As expected, Field Marshal 'Abd Al-Fatah Al-Sisi won the May 28, 2014 Egyptian presidential election with a landslide 96.9% of the vote. However, the low voter turnout – 47.5% according to the Supreme Election Committee data and less than 12% according to Muslim Brotherhood (MB) data – is being interpreted as a fiasco for Al-Sisi. This is particularly true against the backdrop of enthusiastic efforts by the regime and its supporters prior to and during the election to ensure that turnout would be as high as possible, so as to guarantee sweeping support for Al-Sisi.
Left: Arab Observatory For Rights and Freedoms survey on the MB website – 11.92% turnout (Ikhwanonline.com, May 29, 2014). Right: Supreme Election Committee data comparing percentage for Al-Sisi in 2013 election (yellow) to 2012 winning percentage for Muhammad Mursi (red) (Al-Ahram, Egypt, June 5, 2014).
Al-Sisi's opponents among the MB supporters rejoiced at the calamity that befell Al-Sisi and his supporters, and saw the low voter turnout as proof of sizeable opposition to Al-Sisi and his policies and as evidence f widespread support for ousted president Muhammad Mursi. However, this approach to the low turnout as a sign of internal criticism of Al-Sisi, a sharp contrast to his image as being widely supported, is noticeable in the pro-Sisi media as well. There, along with many articles praising Al-Sisi and expressing joy at his electoral triumph, there is also a detectable tone of criticism and disappointment at his conduct.
Many of the media outlets identified with Al-Sisi were indeed forced to defend him and make excuses for the low voter turnout, providing such explanations as the very hot weather on election day that kept voters indoors, voters' certainty that Al-Sisi would win, and an MB intimidation campaign aimed at preventing voters from coming to the polls. But there were also those who blamed the low turnout on young voters' disappointment with Al-Sisi and his uncertain commitment to the goals of the Egyptian revolution, and on the similarities between Al-Sisi's modus operandi and that of deposed president Hosni Mubarak. Some claimed that the low turnout was a warning bell signaling that the leaders of the country are not working in a truly democratic direction in Egypt.
The following is a review of measures taken in Egypt to assure high voter turnout and of the reactions in the establishment and opposition media to the eventual low numbers.
Measures Taken To Assure High Voter Turnout
Regime measures to assure extensive citizen participation in the voting included a fatwa issued by the country's religious establishment defining voting as a religious obligation, and condemning previous fatwas banning voting in this election, such as that issued by the International Union of Muslim Scholars director and MB supporter Sheikh Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi.
Following the poor voter turnout on the first day, the authorities took measures to increase it: A second national holiday was declared for the second day of voting as well; there were threats to enforce the existing law of a 500-lira fine for citizens who did not vote; and voting was extended for an additional day. The Salafi party Al-Nour, an Al-Sisi supporter, even provided 4,000 buses to bring voters to the polls.
Many members of the media also took up the task of urging voters to go to the polls. For example, CBC host Lamis Hadidi exhorted Copts to remember the church arsons during the Mursi presidency and to turn out en masse. On Al-Hayat TV, Mustapha Bakri, editor of the Al-'Usbu weekly which is close to the regime, urged voters to go to the polls lest the MB return and take over the country. Another television host dispensed advice to potential voters for dealing with the heat:
Pro-Sisi Egyptian artists also released songs and clips encouraging potential voters. A clip of a song posted on YouTube, "Bushrat Kheir" ("Good News") by UAE singer Hussein Al-Jasmi encouraging voters to go to the polls, had hundreds of thousands of views within 24 hours, and enjoyed extensive exposure among the Egyptian public.
Articles Blame MB, Egyptian Laziness For Low Voter Turnout
For the most part, articles in the pro-Al-Sisi media defended their candidate; for example, journalist and terrorism expert Sabri Ghanem wrote in Al-Masri Al-Yawm: "After the MB began secretly executing their plan, following threats from security [forces] and [the MB's gaining] control of the Egyptian street, it was natural to expect that the majority would refrain from voting in the presidential election... [The MB's] courses of action were exposed when they took over the entrance and exit points to neighborhoods, after threatening voters and warning them against going to the polls. For instance, in the city of Helwan, the inciting MB took over the city's outskirts and terrorized residents who wanted to go out and vote... What happened in Helwan [also] happened in Imbaba, Kerdasa, and villages and towns...
"I do not believe that those who refrained from voting did so out of hatred for Al-Sisi or [his opponent] Hamadeen [Sabahi], or out of love for the MB. Perhaps laziness and certainty [regarding the results] are to blame [for the poor turnout]. I asked some of those who did not vote, and one told me: Why should we bother in this heat when, by Allah, Al-Sisi's victory is already assured? ...
"The sad part is that the young people refrain from voting after heeding the Facebook calls of terrorists in Egypt. Why do our children, our future generation – a good, pure sapling – become weak and submissive in the face of these terrorists, who corrupt their minds... This is the tragedy that has caused [this] good sapling to stay away from the polls..."
Egypt follows Al-Sisi towards the future (Source: Al-Ahram, Egypt, May 30, 2014)
Criticism In Pro-Al-Sisi Media: Low Voter Turnout – Because Al-Sisi's Methods Are Like Mubarak's
However, some articles in the pro-Al-Sisi media depicted the low voter turnout as a defeat and as indicative of disappointment with Al-Sisi's conduct, not only among the MB and its supporters but also among the general public. Criticism of him includes his failure to set out a proper election platform or to actually venture out among the people during his campaign; his suppression of revolutionary youth movements, such as the April 6 Movement that he outlawed; his implementation of policies that contradict the people's demands and their aspirations to democracy; the reemergence of Mubarak associates on the political landscape; a poorly timed end to subsidies and an increase in prices; and the reemergence of the use of the media for spreading pro-Al-Sisi propaganda.
Columnist: "Al-Sisi Will Awaken To The Bitter Reality... That Tens Of Millions Of Egyptians Oppose Him"
Journalist Tamer Abu 'Arab wrote in Al-Masri Al-Yawm: "'Abd Al-Fatah Al-Sisi will defeat his rival Hamadeen Sabahi in the presidential [election] by a wide margin – but the images of empty polling places and low voter turnout will haunt him. No one will ever again dare to speak about his sweeping popularity or the consensus surrounding his personality. He will awaken to a bitter reality, and realize that tens of millions of Egyptians oppose him. They boycotted him, abstained, or voted for Hamadeen...
"No one asked you [Al-Sisi] about your platform, because you only meet with those who come to you as disciples and followers, and because you did not put in an appearance at [campaign] rallies or speak to Egyptians without barriers [between you and them].. There was no reason to demand that you have an election platform when you were defense minister... but the natural [course to take is] to step down from your post, dabble in politics for a while, and only then decide to run for president and present your election platform to the public, for them to examine and decide whether you are suitable for the job. Nothing that has happened makes any sense, so how can you expect its conclusion to make sense? ...
"Whatever the results, and whatever the [voter] turnout – the revolution has gained an important victory in dealing with the Mubarak state and with its candidate [i.e. Al-Sisi]..."
Columnist: The Return To Mubarak-Style Oppression Tactics Explains The Low Voter Turnout
Mahmoud Khalil wrote in his column in the daily Al-Watan: "In recent months, the post-June 30 regime [the Al-Sisi regime] is clearly Mubarak-esque and functioned largely in the same way that Mubarak's did...
"The police oppression apparatus is again in full force as it was under Mubarak. We understand that the police are working under difficult conditions in their war on some terrorist organizations, but the damage they have done to the true revolutionary youth who have nothing to do with Islamic organizations and who express themselves peaceably is absolutely inexcusable...
"At this time, many young people are prosecuted, thrown in prison, and heavily fined [under the regime's protest law]. It is astonishing that after this, the current Mubarak-esque government expects these young people – the nation's work force – to labor, to produce, and to vote...
"The post-June 30 regime made efforts to bring many figures close to [Mubarak's] defunct National [Democratic] party back into the spotlight, and fully enabled them to appear in the media – despite the fact that some of them had taken part in corrupting political life prior to the January  revolution [to remove Mubarak]... Unfortunately, these faces [of NDP associates] have done tremendous damage to the post-June 30 regime, and have prompted many of those who believed in the January and June [revolutions] to withdraw from the June 30 alliance against religious fascism. They did not break free of one form of fascism only to bring about another one.
"What is really incredible about the regime that is operating like Mubarak's is its outrage at the low voter turnout – even though that was [common] in our country in the era of Mubarak, who won the 2005 election with 89% of the vote, despite the fact that many more boycotted the elections than voted in them."
Columnist: The January 25 Youth's Boycott Of The Elections Indicates That There Is A Base For Unrest
Gamal Younis, a columnist for the Al-Wafd website, wrote: "Boycotting [the election] means that you take a stand, an opinion, and a view, and also whether you agree with those boycotting... The low voter turnout for the constitutional referendum [38.6%] was a warning to those with their hands on the country's throat, because it reflects displeasure with the policy, function, decision, and laws which are contrary to the public's demands and do not meet its aspirations for true democracy for implementation now, not in another quarter century.
"Once, we thought that those running the country's affairs were aware, but they are actually asleep in their nooks...
"I will now present some comments from my perspective, even though, out of necessity, I voted for Field Marshall Al-Sisi...:
"The corrupt and primitive media that based its propaganda campaign for Field Marshall Al-Sisi on emotions instead of intellect did damage to his credibility... expanded the mistrust [of him], and raised doubts about his [true] inclinations and his intentions regarding the revolution and its demands...
"The reemergence of corrupt [NDP] members on the political landscape, their support for Al-Sisi, and their shameless participation in debates on the parliamentary election law indicates that their actual return is imminent and only a matter of time...
"The poor timing of the government's ... cancellation of subsidies and raising of electricity, water, gas, and petrol rates, and its placing of the burden of financing [this] economic reform on the citizens, whose income is, as always, limited...
"The number of young people aged 18-20, 18 million voters, boycotted the constitutional [referendum] and the presidential election. These youths are a top priority in the political and media discourse, and [Tamarrud movement founder] Mahmoud Badr's participation in Al-Sisi's election campaign does not mean that Egypt's youth will stand behind Al-Sisi... Boycotting [the election] proves that what fomented the revolution still exists – and that [Egypt's] future will be determined by the people's circumstances, not by [Al-Sisi's]."
"Sisi-meter" website monitoring Al-Sisi's fulfilment of his campaign promises (Source: sisimeter.net)
MB Supporters Gloat Over Low Voter Turnout
Article On MB Website: Myth Of Al-Sisi's Popularity Shattered, Mursi's Legitimacy Proven
The MB and their supporters were thrilled by the low voter turnout. The official website of the MB's Freedom and Justice Party featured an article by researcher Mohammad Jafar, stating: "The Egyptian people continues to work miracles, at all age groups. Look closely at the demise of the field marshall's false popularity. Moreover, the coup's legitimacy has ended. Some of the coup opponents have gone even further, saying that the presidential election was the true referendum on the continuing legitimacy of president Mursi, despite the moves of [Al-Sisi's] road map.
"In my assessment, the repercussions of this election result have ramifications for the entire next phase, and intensify the debate, the passion, and the crisis in the Egyptian political arena. These could be accompanied by real pressure on the sides in the crisis to seek a solution far from the outward pride shown by all. It is proven that no one side can monopolize Egypt's political arena and marginalize the others."
MB Supporter: The Extent Of The People's Opposition To Al-Sisi – And To The Regime's Militarization – Is Now Revealed
Gamal Sultan, editor of the Islamic daily Al-Misryoon and head of its board of directors, has been critical of the regime and supportive of the MB since June 30. He wrote in his daily column: "The message has spread, both in and out [of Egypt]. The fairy tales told in recent months regarding Al-Sisi's sweeping popularity have evaporated. It has been clearly revealed that these were mere media hype, amplified to create an illusion. The numbers that will be ultimately announced will change nothing, even if they put Al-Sisi in the presidential seat.
"Field Marshall 'Abd Al-Fatah Al-Sisi must realize – and I believe he does – that his job, his aspirations, and his political dimensions are completely different now than they were before the election. He must realize that the popular rage is much greater than [just] that of the MB, and that the attempts to excuse every crisis by [blaming] terrorism in order to cover up political incompetence will no longer be convincing to the millions of Egyptian citizens. The [Egyptians] seek a leadership that will bring about social peace, unity in the homeland, and security in the fullest sense – economic revival and respect and justice for the citizen as a partner in creating the future of his homeland.
"The unsettling statistics from the election has revealed that the popular opposition to Al-Sisi and to the militarization of the political regime is much greater than it seemed – and that in order to save the homeland and build its future there is a need for a new outlook and a totally different policy, which cannot disregard the recurring [waves] of the January revolution. [These waves] are still amazingly powerful and surprising in a number of ways – even if the simpletons think that they have overcome [these revolutionary waves].
"Egypt and the Egyptians have changed. Those who do not understand this will pay an embarrassing price for their ignorance and stubbornness."
"The people have boycotted the bloodstained election, and the coup government is courting voters." Policeman to injured citizen: "Get up, buddy, walk around in front of the polling places, and create an atmosphere [of elections]." (Source: Ikhwanonline.com, May 29, 2014)
 Ahram Online, June 3, 2014; ikhwanonline.com, May 29, 2014.
 Regarding Al-Sisi's popularity, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 5525, On The Eve Of Al-Sisi's Birthday, His Personality Cult Reaches Crescendo, November 18, 2013.
 For more on Egyptian intellectuals' warnings about Al-Sisi's candidacy prior to the elections, see MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1079, Egyptian Intellectuals, Columnists Warn Against Al-Sisi Presidential Candidacy, March 28, 2014.
 Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), May 25, 2014; Al-Ahram (Egypt); May 27, 2014.
 Al-Yawm Al-Sab'i (Egypt), May 28, 2014.
 Youtube.com/watch?v=6WIlo4VBRbQ, May 26, 2014.
 Youtube.com/watch?v=L81zOvo4TGw, May 26, 2014.
 Al-Hayat (Egypt), May 17, 2014.
 Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), May 29, 2014.
 Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), May 27, 2014.
 Al-Watan (Egypt), May 27, 2014.
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 5631, Reactions To Results Of Egyptian Constitutional Referendum: Support For Defense Minister Al-Sisi's Presidential Run, Complaints Of Fraud, February 3, 2014.
 Al-Wafd (Egypt), May 28, 2014.
 Fj-p.com, May 29, 2014.
 Al-Misryoon (Egypt), May 29, 2014.