, CAIRO, Egypt, Oct 18 – Polling opened Sunday in Egypt for a much-delayed parliamentary election that will tighten President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s grip on power after he crushed all opposition since ousting his Islamist predecessor.
The vote for the 596-member parliament will be staged in two phases ending on December 2, with Egyptians abroad casting their votes for the first round from Saturday.
But with an absence of opposition parties – including the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood – polling has inspired none of the enthusiasm witnessed for Egypt’s first democratic elections in 2011.
Experts say only voter turnout will be a gauge of popularity for Sisi, who has enjoyed a cult-like status since being elected president last year.
Most of the more than 5,000 candidates in the polls overwhelmingly support Sisi and are expected to dominate parliament.
“This parliament will be a parliament of the president,” said Hazem Hosny, political science professor at Cairo University.
“It’s really a parliament… to keep things as they are, to give an image of democracy.”
Many Egyptians tired of political turmoil since the 2011 ouster of veteran leader Hosni Mubarak support Sisi, who has vowed to revive an ailing economy and restore stability amid a deadly crackdown targeting supporters of his Islamist predecessor Mohamed Morsi.
Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected civilian leader, was ousted by then army chief Sisi on July 3, 2013, after mass street protests against his divisive year-long rule.
An ensuing government crackdown overseen by Sisi and targeting Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement left hundreds dead and thousands jailed.
Hundreds more including Morsi have been sentenced to death after speedy trials, which the United Nations denounced as “unprecedented in recent history”.
Sisi, meanwhile, won a presidential election in 2014.
Scores of policemen and soldiers have been killed in jihadist attacks since the crackdown on Islamists began, with the Egyptian affiliate of the Islamic State group leading a deadly insurgency in North Sinai.