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Ex-army boss favored as Egypt goes to polls

– Egyptians cast ballots Monday for a new president in an election widely expected to secure a resounding victory for military strongman Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi, one that will likely further entrench the army’s decades-long rule over the country.

Monday marked the first of two days of voting in which just two candidates, including former defense minister Sissi and leftist politician Hamdeen Sabbahi, are vying for the nation’s top office after Egypt’s first democratically elected president was ousted by the military last year.

Festive pro-Sissi crowds gathered outside polling stations in Cairo, singing, dancing and waving Egyptian flags. Army helicopters patrolled the skies over the capital, flying low over polling stations to cheers from pro-military crowds.

“We came here today for Egypt, because we love Egypt,” said 59-year-old Reda Nasr, a voter in the east Cairo neighborhood of Matareya. A dozen women outside this polling station flanked him in support of the field marshal.

“Sissi is the leader of Egypt and of the Arab world,” Nasr said. “He will bring us security, stability and peace.”

Like Nasr, many Egyptians view the ex-army chief as a strong, charismatic candidate capable of ushering in stability after years of political and economic turmoil. But Sissi, who led the army coup against Islamist President Mohammed Morsi last summer, has also been criticized for presiding over a crackdown against dissidents, including the Muslim Brotherhood group that backed Morsi’s presidency.