Egyptians began voting Sunday in a three-day-long election, with President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi all but certain to win a third term even as the North African nation grapples with its worst economic crisis in years.
Polls opened at 9 a.m. local time and El-Sisi was shown on Egyptian TV casting his ballot around then. Government officials have encouraged a high turnout, and state television showed crowds outside polling stations waving national flags and placards, some of them dancing for the cameras and singing patriotic songs.
The most pressing issue for Egypt’s electorate is the soaring cost of living, with inflation running at almost 35% after three currency devaluations since early last year that halved the pound’s value against the dollar.
The electoral commission is expected to declare the final tally of votes on Dec. 13, with the official result due five days later. The outcome, however, is in little doubt.
“It feels like there’s only one candidate,” said Naser, 45, who works in a restaurant in Mokattam, eastern Cairo, and asked to be identified only by his first name in order to speak freely.
After the election, another devaluation is widely foreseen with foreign-exchange shortages still acute. It could be the biggest so far, based on the local black market, where the pound trades far weaker than its official rate, and currency forwards. That may add more pain to consumers in the nation of more than 105 million, the most populous in the Middle East.
A devaluation would, however, help Egypt’s government authorities move forward with a $3 billion International Monetary Fund rescue program, and pave the way for a likely increase in the loan to over $5 billion.
The IMF has called on Egypt to let market forces have greater sway over the pound’s value to help encourage more foreign investment. While the currency trades at 30.9 per dollar officially, it changes hands at around 50 on the black market.
The country’s main stock index dipped 2% on Sunday, the first day of the working week. But it’s still up 66% this year in local currency terms — and even 33% in dollars, making it one of the world’s best performers.
The country’s desperate search for foreign exchange may be eased by its pivotal diplomatic role in the Israel-Hamas war next door.
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