Egyptians headed to the polls on Sunday for a presidential election in which Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is poised to win a third term in power as the country grapples with an economic crisis and a war on its border with Gaza.
Victory would hand al-Sisi a six-year term in which immediate priorities would be taming near-record inflation, managing a chronic foreign currency shortage and preventing spillover from the conflict between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers.
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Voting, which runs from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. (0700-1900 GMT), is spread over three days, with results due to be announced on December 18.
As voting began on Sunday morning, small crowds gathered at polling stations in Cairo, where pictures of al-Sisi have proliferated in the weeks leading up to the election. Riot police were deployed at entrances to Tahrir Square in the center of the capital.
Three candidates qualified to stand against al-Sisi in the election, none of them high-profile figures. The most prominent potential challenger halted his run in October.
Authorities and commentators on local media have been urging Egyptians to turn out to vote.
Former army chief al-Sisi has been president since 2014, a year after President Mohamed Morsi was ousted. Al-Sisi was declared winner of both the 2014 and 2018 elections with 97 percent of the vote.
Economic pressures, however, have become the dominant issue for Egypt’s fast-growing population of 104 million, with some people complaining that the government has prioritized costly mega-projects while the state takes on more debt and citizens struggle to contend with soaring prices.
Some analysts say the election, originally expected in early 2024, was brought forward so economic changes - including a devaluation of an already weakened currency - could be implemented after the vote.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Thursday said it was in talks with Egypt to agree additional financing under an existing, $3 billion loan program that had stalled because of delays to sales of state assets and a promised shift towards a more flexible exchange rate.
“All indicators suggest that we’re going to move quite quickly after the election in terms of proceeding with the IMF reform,” said Hany Genena, chief economist at Cairo Financial Holding, an investment bank.
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