Enthusiasm runs low for polls in Egypt city hit by IS


Tanta (Egypt) (AFP)

In Egypt's Nile Delta city of Tanta, scene of a bloody church bombing a year ago, there were few indications Tuesday that the country was in the middle of a presidential election.

Several banners were strung in the streets and a speaker from a car blared patriotic songs -- but polling stations were almost empty on the second day of a vote incumbent Abdel Fattah al-Sisi looks sure to win.

Among those who did come to cast their ballots Fawzia Fahim, a Coptic Christian octogenarian, said security was her motivation in backing Sisi for a second term.

"I was determined to vote because without him the Muslim Brotherhood and other terrorists would have turned the country into dust," she said, holding a cane in one hand and her son's arm in another.

In April 2017, Islamic State group suicide bombers attacked two Coptic churches, including one in Tanta, killing 45 people.

Sisi -- a former army chief who took power after the ouster of divisive Islamist Mohamed Morsi -- reacted by declaring a state of emergency.

The bloodshed in Tanta was just part of a wave of IS attacks that have hit Egypt.

The army is currently conducting a major campaign to root out jihadists, bolstering Sisi's security credentials ahead of the vote.

Near Tanta's Mar Girgis church, hit by the blast, a group of youths wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the Sisi slogan "Long live Egypt" marched past.

"Go vote," they chanted.

- 'Boycotting' the vote -

As in the capital Cairo -- some 80 kilometres (50 miles) to the south -- only fervent Sisi supporters express interest in a poll in which his sole challenger is an unknown who himself once backed the incumbent.

The president's serious competitors have either withdrawn, been sidelined or jailed and the only real question in this election is the turnout.

"It is our national duty to vote even if Sisi's victory is guaranteed," said Mahmud Abdel Hafiz, a retiree, after casting his ballot.

Despite that insistence, in three polling stations around the Mar Girgis church there was a distinct lack of enthusiasm.

Only one or two voters come to cast their ballots every 10 minutes and few of them were young.

Officials at two polling stations told AFP that turnout at midday Tuesday was hovering around 20 percent with a day and a half left to vote.

At a cafe, some young men were sitting out the election upset at the lack of a genuine choice.

"I am boycotting this farcical election," said a 21-year-old student.

Next to him Alaa Mohamed said he too was so disenchanted that he was refusing to vote -- despite the fact he supported Sisi.

"I would have voted for Sisi had there been real competition," Mohamed said. "The absence of freedom of opinion and real competition put me off."