On Saturday, Egyptian voters went to the polls in the first phase of a staggered election for a new parliament that is almost certainly as supportive of the government of President Abdel Fattah El Sisi as its predecessor. In the most populous Arab nation, it is the third nationwide vote in two years.
On Wednesday, Egyptian expatriates started voting, sending their ballots to diplomatic missions around the world, but Saturday saw the first of two days of voting in Egypt, which has more than 63 million registered voters. The second phase of voting at home and abroad will take place next month, with expatriates voting on 4, 5, and 6 November, while domestic voters will go to the polls on 7-8 November. Where required, both phases will be followed by run-off votes and the final results will be announced in December.
The first phase of voting covers 14 of the 27 provinces of the country, including Giza, the twin city of Cairo, and Alexandria, the Mediterranean city.
To gauge popular interest in Egypt's political process, attention was expected to be paid to the election turnout. Voters have been urged by the electoral commission and commentators to cast their ballots. When the polls opened at 9 am, voting was slow, but it was expected to pick up later in the day.
Just 14.2 percent of Egypt's registered voters cast their ballots two months ago to elect 200 senators. The exceptionally low turnout then prompted the electoral commission to say that it intended to prosecute 54 million eligible voters who stayed out of the polls but never acted upon that decision. The low turnout was attributed by commentators at the time to the coronavirus pandemic and voter apathy.
There are a total of 596 deputies in Parliament, of which 28 are appointed by the president. Half of the remaining 568 deputies are elected as members of 'closed lists' by candidates contesting the vote, while the other half are either party candidates or independent candidates.
A coalition of pro-government parties, the National List for Egypt's Sake, is expected to win all 284 seats allotted to closed lists. A majority of the remaining seats are also expected to be taken by pro-government parties, with opposition candidates likely to win a small number that mirrors their modest representation in the outgoing chamber.
As with the Senate, in the new lower house, which will serve for five years, women will make up a quarter of MPs. As part of the constitutional amendments adopted in last year's referendum, this quota was introduced. The amendments also gave the military a supreme political role and gave Mr. El Sisi more control over the judiciary of the country.
The latest election comes as the government faces renewed pressure from rights groups who accuse it of detaining thousands of outlawed Muslim Brotherhood activists and supporters since the 2014 election of Mr. El Sisi.
A year earlier, Mr. El Sisi, who was defense minister at the time, led the removal of Mohammed Morsi, a stalwart of the Brotherhood whose one-year rule was divisive, from the military. Amid mass street protests against his rule and the Brotherhood, Morsi's removal came.
The government of Egypt maintained that it had no political prisoners and said that with all detainees, due process was observed.
Mr. El Sisi has declared that the economy and stability are his top priorities as he continues his reform program, which includes infrastructure upgrades and the construction of new cities.
International financial agencies have praised the reforms but have hit hard on the poor and middle classes.