Abdel Fattah El Sisi, the former defense minister who orchestrated the coup that ousted Egypt's first democratically elected president in 2013, has been declared the winner of a presidential election largely viewed as a forgone conclusion, with the victory confirmed by the country's Presidential Election Commission on Tuesday.
Sisi, who previously served as director of military intelligence, garnered 96.91 percent of the vote, according to official tallies. His only challenger, the Nasserist former political prisoner Hamdeen Sabahi, finished with just over 750,000 votes, or 3.09 percent — less than the share taken by invalid and intentionally defaced ballots.
"Now is the time of work to allow the country to achieve its goals," Sisi said in a televised speech shortly after the results were announced. "The future is a blank page."
Around 25.6 million Egyptians participated in the voting, the commission said - a 47 percent turnout that clashed with anecdotal reports from journalists and observers, who had described empty polling stations and an absence of queues during voting which occurred between May 26 to 28.
The turnout figure was important because Sisi had called for a massive show of support that would give legitimacy to the tough measures taken by the military-backed government since the overthrow of president Mohamed Morsi, a high-ranking Muslim Brotherhood official who is now on trial.
Sisi will also need popular support if he tries to implement unpopular economic austerity measures that many economists believe are essential to preventing a crisis in Egypt.
When Morsi was elected in 2012 — after fighting a close battle with former Air Force officer Ahmed Shafik — he won with 13.2 million votes, or 51.7 percent. Turnout then was also around 51 percent, slightly higher than the share who came out for Sisi.
But it was not for lack of trying on behalf of supporters of the former general. After initial reports indicated low turnout on the first day of voting, a number of government-friendly media personalities publicly bemoaned the lack of support, calling it an embarrassment. The government suggested it would actually follow through on a disused law requiring fines for non-voters, and the commission unexpectedly announced an unscheduled third day of voting, a measure usually taken when there is extremely high turnout.
The commission's decision, coming after a campaign that saw members of Sabahi's campaign arrested and Sisi afforded media coverage that better befitted a sitting head of state, prompted criticism from Sabahi and international observers.
“Egypt’s repressive political environment made a genuinely democratic presidential election impossible,” said Eric Bjornlund, president of Democracy International, which observed the vote.
On Tuesday, a crowd of thousands gathered in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the 2011 uprising that unseated longtime president Hosni Mubarak, to cheer Sisi's victory.
But the revolutionaries who occupied Tahrir three years ago had mostly stayed home as the election unfolded this summer, increasingly convinced that the gains of the revolt were falling apart. Many analysts suspect the rise to power of Sisi, a previously unknown infantry officer, heralds the return of a police state that will rival Mubarak's.
Last summer, the military-backed interim government orchestrated by Sisi imprisoned Morsi and held him and many members of his administration imcommunicado before putting them on trial.
After protest camps led by Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood party sprang up in Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt, security forces brutally dispersed them, leaving more than 1,000 people dead.
A campaign of arrests followed, and police rounded up tens of thousands of Brotherhood supporters and other protesters. The government branded the Brotherhood a terrorist organization after a series of attacks against military and state institutions, though it has presented no proof of the Brotherhood's involvement.
But the crackdown has spread to secular voices of dissent, and liberal politicians who supported Morsi's ouster and Sisi's rise have recently begun to express concern with the country's apparent turn toward oppression.
A new parliamentary election law, which Sisi will assess after he is inaugurated later this week, would institute rules making it harder for opposition parties to get elected, and many prominent figures who backed Sisi have said they will boycott an upcoming vote unless it is changed.