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Monday, 26 March 2018

What we’re tracking on 26 March 2018

The only thing to watch out for today: Polling kicks off this morning in the 2018 Presidential election. Under heavy military and police presence following a terrorist bombing in Alexandria on Saturday, voters will cast their ballots today through Wednesday at more than 11,000 polling stations nationwide. Polling stations are open 9:00 am to 9:00 pm in a contest that hinges on voter turnout. Leading political and business figures are pushing a “get out and vote” drive. House Speaker Ali Abdel Aal and Support Egypt Coalition head Mohamed Elsewedy have announced their respective polling stations. Union of Investors Associations head Mohamed Farid Khamis is taking things further, announcing that he’ll pay EGP 1 mn to two villages around Bilbeis with the highest voter turnout, Ahram Gate reports.

The questions on everyone’s mind: What will turnout ultimately be? And will Thursday be declared a national holiday to drive additional turnout, as has happened in polls past?

The National Elections Authority is urging all voters to visit its website to figure out the precinct in which they’re to cast their ballots. NEA deputy head Mahmoud Sherif noted that anyone who has not filed to change their polling station with the Real Estate Registry or the courts must vote in their assigned polling station, Ahram Gate reports. Companies have been asked to allocate times in their day to allow workers to vote.

Nonstop media coverage: All Egyptian television channels, and Egypt-focused foreign satellite channels, will be running around-the-clock coverage of the voting today, Al Masry Al Youm reports. Expect little in the way of meaningful color commentary.

The election is all the foreign media can talk about this morning. As we predicted a few months back, coverage is largely critical and divided between the importance of voter turnout and nostalgia for the January 2011 uprisings.

Foreign press, embassies watching for turnout: Media outlets and wires from Reuters and Associated Press to the Financial Times are saying that turnout — the poll’s “only element of suspense” — will be a gauge of President Abdel Fattah El Sisi’s support. With rival Moussa Moustafa Moussa effectively not campaigning, “the only indication that the vote is taking place is the huge Sisi posters lining the streets, many paid for by businesses keen to display their loyalty to the president.” Reuters notes the effort the government and supporters of El Sisi have taken to bolster turnout numbers, while the Wall Street Journal suggests that they have their work cut out for them.

Bloomberg is among the few to have taken a look at the economic implications of the poll. Despite economic progress, El Sisi risks “breaking Egyptians” if he pushes them any harder, Ahmed Feteha and Tarek El Tablawy write for the business information service. “Steep subsidy cuts and currency liberalization kept inflation above 30% for much of the past year and El-Sisi’s mega-projects seem a world away from teeming neighborhoods where many still struggle to find well-paid jobs.” The pair suggest that while reforms are producing results, El Sisi faces numerous challenges as he approaches his second term in office and as economic conditions tighten for lower-income citizens. Former finance minister Samir Radwan tells Bloomberg that “Egypt should learn from the pre-2011 experience and aim to limit inequalities that may lead to public anger,” which is arguably happening as the Ismail government expands spending on the social safety new in the upcoming budget.

Nostalgia for January 2011 in the foreign press is showing just how divergent their priorities are from Egypt’s. The AP notes that Tahrir Square, once “filled with tens of thousands of Egyptians demanding change [is now] plastered with portraits of the president, vowing continuity.” It even has a timeline of political events since the uprisings seven years ago. An opinion piece in the FT, however, says that the elections have turned “Arab spring to winter.”

Negative coverage also honed in on the contender: El Sisi’s sole challenger Moussa Moustafa Moussa was at the center of coverage by the AP and the Guardian, neither of whom had much to say beyond calling him a “dummy candidate.” Moussa, who arguably did the nation a solid by agreeing to run, is not doing himself any favors by telling Russia’s Sputnik that he believes the US triggered the Arab Spring in 2011 and destabilized the Middle East. “This huge US project was implemented by the team [of former US Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice. Its aim was to overthrow the leadership of all the Arab countries and to divide the states into smaller countries.”

So wait a moment — Moussa gets his geostrategic insights from our family’s Friday afternoon lunches, circa 2012?

Also: Can we please ask that that be the last time any of you use the words “Arab Spring”? Please? No? Fine, whatever…

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