There were four men on the ballot when Egyptians voted in this week’s presidential election, but with rare exception, only one of their faces gazed out from billboards, banners, buses and lampposts across Egypt: that of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
According to the government, Mr. el-Sisi won 97 percent of the vote in his last two electoral bids, in 2014 and 2018. “All of us are with you,” many of the pro-Sisi banners read, as if anticipating a similar result this time.
At voting stations, which closed on Tuesday at the end of a three-day vote, “Oh Egypt, My Love” and other patriotic songs played at nightclub-worthy volumes, while glowing newspaper headlines told of newlyweds so dedicated to the nation that they showed up to the polls still in tuxedos and white gowns.
In a country with almost no space for dissent, a tightly leashed media and a lamed opposition, Mr. el-Sisi’s victory is not a matter of great suspense. Official energy appeared to be channeled instead into boosting turnout — a measure of Mr. el-Sisi’s popularity that an economic crisis, and the deep resentment and despair it has generated, was otherwise likely to depress.
The get-out-the-vote effort appeared to involve some unsubtle encouragement.
Four people in Cairo, the capital, said they had received 200 Egyptian pounds each — the equivalent of about $6.67 — after voting. Several others said they had voted only because they had heard they would be fined for failing to do so or because their employers had given them time off with explicit instructions to use it to cast ballots.
The thought of selecting any of the other three candidates, all unknowns, did not seem to cross anyone’s mind. A few said they had deliberately spoiled their ballots by checking all four boxes; the rest said they had voted Sisi.
Diaa Rashwan, head of Egypt’s State Information Service, said in a statement that while there was a fine for not voting on the books, in practice it had never been applied. He said that providing money or goods in exchange for votes was a criminal offense, but dismissed allegations of such offers as “hearsay.”
Voters who said they had taken payments explained that they needed the money. Others, disdaining the election, said they had skipped voting altogether.
“I used to like Sisi a lot, but now I’m fed up,” said Nadia Assran, 63, who on Sunday, rather than voting, was having coffee with her sister in the lower-middle-class Cairo neighborhood of Shubra.
Such coffee breaks are increasingly expensive, and therefore increasingly rare. Then there was the problem of paying for her daughter’s marriage expenses, or of simply finding affordable sugar and onions amid soaring inflation.
Ms. Assran mentioned the roads, bridges and shiny new cities Mr. el-Sisi has built around Egypt, which officials and state media have hailed as a major presidential accomplishment.
“This is good for our sons and our grandsons,” said Ms. Assran, a widow who survives on the pension from her husband’s job as a police officer. “But how does it help me now?”
Her sister, Hana Assran, 50, flicked a hand at some nearby Sisi banners.
“Why would we vote? He’s going to make it anyway,” she said, reflecting widespread cynicism about the outcome. “And why are you spending so much on election propaganda when we’re struggling so much with the prices?”
Though it dipped slightly in November, annual inflation hit record highs of nearly 40 percent this year as Egypt grapples with an economic crisis in which the currency’s value has plummeted and basic items have disappeared from grocery shelves.
The 200 pounds voters said they had received for casting their ballots was worth about $12.50 in 2019, when a constitutional referendum granted Mr. el-Sisi the right to run for a third term, lengthened presidential terms to six years from four and handed him greater powers. Now it is worth about half that.
Economists say Egypt’s economic implosion stemmed from mismanagement, most notably Mr. el-Sisi’s lavish spending on weapons and megaprojects such as new cities, a spree that piled unsustainable debt on what had already been a structurally unsound economy.
The country managed to dodge a reckoning until Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Egyptian officials have attributed Egypt’s problems to outside causes such as the war and the coronavirus pandemic.
Egypt says it is opening up its politics, pointing to initiatives such as a much-publicized dialogue between government and opposition figures.
But Mr. el-Sisi, a former general who rose to power in a 2013 military takeover, has also succeeded in persuading many Egyptians that they need a strong leader like him to fend off the war, chaos and destruction that have swallowed many of Egypt’s neighbors in recent years, including Libya, Sudan and now the Gaza Strip.
“At least we’re guaranteed to have safety and security,” said Nadia Negm, 28, a housewife in Shubra al-Khaima, a working-class area northeast of Cairo, who said she had proudly voted for Mr. el-Sisi. “Yes, it’s hard, but at least we’re better off than other countries.”
Ms. Negm, like other Sisi supporters interviewed, pointed out that many other countries were also staring down high inflation and shortages, a common refrain in the state-controlled media.
But for others who declined to vote or said they voted only because they had heard they would be fined if they did not, the humiliation of not knowing how they would pay for next week’s meals, of having to break off a child’s engagement for lack of funds to cover marriage expenses or of being in constant debt outweighed their fear of instability.
“Security and safety should be applied to food and jobs, too,” said Mahmoud Mohamed, 65, a coffeehouse waiter in Banha, a small city in Egypt’s Nile Delta region, who said he had fallen into a cycle of borrowing each month just to pay back the previous month’s debts. “He promised us so much, and none of it was achieved.”
The war in next-door Gaza, however, has shifted some Egyptians’ focus back to other threats such as terrorism, which Mr. el-Sisi says he has successfully battled in northern Sinai, and what many Egyptians see as Israel’s drive to push Gazans across the border into Egypt.
Yasmine Fouad, 39, who owns a cellphone accessories shop in Banha, said she had initially planned to sit out the election as a quiet protest of Mr. el-Sisi and the inflation he has presided over.
The crisis in Gaza changed her mind.
“At this moment, we all have to be behind the president, because anything could happen,” she said. “That makes us accept the current situation.”