the absence of any meaningful competition between the two candidates harkened back to the yes-or-no referendums held by Egypt’s autocratic leaders in the decades before the 2011 uprising raised hopes of democratic change.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin separately called el-Sissi to congratulate him.

A White House account of the call makes no indication of whether Trump raised concerns about the conduct of the vote. Earlier Monday, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the U.S. “noted reports of constraints on freedoms of expression and association in the run-up to the elections.”

El-Sissi led the 2013 military overthrow of Egypt’s first freely elected leader, the Islamist Mohammed Morsi, whose divisive rule had sparked mass protests. El-Sissi has since overseen a sweeping crackdown on dissent, jailing thousands of Islamists and several prominent secular activists, and rolling back most of the freedoms won in the 2011 uprising.

El-Sissi has enacted ambitious economic reforms, including subsidy cuts and the floatation of the local currency, that have won international praise but exacted a heavy toll on ordinary Egyptians. Egypt has meanwhile struggled to contain an insurgency based in the northern Sinai that gained strength after Morsi’s overthrow and is now led by the Islamic State group.

Thousands of supporters took to the streets in Cairo and other cities soon after the results were announced to celebrate el-Sissi’s victory, waving flags and dancing to patriotic songs. Hundreds were in Cairo’s iconic Tahrir square, birthplace of the 2011 uprising, shortly before nightfall.

With the outcome of the election a foregone conclusion, authorities went to great lengths to boost turnout, using their vast resources to get voters out and threatening on the third and final day of the election to fine anyone boycotting the vote.

“The election was an epic of love dedicated to Egypt,” said Lasheen Ibrahim, the head of the election commission, who announced the official results. “It was an epic that embodied the struggle of the people for justice, dignity and democracy.”

Addressing voters, Ibrahim said: “You proved your love for Egypt and that you were and still are behind your country. Your participation was not in response to either promises or threats, but rather motived only by your love for Egypt.”

He also congratulated el-Sissi, saying “we pray for God’s support for you in ruling Egypt.”