Egyptians vote in referendum to extend President Sisi’s rule

Cairo: Egyptians voted on Saturday in a referendum that aims to cement the rule of President Abdel Fattah al Sisi. Voters were being asked to back amendments to the constitution to allow Sisi, 64, to run for another six-year term while boosting his control over the judiciary and giving the military even greater influence in political life. At a polling station in Manyal, a Cairo suburb overlooking the Nile, Mohamed Abdel Salam, 45, said he was voting enthusiastically in support of the changes.
“I don’t care about the presidential terms,” he said. “Sisi could stay forever as long as he’s doing his job… and he has already done a lot”
The three-day referendum bucks the trend of North Africa’s renewed uprisings, in which mass pro-democracy protests this month swept away veteran presidents in Algeria and Sudan.
Sisi himself was among the first to vote when polls opened, casting his ballot in the upmarket Cairo suburb of Heliopolis. In Shubra, a working-class neighbourhood of the capital, dozens of voters, mostly women carrying their children, queued outside a polling station in the local high school.
In Cairo, troops and police were deployed in numbers although the interior ministry declined to give any nationwide figures.
Egypt is still battling a hardened insurgency based in the Sinai Peninsula that has seen attacks in Cairo and other cities.
Sisi has argued that he needs longer term to complete the job of restoring security and stability after the turmoil that followed the overthrow of
Hosni Mubarak in the Arab Spring of 2011. Out on the streets, Sisi’s supporters waved flags bearing their campaign motto: “Do the Right” thing, as they pressed passers-by to turn out and vote ‘Yes’.
The Egyptian leader won his first term as president in 2014. Standing virtually unopposed after the disqualification or withdrawal of all realistic challengers, he was re-elected in March 2018 with more than 97 per cent.
For the past few weeks, Egypt’s streets have been awash with banners and billboards urging citizens to vote for Sisi, while popular folk singers have exhorted voters to go to the polls. Pro-Sisi campaign volunteers handed out boxed meals at four different polling stations in Cairo to voters after they had cast their ballots, AFP reporters said.
A parliamentarian greeted voters and volunteers gave out vouchers for the meals in the Shubra district.
In Manyal, a DJ blared loud patriotic songs extolling the virtues of
Egypt under Sisi’s leadership, including a new song by iconic Lebanese diva Nancy Ajram dedicated to Egypt and called “Ragel ibn Ragel” (What a fine man). — AFP