Sisi is likely to secure another term in office, but the focus of Egyptians is on Gaza.

Egyptians know an election is coming when they see posters of President Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi’s face on walls and billboards throughout the country.

The constant depiction of Sisi, with a distant stare and a fake smile, is so widespread that people have resorted to creating memes as a form of expression on the internet. One popular meme shows Jack and Rose from Titanic sitting on the ship’s deck surrounded by Sisi’s campaign posters. In another, it is joked that a pregnant woman saw so many pictures of Sisi on her way to work that her baby was born resembling the president.

In 2013, Sisi took control through a military takeover and has since been elected two times as president with a 97% majority. His most recent victory was over a rival who openly endorsed his leadership. As expected, the only opposition candidate was barred from participating in the election.

Mohamed Lotfy from the human rights organization, Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF), expressed that it doesn’t seem like there are any ongoing elections. Instead, everyone’s attention is focused on the events unfolding in Gaza.

These elections are expected to result in another term for Sisi, without any significant changes. As a result, there is a sense of resignation among the public. The other candidates are not truly vying for victory, but rather seeking potential political benefits down the line.

“The election was over a long time ago!” laughed Mohamed Anwar al-Sadat, the nephew of Egypt’s former president and longtime political grandee whose career includes expulsion from parliament, a short-lived election campaign in 2018 and being a negotiator helping to free some of the tens of thousands of prisoners in Egypt’s jails.

“The key factor now is the level of voter turnout, which will determine Sisi’s success in the election. In my view, if the turnout is low, it’s game over. While there are three other candidates, they are merely there for show and not true contenders.”

Sisi has consistently argued that if the opposition were to take power, it would lead to the downfall of the nation. He has also made grand promises of economic success through his ambitious projects such as expanding the Suez canal and building a new capital city near Cairo. However, the current situation has demonstrated a different reality, with roughly one-third of the population living in poverty according to government statistics. Inflation has also soared this year, reaching nearly 40%, and food prices have risen even higher.

Sisi stated in a speech in October, “Do not even think about saying that you would prefer to eat instead of working towards progress and development. If the cost of our country’s advancement and success means going without food or water, then we will willingly go without.”

Sisi’s rule has combined biting austerity measures for the public with lavish spending within a regime where only the president and a few of his closest confidants wield power, particularly his notorious spy chief Abbas Kamel, who has spearheaded hostage negotiations with Palestinian militants in the Gaza strip, and his son Mahmoud el-Sisi, who is also a high-ranking security official.

Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi, in a shirt, tie and jacket, sits in front of a flag looking up to the left, frowning

Outside of positions of authority, Sisi has spent the last decade eliminating individuals and organizations that could potentially oppose him, imprisoning political rivals, members of civil society, journalists, and regular citizens. This has also coincided with the growth of a massive police state.

According to Egypt political economy expert Timothy E Kaldas from the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, it is challenging to comprehend why anyone, including Sisi himself, would believe that Egypt would benefit from his continued rule for another six years, considering its current state after a decade under his leadership.

The number of Egyptians living in poverty has increased since he assumed office, while the country’s external debt has almost quadrupled. The interest payments on this debt alone use up almost all of the country’s tax revenue. If this is the impact he has had in the past decade, how much more damage does he intend to cause in the next six years?

According to Kaldas, it is anticipated that the state will engage in a large-scale vote-buying effort similar to previous years, where buses of lower-income Egyptians were given bags of food in exchange for increasing voter turnout.

The main factor contributing to the low cost of buying votes is the extreme desperation among a large portion of the population. According to him, people can easily be swayed to vote in exchange for a small amount of money for basic necessities, or through coercion from employers with connections to the ruling regime. This accounts for the majority of the voter turnout.

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Due to the slim chance of a democratic election, the majority of Egyptians are primarily focused on the ongoing conflict between Israel and Gaza. This conflict takes place just beyond the Sinai border, which has been shut for a long time. This is happening at a time when there is an unusually positive relationship between Egypt and Israel, highlighted by Sisi’s public meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Despite the ban on public protests, Sisi found a way to allow a designated day and location for people to demonstrate in response to the events in Gaza. However, this strategy proved unsuccessful as large groups of protesters gathered at Tahrir square in Cairo, the same location where the 2011 uprising against dictator Hosni Mubarak took place, demanding his overthrow.

The ECRF monitored arrests made during the protests and discovered that 115 individuals were detained in Cairo and Alexandria. Currently, 67 of these individuals are still facing charges, including violation of a law prohibiting demonstrations and terrorism.

ECRF’s Lotfy stated that the security agencies declined permission for an international group of activists to journey to the Rafah crossing, in part because they want to avoid a repeat of this situation.

Although Egypt’s involvement in negotiating hostage situations may give them some global influence, Sisi’s lack of control over Gaza puts his leadership in a vulnerable position within his own country.

Lotfy stated that the government faces a predicament as it desires to reduce tension at home and avoid the frustration of being limited in its actions.

As the number of images depicting bombings increases, the public’s anger also grows. This anger is directed towards the government for its perceived lack of power to pressure Israel into opening the borders and allowing more aid to come in. The government must demonstrate its responsibility in enforcing a ceasefire and preventing the forced displacement of Palestinians into Sinai. If they are unable to do so, the question arises: how are they both failing and not allowing us to express our anger through protests?