General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)
CAIRO - Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the general who toppled Egypt's first freely elected leader, swept to victory in a presidential election, provisional results showed on Thursday, joining a long line of leaders drawn from the military.
But a lower than expected turnout figure raised questions about Sisi's credibility after his supporters had idolized him as a hero who can deliver political and economic stability.
Sisi captured 93.3 percent of votes cast as counting nearly came to a close, judicial sources said. His only rival, leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi, gained 3.0 percent while 3.7 percent of votes were declared void.
Fireworks erupted in Cairo when Sisi's results began to emerge. His supporters waved Egyptian flags and sounded car horns on the crowded streets of the capital.
Celebrations lasted through the early hours of the morning.
About 1,000 people gathered in Tahrir Square, the symbolic heart of the popular uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and raised hopes of a democracy free of influence from the military. Sisi supporters honked car horns and waved flags.
Dancing dolls dressed in army fatigues quickly went on sale in Tahrir, a reminder of the army's wide influence in Egypt.
Sisi is the latest in a line of Egyptian rulers from the military that was only briefly broken during Islamist President Mohamed Morsi's year in office.
Sisi, who ousted Morsi last year after mass protests against his rule, is seen by supporters as a strong figure who can end the turmoil that has convulsed Egypt since the revolution that ended Mubarak's 30 years in power.
But critics fear he will become another autocrat who will preserve the army's interests, and quash hopes of democracy and reform aroused by the protests that swept Mubarak.
Sisi enjoys the backing of the powerful armed forces and the Interior Ministry, as well many politicians and former Mubarak officials now making a comeback.
"We are joyful because Sisi got so many votes, the results will come after an hour, we are here to celebrate," said Kawther Mohamed, who went to Tahrir with her daughters.
But the former military intelligence chief may not have the popular mandate to take the tough measures needed to restore healthy economic growth, ease poverty and unemployment, and end costly energy subsidies in the most populous Arab nation.
Turnout was 44.4 percent of Egypt's 54 million voters, according to the judicial sources. That would be less than the 40 million votes, or 80 percent of the electorate, that Sisi had called for last week.
It would also suggest that he had failed to rally the overwhelming support he hoped for after toppling Morsi.
A tour of Cairo polling stations on Wednesday saw only a trickle of voters. The same pattern emerged in Egypt's second city, Alexandria, Reuters reporters said.
In a country polarized since the revolt against Mubarak, many Egyptians said voters had stayed at home due to political apathy, opposition to another military man becoming president, discontent at suppression of freedoms among liberal youth, and calls for a boycott by Islamists.
The two-day vote was originally due to conclude on Tuesday but was extended until Wednesday evening to allow the "greatest number possible" to vote, state media reported.
Hossam Moanes, Sabahi's campaign manager, questioned the legitimacy of the vote, saying there had been violations.
"Until yesterday turnout was much lower than what was announced today. Did the percentage suddenly reach 46 percent?"