Cairo: Egyptians vote in a presidential election on Monday expected to sweep former army chief Abdel Fatah al-Sisi into office, reviving strongman rule three years after a popular uprising raised hopes of democracy free from military influence.
Sisi has been widely regarded as Egypt`s de facto leader since he toppled Islamist President Mohamed Mursi last July and cracked down on his Muslim Brotherhood in the bloodiest chapter of the country`s modern peacetime history.
He has acknowledged the scale of Egypt`s problems, including an energy crisis and Islamist militant violence that has driven away foreign investors and tourists, hammering the economy.
"The challenges present in Egypt are so many," he told Reuters in an interview this month. "I believe that within two years of serious, continuous work we can achieve the type of improvement Egyptians are looking for.
Sisi`s sole competitor is Hamdeen Sabahi, a leftist politician who finished third in the 2012 election which brought Mursi to power. Polling stations open at 9 am (0600 GMT) and although the result appears a foregone conclusion, a big turnout would be seen as a strong mandate for Sisi`s rule.
Supporters regard Sisi, who resigned from the military earlier this year, as a decisive figure who can stabilize Egypt, a strategic US ally in the heart of the Arab world. His opponents, mostly in the Islamist opposition, say he is the mastermind of a coup that robbed Egypt`s first freely-elected leader of power.
They fear Sisi will rule Egypt with an iron fist just like other former military men did, and say he will protect the political and economic interests of the generals and businessmen who amassed fortunes before the 2011 uprising which toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak but remain influential.
Security forces have largely driven the Brotherhood underground after hundreds were killed and thousands arrested. More than a thousand Brotherhood supporters have been sentenced to death on charges including inciting violence after the army overthrew Mursi.