CAIRO (Reuters) - At a crowded crossroads on the edge of a poor Cairo district, blaring music and a news ticker on a giant screen urged people to vote for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. But down its dusty alleyways, there was no such fanfare.
While the presidential election that is set to grant Sisi a second term garnered some support in better-off areas of the Egyptian capital, it registered little interest - and some disdain - in working class Boulaq.
“On this entire street, I think only five or six people have voted,” Hazem Abu Ismail, 28, said. “We’ve got nothing to gain from going to vote, especially if it takes time away from trying to make a living.”
At the end of Abu Ismail’s road, a narrow dirt alley with washing hanging out of dust-caked windows, only a trickle of voters, mostly older men, entered a school converted into a polling station to cast their ballots.
“The election is all an act. Maybe it’s a class thing - it’s mainly better-off people who are voting,” said Abu Ismail, using an alias for fear of reprisals by authorities for criticising the government.
Many Egyptians complain that austerity measures enacted during Sisi’s first term, especially a steep currency devaluation, have left them much worse off.
Young men, many of whom fear Sisi’s second term will bring more austerity, said they did not wish to vote for a president they did not support, allowing him to claim a stronger mandate.
“This gives you an idea of turnout - how many of us have ink on our fingers?” said 31-year-old plumber Ali, referring to the mark left on people’s hands to show they have cast a ballot.
“We voted in 2012, but what did it do? Corruption still exists and we’re worse off than ever,” he said. That vote brought President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood to power after a 2011 popular uprising that toppled long-time leader Hosni Mubarak.
The subdued atmosphere near polling stations in Boulaq in western Cairo and other poor districts on the other side of the Nile river contrasted with that in more upscale neighbourhoods such as Zamalek and Heliopolis, where more voters turned out, some chanting slogans supporting Sisi.
Turnout in this week’s three-day election is seen as the main focus in the absence of any serious contest after Sisi’s main challengers quit from the race apparently under pressure.
Sisi stands against a sole challenger, Moussa Mostafa Moussa, who openly supports the president. [LINK]
“If I voted I’d spoil my ballot by ticking both boxes. I don’t want either of them,” Abu Mostafa, 51, said.
In Sharbiya, a mixed working class Muslim and Christian neighbourhood, a group of people chanting pro-Sisi slogans and waving Egyptian flags toured streets urging residents to vote.
However, a Reuters reporter saw a total of fewer than 10 voters enter three different polling stations on Monday evening.
Not everyone was apathetic. Mohamed Hussein, 40, a shopkeeper in Sharabiya, said he had not voted but planned to cast a ballot for Sisi. Asked why, he replied that Sisi’s economic measures were important, even if prices had risen.
“Things are very expensive now, but perhaps they were too cheap before and it was a burden on the government. Also he has implemented a lot of projects that we have not yet reaped the benefits of yet but we will in future, God willing,” he said.
($1 = 17.5700 Egyptian pounds)
Writing by John Davison; Editing by William Maclean and Andrew Heavens