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Egyptians begin voting in presidential election

Egyptians begin voting in presidential election
Egypt's former army chief and presidential candidate Abdel Fattah Sisi, center, leaves after casting his vote in the country's presidential election at a polling station in Cairo. (Khaled El Fiqi / European Pressphoto Agency)

Egyptians on Monday began two days of presidential balloting, with victory virtually assured for Abdel Fattah Sisi, who presided over the removal from office of Egypt's first democratically elected president nearly 11 months ago.

The Sisi camp hopes that a strong turnout will put a stamp of legitimacy on the rule of the former defense minister, a career military man who shed his uniform to run for president as a civilian. Sisi has been the country’s de facto leader since last summer’s popularly supported coup against ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi.

Sisi's sole opponent is leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi, who waged a spirited campaign despite being projected as having almost no chance of winning. Outside polling places, voters overwhelmingly declared themselves in favor of Sisi, and enormous campaign posters still dotted the streets.

Bahaa Ibrahim, a middle-aged man, waved an Egyptian flag outside a downtown polling place. “Egypt needs a leader who is able to lead,” he said, echoing widespread sentiment that Sisi would provide stability after three years of turmoil in the wake of the revolution that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

With the exception of Morsi, who was in office only a year before being ousted, Egypt has a decades-old tradition of leaders drawn from the ranks of the military. Sisi, who held the rank of field marshal when he retired in March, projects an authoritarian style despite Egyptian official insistence that the vote is a milestone in a democratic transition.

If elected, Sisi faces an array of problems, including a looming energy crunch, a faltering economy and an Islamist insurgency in the Sinai peninsula. He has rejected any political accommodation with the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi’s movement, which called on backers to boycott the vote.

Security was tight as the polling got underway, with military helicopters buzzing overhead, tens of thousands of police on patrol, and some polling places secured with sandbags. But the army presence was not as overt as during Egypt's last nationwide vote, a constitutional referendum.

Official results are expected next week.

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Special correspondent Amro Hassan contributed to this report.

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