Egypt election: Threats, bribes and bullying at polls to bolster Sisi’s legitimacy

Bel Trew, The Times

Bel Trew
The final day of voting in Egypt’s presidential elections was marred by accusations of widespread intimidation by the authorities, some of whom offered incentives to try to boost the turnout.

President Sisi needs a high turnout to bolster the credibility of his inevitable win in what most believe is a ballot heavily rigged in his favour. Voting is compulsory and failure to do so can result in a fine of about £20, but despite the election commission’s claim that participation had been “heavy”, many polling stations have appeared largely deserted. Last week Mr Sisi urged all Egyptians to vote, saying the “entire world” needed to see them in the streets.

Across several southern governorates, including Assiut, Sohag and Minya, witnesses said police had been going door to door to urge people to get out to the polls. In Dakhaliya, in the Nile Delta, a worker at a state hospital said the management had used ambulances to ferry people to polling stations. Elsewhere health ministry officials had scolded and threatened staff who did not have ink on their fingers to show they had cast a ballot. “They said the names of people without ink would be sent to the ministry and they would be relocated to hospital postings even further away from their villages,” the woman said.

An Egyptian voter’s finger is inked after voting
An Egyptian voter’s finger is inked after votingKHALED ELFIQI/EPA

There have been widespread accounts of regional governors, clerics, businessmen reliant on the government and state workers being cajoled to vote, through rewards, bullying or threats. There were reports of cash handouts of about £5 for those turning out to vote as well as offers of food boxes in some poorer areas.

A senior official in the street vendors’ union in Cairo said they had been told to get their members to vote to avoid raids and confiscation of goods.

In Qalyubiyah province, clerics in al-Azhar, the oldest seat of Sunni learning, instructed heads of departments to escort students and staff to the polls “and monitor them”.

A worker at the country’s railway authority near Mansoura, north of Cairo, said that employees were threatened with legal action if they did not vote for Mr Sisi. “They told me I have to vote or I’ll be referred to the legal affairs department. I was worried they would slash my salary,” the woman said.

A teacher in a state school in a nearby area relayed a similar story. “They allocated buses to take teachers to their polling stations to vote for Sisi. Nobody dares say no,” she added…

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