Sisi visits Sinai ahead of polling

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Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said militants in the Sinai Peninsula would soon be defeated as he visited troops there days ahead of an election set to earn him a second term, state news agency MENA reported.

Polls opened on Monday when voters choose between Sisi and one little-known candidate who supports the former field marshal. All serious opposition pulled out in January citing intimidation after the main challenger was jailed.

Sisi said he wanted more candidates to run for office,and the election commission says the vote will be free and fair.

Last November Sisi ordered the armed forces to crush Islamic State after an attack on a mosque that killed more than 300 people, in the deadliest such incident in Egypt’s history.

In February, Egypt’s military launched its most publicised operation yet against the jihadists, who have waged years of attacks on the police and troops.

MENA said Sisi spoke with pilots and troops during his visit to an air base in North Sinai, a restive desert region where Islamists have been holed up for years.
“Soon we will come here to celebrate victory over the deviants of the age,” MENA quoted him as saying, referring to the jihadists.

SINAI ATTACKS

Egypt’s military says its current operation against militants in Sinai featured unprecedented co-ordination between the army, navy and air force. Analysts and diplomats say they have seen little evidence of new tactics that would clear North Sinai of the militants.

The militants in Sinai intensified attacks after the ouster by Sisi and the military in 2013 of Egypt’s first freely-elected president, Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood. Sisi was elected in a landslide vote a year later.

Sisi critics say his presidency brought a harsh crackdown on dissent, supporters say such measures are needed to stabilise Egypt, rocked by years of unrest after protests toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Authorities arrested hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters since Sisi, a former general, swept to office in 2014 on promises of restoring security in Egypt.

Sisi is virtually guaranteed to win a second four-year term, with voters hoping he can improve Egypt’s struggling economy.



The International Monetary Fund, which agreed a $12 billion loan with Egypt in late 2016, has praised government’s austerity measures and a devaluation of the currency, saying they have improved some economic indicators, though many Egyptians still feel worse off.