The oasis city of Fayoum is an Islamist stronghold. Two years ago, four out of five voters cast their ballot for Mohammed Mursi. This time around, his supporters boycotted the presidential election.
Journalists and security forces are the only ones in the polling station on Fayoum's central market square on Tuesday morning (27.05.2014). Pick-ups piled high with cucumbers, onions or straw rattle past the building. A group of black-clad women clutching young children by the hand stop at an ice cream stall before disappearing into a boutique. No one goes into the polling station.
Hussein, a local craftsman, is sitting in a cafe on the other side of the street. "I'm not voting because I don't think it's a fair election," he says. "I think the outcome is rigged." On his cellphone he plays a video currently circulating on Egyptian online media showing a person marking ballot after ballot in favor of former army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sissi while someone in military uniform stands by, watching. The authenticity of the video can't be verified, but Hussein feels justified in his decision to abstain.
In the presidential elections two years ago, support for the now-ousted Egyptian leader Mohammed Morsi was greatest in Fayoum province. Nowhere else are people as distrustful of Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, Morsi's probable successor. The Muslim Brotherhood can rely on many supporters in the city two hours south of Cairo, where radical groups like Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya, responsible for numerous attacks in the 1980s and 1990s, are still highly popular.
Every week since the military coup in July 2013, Islamist demonstrators have taken to the streets in protests that frequently end in bloody clashes with the police. Just days before the polling stations opened, police shot and killed two people. Graffiti on a building next to the polling station declares that "Morsi will return."
Hussein says he isn't a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and doesn't join in the protests, but he blames the government for the chaos, saying it brought it on itself with the coup against Morsi. Many people opposed Morsi because he didn't act well, Hussein says: However, he argues that it's important to remember that "Morsi came to power legally, through free elections."
Lack of enthusiasm
The Egyptian government did everything in its power to prevent low voter turnout. Tuesday was declared a public holiday, and voting hours were extended until 10 p.m. The government also threatened to slap a fine of 500 Egyptian pounds (51 euros, or 69 dollars) on all non-voters.
In a surprise move, the election committee then announced that it would extend the vote by one more day. While el-Sissi is widely expected to win the election, low voter turnout could challenge the state media's claims that the people stand united behind the general.
The Muslim Brotherhood had called for a boycott of the vote, and supporters were accordingly delighted by images of empty polling stations in numerous cities. Independent observers estimate that voter turnout on Monday was less than 20 percent.
Mariam Sobh, however, is convinced that the Islamists actually have limited influence on voter behavior in Fayoum. "Many voted on Monday to prove that not all of Fayoum is Islamist, and that other political movements do exist," the local journalist says, adding that the Islamists lost a great deal of support recently as a result of violent and brutality.
The fact that few if any voters showed up on the second day of voting, Sobh says, is not so much an indication that the Islamists have been successful as that even el-Sissi is starting to hemorrhage support.
The former army chief's popularity appears to be waning, especially among the younger generation. Many young voters regard the presidential candidate simply as a reincarnation of the former dictator Hosni Mubarak.
They also appear disinterested in the only other contender for the presidency, Hamdeen Sabahi, a leftist politician who expressly targeted younger voters.
The few stragglers who finally show up at the polling station in Fayoum explain that they favor neither presidential candidate, but are voting in order to oppose the Islamists. Some fear a possible return to power of the Muslim Brotherhood. One woman says that they agitated against people who didn't share their opinion, adding that an economic upswing is the only effective weapon in the fight against the Islamists. People worry about their children who can't find work "because unemployment drives people to violence and crime," she explains.
Asked whether she believes that el-Sissi is the right man to lead Egypt's economic recovery, she simply shrugs.