Egypt election kicks off with backers of ex-army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi likely to make him president

Last Updated May 26, 2014 1:45 PM EDT

CAIRO -- Supporters of retired Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi danced to pop tunes praising the military and sported T-shirts bearing his image as they cast ballots Monday in a presidential election that is considered certain to vault the former military chief to office.

El-Sissi, who last summer ousted Egypt's first freely elected president, is likely to win the two-day vote by a landslide. But he is looking for a strong turnout to show international critics that his removal of Islamist Mohammed Morsi reflected the will of the people.

CBS News correspondent Clarissa Ward said while the polling stations in Cairo were busy Monday morning, there were fewer lines later in the afternoon.

Those who did turn up in the streets seemed overwhelmingly in support of the former military commander. Women came up to the CBS News crew, chanting ,"We love Sissi."

The other side of Egyptian politics, noted Ward -- including backers of the Muslim Brotherhood and more liberal-leaning activists and proponents of deep democratic reform -- was absent, choosing to boycott the vote.

"Right now, you are putting everyone in jail. Not just Muslim Brotherhood (supporters) -- liberals, activists, journalists. Nobody's carrying about this. People are killed in jail right now. Nobody's caring about this," liberal activist Mohammed Nabil told Ward.

"If you want to be safe, you don't believe in human rights and democracy right now," he said.

The election is a powerful contrast to 2012 presidential elections, which were the first after the toppling of longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak by a popular uprising the year before.

In that race, there were 13 candidates and a rollicking campaign that saw lively debate over how to achieve the ideals of the "revolution." Morsi, a veteran figure from the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, won in part because even many who distrusted the Islamists preferred him to his opponent - Mubarak's last prime minister Ahmed Shafiq - seen as a throwback to the former state.


This time, the Brotherhood is out of the race, crushed under a ferocious crackdown that has killed hundreds of Morsi's supporters and arrested thousands more since his removal. El-Sissi has been elevated by a surge of nationalism fed by media lauding him as the nation's savior. His only opponent in the race is leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi, who finished third in the 2012 election.

And all that most voters want is stability and an end to years of turmoil, despite worries among critics that the 59-year-old el-Sissi will bring it by suppressing dissent.

"He is a military strict man. He will grip the country and bring security to the street," said Olfat Sayed Hasanein, a university professor who voted for el-Sissi. "We cannot afford any more failures."

El-Sissi, wearing a suit and tie, cast his vote at a school in the upscale Cairo district of Heliopolis, as women cheered and ululated to greet him. "The whole world is watching to see how the Egyptians will make history," he told reporters.


At many polling stations, voters waved Egyptian flags and wore clothes in the national red-white-and-black colors. Men and women danced to pro-military pop songs, "Bless the Hands" and "A Good Omen," which emerged after the July 3 military ouster and have been constantly played in the streets and on the radio since.

"El-Sissi is the greatest person in the world," said Nasser Meghres, a 54-year-old businessman from Heliopolis. "We have absolute faith in the army and the police."

Speaking to reporters as he cast his vote, Sabahi urged Egyptians to "come out and vote for their future." Voting continues for a second day on Tuesday.

The balloting is taking place amid tight security, with some 500,000 soldiers and police deployed. Security forces in body armor, some of them masked, were in sandbagged positions outside polling station. Army and police helicopters hovered over Cairo as part of the massive security operation underway Monday.

Posters with pictures of the security forces were plastered across Cairo to urge voters to the polls, proclaiming, "Come out and we will protect you."

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