NOEL KING, HOST:
Egyptians are going to the polls this morning to vote in a presidential election. President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi is seeking a second term. El-Sissi's a former army general, and he is pretty much guaranteed to win this election. So that's revealing a lot about life in Egypt right now. NPR's Jane Arraf was out at a polling station this morning. Hey, Jane.
JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Hey there.
KING: So what were you seeing in the streets today?
ARRAF: Well, it's a working day here so there weren't huge lineups of people outside, but in fact this election is going to take three days 'cause there are so many voters, 59 million of them. So at the polling station I went to at one of the schools, it was really quite festive. There were some people who were coming with their kids. They were dipping their fingers in ink. You know, when you vote, you dip your finger in ink in a lot of countries to prove that you voted and so you can't vote again. But a lot of them were dipping both their fingers in ink so they could make the victory sign. I spoke to one of these voters, and this was retired engineer Sameh Saltan (ph), and he told me that he had come out to vote because it was his duty as, what he called, a real Egyptian.
SAMEH SALTAN: It's the future. If we need to build the future, we need to trust for anybody - not just el-Sissi - anybody, love this country, vote for him.
ARRAF: So as you can hear there, in many ways this election has become sort of a test of loyalty.
KING: But I'm surprised in part to hear the festive tone because we're seven years on from the Arab Spring, the massive pro-democracy movement that brought down a dictator. Egyptians are very proud of that. And yet we're hearing these elections are not so free, that el-Sissi is almost guaranteed to win. How are people squaring that? Do people just really like this guy?
ARRAF: (Laughter). That's a great question. Some people actually do really like him.
ARRAF: And some people are afraid of him, and a lot of other people are more afraid of what would happen if he weren't there, which means basically that they have made the trade-off, that they are willing to put up with what have been incredibly repressive measures, a sweeping security crackdown, economic pain. Because the alternative, they feel, might be chaos. So the thing about this election is not so much the voting, although there may be questions later, it's what happened in the run up. There were several other candidates that would have given voters a choice. Instead, when they go to the polls, they have either Sissi or one other candidate, a low-profile politician who also supports Sissi. The other ones, some of them were jailed. Others said they were intimidated into not running. So yeah. So a lot of people don't actually see this as a terribly democratic election, but a lot of those who are coming, like the engineer I spoke with, see it as, this is our duty, we're going to give the president our support.
KING: If it's pretty much a sure thing that el-Sissi will stay in power, how is he likely to use that power? What's his agenda?
ARRAF: Well, it's going to be considered a mandate for the huge projects that he's taken on. So he's doing things like expanding the Suez Canal. He's building a whole new city, an administrative capital. He has also launched a sweeping military security crackdown. The country's under a state of emergency. So if there is a considerable number of people turning out, he's going to take that as a mandate to keep up the security measures, to press on with those economic reforms, no matter how painful they are.
KING: NPR's Jane Arraf. Thank you so much for joining us, Jane.
ARRAF: Thank you.
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