[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 September 2005, 13:15 GMT 14:15 UK
Voter apathy marks Egypt poll
By Magdi Abdelhadi
BBC Arab affairs analyst in Cairo

Mubarak posters (photo: Magdi Abdelhadi)
Mubarak banners and posters far outnumber any other candidates'
Egyptians are casting their ballots in the country's first ever presidential election. And no-one in Egypt doubts who will win.

The incumbent - Hosni Mubarak - who's been in power for 24 years and is running for another six-year term, faces no real competition from the nine other candidates, most whom are virtually unknown.

The better known ones, such as the leader of the Ghad party, Ayman Nour, and the Wafd party leader, Numan Gumaa, do not enjoy broad public support.

And the only political group that is somewhat popular, the Muslim Brotherhood, is excluded from the race.

Political gridlock?

Despite the government's campaign on radio and television to urge people to vote, it is understandable why many Egyptians feel at best indifferent or, at worst, sarcastic.

"What is the point? We all know who is going to win," said most of those I asked.

Where is this democracy? Where are the posters of the other candidates?
Egyptian taxi driver
The word for voting in Arabic has two meanings - to "cast a ballot" or "to scream".

When I asked a taxi driver whether he will vote he chose the latter meaning, while pointing at Cairo's near permanent traffic gridlock.

There is no doubt who has the biggest financial and political muscle in Egypt's first presidential race. The streets of Cairo are covered with posters saying "Yes to Mubarak".

Newspapers, too, are full of whole page advertisements taken out by businessmen saying they support Mr Mubarak.

Some squares are literally covered with Mubarak posters. They are often signed by shopkeepers or businessmen. Some have their pictures next to the incumbent.

Poster conundrum

Not all of them are put up by Mr Mubarak's National Democratic Party, though. Far from it.

Mr Abdelsameei is grateful for the relative stability enjoyed by Egypt
Most of them are so-called private initiatives, although it is difficult to know whether they are the work of genuine supporters.

But posters supporting Mr Mubarak's rivals are hard to find. The few visible ones are put up by the candidate's own party.

"Where is this democracy? Where are the posters of the other candidates?" asked a taxi driver rhetorically when we drove through a thicket of Mubarak posters.

Will he vote? I asked. He says he would like to give his vote to Mr Gumaa or Mr Nour, but what is the point? They are not going to win, he adds.

A 'reliable' man

However, Mr Mubarak is not without his genuine supporters. Many people say he is a reliable man.

Despite all the country's economic and social woes, Egypt has not been dragged into wars like other countries in the region, says Fathi Abdelsameei, the owner of a spare parts shop in the working class district of Bab El-Sheriyya.

Next to him, Hasan Abbas, a 72-year-old metal name-plate maker, is almost insulted when I ask him why he does not have a Mubarak poster in front of his shop like all the others.

He will give his vote to Mr Nour.

But despite Mr Nour's relative popularity in this district, where his party runs a cultural centre, his posters are still eclipsed by Mr Mubarak's.

Turn-out 'crucial'

Although no-one is doubting the outcome of the vote, voter turn out will be crucial.

The near universal expectation that Mr Mubarak will win could lead to nationwide voter apathy and a low turnout would inevitably be a blow to Mr Mubarak.

His critics would use the low turn out to question the legitimacy of his presidency.

Despite all its drawbacks, Egypt's democratic transition appears to be working.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See clips from the campaign videos



RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific