By Aidan Lewis and Amina Ismail
CAIRO (Reuters) -Egyptians cast their ballots on Tuesday on the third and final day of a presidential election expected to give President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi a sweeping victory and a new six-year term in the absence of real competition.
Many Egyptians have shown little interest in the election, saying they believe that voting will make little difference, although authorities and commentators on tightly controlled local media continued urging them to cast ballots out of national duty until polls closed at 9 p.m. (1900 GMT).
“I will not vote because I am sick of this country,” said 27-year-old taxi driver Hossam, who said his quality of life had deteriorated under Sisi’s decade-long rule.
“When they hold a real election I will go out and vote,” he said.
Results are expected on Dec. 18.
The election, which began on Sunday, is Sisi’s third since taking power after the 2013 overthrow of Egypt’s first popularly elected president Mohamed Mursi. An Islamist, Mursi won the presidency a year after the toppling of long-ruling autocrat Hosni Mubarak in a popular uprising.
International monitors have criticised Egypt’s human rights record under Sisi’s rule, accusing the government of repressing political freedoms during a crackdown in which rights groups say tens of thousands, many from Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood, have been jailed.
In the new capital under construction in the desert east of Cairo, patriotic music blasted from a loudspeaker outside a polling station on an avenue lined with newly built banks and neo-pharaonic ministries.
Construction and office workers milled around outside, some waving Egyptian flags, dancing and holding up a banner with a large photo of Sisi. A few dozen people lined up to vote as plainclothes security officers looked on.
Sausan Ades, a 34-year-old state health employee, said she had come to vote “because it’s our country”.
“We love Egypt. It’s important to take part,” she said.
She said the new capital, which some question for its $58 billion price tag at a time when Egypt’s debt is surging, was necessary for development.
CHALLENGER HALTS RUN
The election featured three other low-profile candidates. The most prominent potential challenger halted his run in October, saying officials and thugs had targeted his supporters – accusations dismissed by the National Election Authority.
Critics say the election is a sham and that former general Sisi’s popularity has been eroded amid a slow-burning economic crisis and the decade-long crackdown on dissent.
The government’s media body has said the vote was a step towards political pluralism and authorities have denied violations of electoral rules.
Authorities have sought to address criticism of its record with steps including by opening a national dialogue and releasing some prominent prisoners.
Sisi says stability and security are paramount, a message that resonated with some voters that spoke to Reuters at a time when Egypt is faced with two wars on its borders, in the Gaza Strip and Sudan.
On Monday, the National Election Authority said turnout on the first two days of voting had reached about 45%, surpassing that of the last presidential election in 2018, though some expressed surprise at the figure given widespread apathy.
Reuters reporters who have been covering the elections in Cairo, Giza, Suez and the Sinai Peninsula over the last three days have witnessed crowds in front of polling stations, some being bussed in, but a relative trickle of citizens casting their votes.
“Each time Egyptians are asked to vote they are poorer than the last time, and Sisi is less popular, yet turnout is on the rise? No one, not even Sisi’s few remaining supporters, believes this is a real election,” said Timothy E. Kaldas, a policy fellow at Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.
(Reporting by Aidan Lewis, Amina Ismail and Farah Saafan; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Alex Richardson)