Voting Begins For Egypt's Next President
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block. Today, Egyptians went to the polls for the first in two days of voting for their next president. Few doubt that the race will be won by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. He led the military coup last summer that ousted the last elected president, Islamist Mohamed Morsi. Since then, the security forces have led a sweeping crackdown on dissent and the country is divided. A majority majority view Sisi as Egypt's savior, but a minority views him as a tyrant in the making. NPR's Leila Fadel sent this report.
LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: From leafy upscale neighborhoods to crowded working class districts, Cairenes danced outside polling stations to patriotic songs about God, country and the Army.
JIHAN ASKAR: I'll tell you one thing for me that's for sure, one main thing without which my daily life is impossible - security. That's him. Sisi to me is security. And he's hope and tomorrow.
FADEL: That's Jihan Askar, who just cast her ballot for Sisi in her wealthy neighborhood. She wears an Egyptian flag as a cape and a T-shirt with a star of rhinestones in Sisi's honor. It's the first time she's voted since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak following the January 25th 2011 uprising.
ASKAR: I'm taking this seriously now because I was not convinced of January 25 from the very beginning.
FADEL: Askar is not alone. We moved from polling station to polling station and everyone has the same answer when we asked them who they're voting for - Sisi. And the electoral commission even says it's fine to draw hearts and I love you's on the ballot, if voters want. Just over a year ago, Sisi was a largely unknown figure who was promoted to military chief by Morsi. But as Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood grew unpopular, Sisi overthrew him. And now he's poised to become Egypt's next elected leader.
FADEL: But the scenes of absolute joy in Cairo where the streets are papered with banners and blazoned with Sisi's face, stand in stark contrast to the sullen atmosphere in Kerdasa, a defiant and restive town just outside of Cairo. Outside one polling station red graffiti on the wall says boycott the killers. Inside it is largely empty. Voters say Muslim Brotherhood members were trying to stop them from going to the polls. The few people casting ballots all say they're voting for Sisi, but there are no Sisi posters in the streets here, where policemen were killed by a mob in August 14, as hundreds of pro-Morsi protesters were killed by security forces in Cairo.
MOHAMED SALEH: (Foreign spoken).
FADEL: Mohamed Saleh sits outside his shop in a plastic chair.
SALEH: (Foreign spoken).
FADEL: He says this is all unjust, almost the whole town is boycotting.
SALEH: (Foreign spoken).
FADEL: He says three days ago they took my friend's brother and son from their home. I'm not brotherhood, I just want justice. He refers to the thousands of people who've been imprisoned since Morsi's ouster. It is a dissenting voice that is rare these days in Egypt as protests are broken up, activists are arrested and opposing views are drowned out by the drumbeat of state and private owned media hailing the army - the most popular institution in Egypt. Most voters seem to be of the older generation, and a key question for Sisi is not will he win, but how many people will turn out to cast ballots for him. With so much unrest over the past three and a half years, many Egyptians say they want a military man to bring back stability. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo.