DAMIETTA, Egypt: Presidential candidate Abdel Fatah al-Sisi appears to have swept voting in Damietta, earning more than 90 percent of votes according to initial press indicators, amid complaints of violations by observers from rival Hamdeen Sabbahi’s campaign.
In the more crowded race last year, former candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh won 23.9 percent in the first round of voting in Damietta, followed by Sabbahi, with 23.7 percent. Mohamed Morsi ended up winning in the runoff, with 56 percent of total votes, against former military general Ahmed Shafiq.
The experience of Sabbahi representatives in Damietta reflects countrywide violations the candidate complained about in a Wednesday video, saying his representatives had been prevented from entering polling stations, had witnessed “mass forgery,” and were even detained and presented before military prosecutors.
In Damietta, a prosperous Mediterranean port city around 22 kilometers northeast of Cairo along the eastern branch of the Nile River, the majority of the population works in furniture manufacturing, as well as in the sweets industry and farming.
Sisi delegates, usually middle-aged or older, were present in almost all the region’s polling stations, while Sabbahi delegates, usually in their twenties, either did not appear or did for a short while then left for other stations. Police, military officers and village mayors were seen inside polling centers in their municipalities.
In Sheikh Dorgham, Sisi campaign banners hung along the route to the polling station, and cars with speakers playing pro-military songs roamed the town. Dozens of apparent Sisi supporters stood outside of polling stations, clapping and celebrating.
Residents stopped the car of an international monitoring delegation on Tuesday to tell them that locals who support Sisi did not want to cast their votes because they said the men and women celebrating outside of the polling stations belong to the dissolved National Democratic Party (NDP), the party of former President Hosni Mubarak.
“People go and see the dirty faces of the old regime sitting outside the polling center then turn around. Sisi is a respectable man and the country needs him, but we don’t want those people back,” a Sheikh Dorgham resident said.
Meanwhile a young Sabbahi representative told international witnesses Monday, at a polling station in Ezbet el-Nakhl in Damietta, “I am worried about my safety after the elections. I was already very badly treated by military personnel when I told them about violations taking place outside the polling center. I am sad for my country.”
Large numbers of Sisi supporters unaffiliated with the High Presidential Elections Committee (HPEC) were seen a few meters outside of some polling stations providing voters cards featuring Sisi’s picture. The campaign representatives would take voter identification cards to look up their polling station information and write it on the Sisi cards – in violation of campaigning regulations (at polling stations, officials offered the same assistance with plain cards). The Sisi campaign cards were later seen in the hands of voters and even on the floor inside several polling stations.
Al Khaiata village in Damietta hosted three polling stations, where large printed banners of Sisi were hung outside. Loudspeakers played pro-military and patriotic songs. The town is considered “a Brotherhood stronghold” in Damietta, according to press statements made by the head of Damietta security, Abu Bakr al-Hadidi.
On April 29, one man was killed in clashes between Brotherhood supporters and opponents in Al Khaiata, “which made police forces deploy armored vehicles on streets to arrest perpetrators,” Hadidi said in press statements.
Less than two kilometers away, the representative of the HPEC in the area arrived with a senior delegate from Sabbahi’s campaign from another polling center in Ezbet el-Borg to investigate alleged violations reported by Sabbahi’s campaign in Khaiata.
The HPEC representative dismissed the Khaiata mayor from outside the polling station and listened to the grievances of the Sabbahi delegate. Soon after, the Sisi banners outside of the polling station and other forms of campaign material were removed.
The assistants of the judge in the Ezbet el-Borg polling station criticized the neighboring town of Khaiata for not respecting regulations regarding campaign material at the polls, and said their neighbors are “hardcore Sisi supporters.”
The peak of voter turnout in Damietta came in the evening, and women-only polling stations were the busiest in the governorate.
Large Sisi banners remained in many areas across Damietta, usually with writing on them signaling the specific families or business owners who paid for them.
Sabbahi banners by comparison were rarely spotted, and if so, were much smaller.