Vote or else, Egyptian media warn public

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Egyptian media castigated the public for a low turnout in a presidential election which former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is expected to win, with one commentator saying those who failed to vote should be shot.

Many journalists support Sisi, the man who toppled Egypt’s first freely-elected president last July. And with Sisi seemingly assured of victory, he needs a good turnout to shore up his legitimacy.

Egypt’s army-backed government declared the second day of voting on Tuesday a holiday in a bid to get more voters onto the streets.

“What do you want? I’ll kiss the feet of (your parents)... Should I take my clothes off and go live on air in the nude in order for people to believe?” asked popular television commentator Tawfiq Okasha on private channel al-Faraeen.

Asked what should happen to a woman if she chose to go shopping or cook on the holiday instead of voting, he slammed his hand on the desk and shouted: “She should be shot with a gun. She should shoot herself with a gun.”

The popular uprising which toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011 raised hopes that the Egyptian press would no longer blindly back the country’s leaders and would instead take a critical look at their performance.

Egyptian media, both state and private, have hailed Sisi as a savior since he ousted Islamist President Mohamed Mursi after mass protests and cracked down on his Muslim Brotherhood.

Mubarak’s former military intelligence chief became so popular that his image appeared on posters, t-shirts and even chocolates.

But the short lines outside polling stations in various parts of Cairo on Wednesday suggested the personality cult had waned as Sisi prepared for many challenges, from a stubborn Islamist insurgency to an energy crisis.

In some cases voters were nowhere to be found. The polls close at 10 p.m. (1900 GMT), an hour later than planned.

“We are looking for a popular vote that will make it clear to the world that this is the will of the people,” said Lamees al-Hadidi, a popular talk show host on a private news channel.

Two private Egyptian television channels flashed news urgents on Tuesday quoting officials at the supreme election committee saying that those who do not vote could be fined and referred to the public prosecutor.

After Mursi’s overthrow, security forces launched a major crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, cheered on by the media. Both consider the Brotherhood a terrorist group.

Several Egyptian journalists interviewed by Reuters said it was their national duty to defend the state because the Brotherhood posed a threat to its existence.

Mostafa Bakry - an Egyptian commentator who once said Americans in Egypt should be killed in the streets if the United States ever harmed Sisi - joined the frenzied media call for a high turnout to give Sisi a strong mandate.

“Anyone who doesn’t go down to vote, you are giving the kiss of life to those terrorists,” Bakry shouted as he pointed his finger at the screen on privately owned al-Nahar television.

“Go out (to vote), and those who don’t go are traitors, traitors, traitors, who are selling this country.”