Sisi closes in on Egypt presidency amid hopes for bigger turnout

Voting: A right and duty

Egypt was wrapping up a presidential election Tuesday with frontrunner ex-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi eyeing a strong turnout to give credibility to his overthrow of the elected Islamist president.
The retired field marshal's supporters have expressed fears of a low turnout after the first day of voting, as Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood and secular dissidents called for a boycott.
As polls opened for the second and final day of voting, authorities announced that they were declaring a public holiday and extending polling hours until 1900 GMT to encourage voters to cast their ballots.
A comfortable win for former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi over his sole rival leftist Hamdeen Sabbahi has never been seriously in doubt.
But Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, subjected to a brutal police crackdown in which hundreds of its supporters have been killed, has called for boycott and said it will not recognise the election's outcome.
So too have key activists behind the Arab Spring uprising that toppled long-time strongman Hosni Mubarak in 2011, who fear Sisi is an autocrat in the making.
The interior ministry said that turnout on the first day of voting reached about 16 million out of the country's 53 million eligible voters.
But several Cairo polling stations were deserted in the first hours of voting on Tuesday.
"I don't want to be part of those responsible for all those people who died," Tarek Salim said, explaining his decision not to vote over tea at a Cairo cafe.
Fellow boycotter Diaa Hussein complained that the election offered no real choice. "Sisi didn't leave a chance for anyone else to win," he said.
Sisi issued a personal plea for a large turnout after casting his own ballot on Monday.
"The entire world is watching us, how Egyptians are writing history and their future today and tomorrow," he said, surrounded by cheering supporters.
The rival candidates have portrayed the vote as a choice between stability and the freedoms promised by the Arab Spring.
The Arab world's most populous nation has been rocked by turmoil since the uprising which has ravaged the economy and its vital tourism sector.
Sisi's ouster of Morsi last year triggered the worst peacetime bloodshed in recent Egyptian history but the former army chief has vowed to stamp out the violence.
A big security force deployment prevented any major polling day incidents.
A small bomb exploded in north Cairo on Tuesday without causing any casualties, the interior ministry said.
"We need an iron fist to restore the situation," said 63-year-old engineer Kamal Mohamed Aziz, who had come with his wife to vote for Sisi.
"Security is the number one (concern). It is security that we are missing," said his wife Nevine."
But civil servant Karim el-Demerdash said he had voted for Sisi's sole challenger Sabbahi to try to preserve the gains of the 2011 uprising.
"I am sure that the election results are already decided but this is the last attempt to bring the revolution into power," he said.
Sisi has said "true democracy" will take a couple of decades, and suggested he will not tolerate protests disrupting the economy.
He has also pledged to eliminate the Brotherhood, which won every election following Mubarak's overthrow after being banned for decades.
"Forgery will never grant legitimacy to a butcher nor will it lessen the determination of revolutionaries," the Brotherhood said as it urged a boycott.
The Brotherhood has been decapitated by a police crackdown that has killed more than 1,400 people and left all of its top leaders in jail or exile.
Morsi himself has been detained and put on trial.
"This election will not wipe the slate clean after 10 months of gross human rights violations," Amnesty International's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, said.
Hundreds of soldiers and policemen have also been killed in militant attacks since Morsi's overthrow, with the deadliest claimed by an Al-Qaeda-inspired group based in the restive Sinai Peninsula.
Sisi's sole rival Sabbahi, a veteran dissident, has vowed to defend the democratic aspirations of the 2011 revolt.
"We swear to God that symbols of corruption and despotism (from the Mubarak era) will not return," he said.