By Farah Saafan and Amina Ismail
SUEZ, Egypt (Reuters) -Egyptians, some arriving on buses or stationed waving national flags outside polling stations, voted on Monday in the second of three days in a presidential election in which Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is expected to sweep to a third, six-year term.
Many have shown little interest or knowledge about the election, which is being held amid a grinding economic crisis and war on Egypt’s border in the Gaza Strip. Authorities and commentators on tightly controlled local media have been urging people to vote out of national duty.
Crowds have appeared at polling stations where patriotic music is blasted through loudspeakers, though other polling stations observed by Reuters reporters appeared quiet.
Critics call the election a sham after a decade-long crackdown on dissent. The government’s media body has said it is a step towards political pluralism, and authorities have denied violations of electoral rules.
“Voting is our duty and it is the least we can do for country especially during these critical times and with the developments happening around the world,” said Passant Tarek, a 27-year-old dentist casting her ballot in Suez, 125 km (78 miles) east of Cairo.
Plainclothes police have been heavily deployed. A Reuters reporter heard one plainclothes officer in Suez giving instructions for people to be filmed with flags in front of all polling stations. Others shepherded middle-aged and elderly women into mini-buses.
In the capital and in Suez, Reuters reporters saw people lining up for extended periods outside polling stations. Some said they had already voted and were there to show their support for the country.
Egypt’s fast-growing population of 105 million is struggling with soaring prices and other economic pressures, though official headline inflation has dipped slightly from record levels to 34.6% in November.
Some voters say that, while they had to find ways to adjust to rising prices, it was only Sisi and the military that could provide security. Sisi, a former army chief, became president in 2014, a year after leading the ouster of Egypt’s first democratically elected president following protests against his rule, and was re-elected in 2018. He won both polls with 97% of the vote.
While some complain that the state has prioritised costly mega-projects while taking on more debt, others express admiration for the vast network of roads and bridges built in recent years and a new capital city under construction in the desert.
In Giza’s working class district of Imbaba, about 30 women sat outside a polling station with ink stains on their fingers, indicating they had voted. They were occasionally urged by one woman to wave national flags and show enthusiasm.
She said the music was being played to celebrate support for Sisi and his achievements for Egypt, which she said was doing better than war-ravaged Gaza despite rising living costs.
“Just bring down the price of onions,” one woman shouted. Another, weeping, explained that she had to beg to provide for a bedridden husband and three children, before being ushered back into line.
On Sunday, a Reuters reporter saw bags of flour, rice and other basic commodities being handed out to people who voted near another polling station in Giza.
Diaa Rashwan, head of Egypt’s state media body, said any provision of money or goods in return for votes was a criminal offence, punishable by fines or prison. There was no evidence of people being obliged to wait outside polling stations, and those who chose to do so out of support for a candidate were acting within their rights, he said.
Reuters reporters also saw employees of three companies being brought on buses to vote. Rashwan said companies may have provided buses to facilitate voting by their employees.
The National Election Authority said turnout on the first two days of voting had reached about 45%, and that voting had proceeded in a regular manner.
Voting runs from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. (0700-1900 GMT) and concludes on Tuesday, with results due on Dec. 18.
(Reporting by Farah Saafan in Suez and Amina Ismail in Cairo; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Alex Richardson and Tomasz Janowski)