Abdel Fatah el-Sisi is running against three opposition candidates in the presidential elections Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi casts his vote for presidential election at Mustafa Yousry Amira Secondary School in Cairo, Egypt on December 10, 2023. © Egyptian Presidency /Getty Images

The President of Egypt Abdel Fatah el-Sisi is seeking a third term in office, in an election being held over a few days and while war rages in neighboring Gaza. The country’s battered economy is seen as his top priority if he secures another term. Egypt is Russia’s top trade partner in Africa.

According to local media, voting is taking place at over 11,000 polling stations and is expected to end on Tuesday. Over 67 million people have registered to vote.

More than 200 officials from fourteen international organizations, 67 foreign diplomats, and 22,340 members of local civil society groups have registered to observe the elections, state news agency MENA reported on Sunday.

Three opponents are contesting against Sisi in the presidential race. The National Elections Authority, which runs the electoral process, will announce the official results on December 18. A runoff is, however, scheduled in January if no candidate attracts more than 50% of the vote.

On the eve of the election, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone with his Egyptian counterpart.

The Kremlin said in a statement on Saturday that, during a discussion covering a range of matters, Putin thanked Sisi for his assistance in the evacuation of Russian citizens from conflict-torn Gaza, and “wished him success” in the presidential election.

Sisi was elected president for the first time in 2014 with 97% of the vote, after having led the overthrow of Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013.

In 2018 he won a second term, this time for four years, having faced one opposition candidate in the polls. Constitutional amendments approved by referendum in 2019 extended Sisi’s second term by two years, allowing him to run for the next, six-year presidential term.

The Egyptian leader’s rule has been marred by allegations of political oppression, with rights groups claiming tens of thousands have been unfairly jailed. Sisi and his supporters have been reported as justifying a heavy hand, to stabilize Egypt and to counter Islamist extremism.

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With a population estimated at 113 million and rapidly growing, Egypt, the most populous Arab nation, is grappling with soaring prices triggered by near-record inflation and other economic pressures. Sisi has identified population growth as a major contributor to economic pressures and is urging Egyptians to have fewer children.

Under his leadership, Cairo has been pursuing increased investment from Russia in order to address economic challenges. Already a shareholder in the BRICS New Development Bank, Egypt will join BRICS’ five founding member states next month, alongside the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Argentina, and Iran.

The North African country has become Moscow’s main trade partner in Africa in terms of trade turnover. According to figures provided by Russia’s Federal Customs Service, Egypt accounted for 26.9% ($4.8 billion) of total trade between Russia and Africa in 2021. (RT)