Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Egyptian voters returned to the polls on Tuesday, the final day of the presidential elections, as the government extended voting hours and declared a national holiday to encourage a higher turnout. Most observers expect popular former defense minister Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to win comfortably over Nasserite challenger Hamdeen Sabahy.
Local and international media are reporting low voter turnout on the second day of the elections, amid calls from state institutions and the media for Egyptians to head to the polls. Egypt’s Dar El-Ifta, the body responsible for issuing official religious edicts, issued a statement on Tuesday calling for the “positive participation” of voters. The statement said that high voter turnout would ensure the defeat of those who “misuse and manipulate religion” to serve their own interests, an implicit reference to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
Egypt’s state-run MENA news agency acknowledged low voter turnout in a number of governorates on Tuesday, including South Sinai. “Unlike Monday, queues [of voters] are nowhere to be seen,” MENA reported.
International observers said on Monday that the first day of the Egyptian presidential elections had passed smoothly, despite some “insignificant” violations.
Dr. Loai Deeb, president of the Global Network for Rights and Development, whose organization is conducting one of the election monitoring missions in Egypt, told Asharq Al-Awsat there had been low voter turnout on Monday. He said turnout in all governorates had ranged between 7 and 15 percent as of midday on the first day of polling.
Deeb said: “This is an excellent turnout taking into account the challenges and circumstances in some areas, such as Upper Egypt in the south and Sinai in the east.”
He noted that there was particularly low voter turnout among older voters and women. Local media on Tuesday reported that high temperatures, reaching 40 degrees Celsius, could be keeping some voters away.
Deeb said there had been no marked turnout among younger voters, although he said it could increase today.
The president of the Global Network for Rights and Development also praised the tight security measures around polling stations and said the caution displayed by security officers largely helped secure the elections process.
While he said his organization’s observers had recorded some “insignificant” violations on Monday, Deeb added that observers had observed some staff at polling stations in Mansoura provoking some voters to invalidate their voting cards.
The observers said they noted that some election centers opened their doors late, particularly in Upper Egypt and Sinai.
The international missions are observing 2,490 election centers. The observers are divided into 800 teams, each team consisting of three observers.
However, Dr. Zakariya Goumaa, a member of the international observers’ mission, told Asharq Al-Awsat that some election centers failed to treat international observers appropriately.
He said there were isolated incidents, making up less than 1 percent of the total, where some staff refused to allow the observers to do their jobs, with one case recorded in the Matariyah district in eastern Cairo.
Goumaa said there were no complaints made to the elections commission on the election process, but that the observations and violations that were noted came from outside the election centers and away from the ballot boxes, such as the use of music, songs and election slogans to promote candidates.
Meanwhile, Dr. Haifa Abu Ghazaleh, the assistant secretary-general of the Arab League who is responsible for that organization’s monitoring mission, told Asharq Al-Awsat that this round of polling had been organized better than the February 2014 referendum on the constitutuion.
She said she had personally inspected a number of centers that organized special lines for women and older people, with volunteers present to assist older voters and those with special needs.
She added that there were no violations recorded in the centers monitored by Arab League observers on Monday. The Arab League has 100 observers who have been distributed to 22 governorates.
But isolated security incidents also affected voting on both days of polling in Egypt. Two bombs were found at a school in Fayoum and were disabled by security forces in the presence of the observers, but another bomb exploded near an elections center in Giza. On Tuesday, local media reported that another bomb had exploded in Cairo’s Heliopolis district, damaging nearby cars and injuring one person.
Voting is set to continue on Tuesday, with the government extending voting hours to 10:00 pm, one hour later than on Monday.