Cairo: Campaigning opens Saturday in Egypt for a May election likely to be won by the ex-army chief who deposed the elected president, after deadly bombings underscored tensions ahead of the vote.
The May 26-27 presidential poll, meant to restore elected rule following the July overthrow of Islamist Mohamed Morsi, is widely seen as a done deal that will place former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in power.
His only rival, Hamdeen Sabbahi, came third in the 2012 election which Morsi won, and faces a groundswell of support for Sisi since the ouster of the divisive Islamist leader.
Sabbahi says he represents the ideals of the 2011 uprising that overthrew veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak.
But more than three tumultuous year later, many voters yearn for a self proclaimed strong leader such as Sisi to restore stability.
Sisi, reviled by Morsi`s Islamist supporters, has vowed to stamp out a surge in militant attacks such as the two bombings on Friday that killed a policeman in the capital and a soldier in the Sinai Peninsula.
If he wins, he will restore a line of military men at the helm of the country that was briefly interrupted by the civilian Morsi`s year in power.
Morsi`s Muslim Brotherhood and the militants are expected to increase protests and attacks should Sisi win, despite the widest crackdown on Islamists in decades.
At least 1,400 people, mostly Islamists, have been killed in street clashes, including hundreds on August 14 alone, while thousands have been jailed and placed on trials.The crackdown has extended to target secular activist groups that supported Morsi`s overthrow but have since turned on the army-installed military as it tightens the clamps on dissent.
Last week, a court banned the April 6 movement, which spearheaded the revolt against Mubarak. Its leader Ahmed Maher is already in prison for participating in an unlicenced protest last year.
Another court that day sentenced to death 683 people, including the Brotherhood`s supreme guide Mohamed Badie, for deadly riots in August.
The ruling, the latest in a flurry of mass trials of Islamists, sparked an international outcry and sent a chill through the opposition and human rights advocates in Egypt.
But many in the Egyptian media, which is almost universally hostile to the Islamists, welcomed the verdict.
The government and much of the media say the Brotherhood is a terrorist group responsible for much of the attacks since Morsi`s overthrow, which have killed almost 500 security personnel.
And many Egyptians are more concerned with a return to stability and law and order to restore the battered economy following a sharp drop in foreign investments and tourism.
If he wins Sisi, who promises to salvage the economy, is expected to slash a bloated subsidy system that has kept some food items and gas at extremely low prices.
Such a move may fuel unrest by erstwhile supporters as prices and inflation rise.
Sisi has not yet unveiled his election programme, with campaign officials saying he wanted to wait until campaigning begins. The campaigning period ends on May 23.
The retired field marshal is not expected to attend public rallies during campaigning, out of security concerns.