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Canadian Egyptians divided over vote in Egypt's presidential election

Presidential hopeful Hamdeen Sabahi greets his supporters after Friday prayers in Baltim city, 212 kilometers North of Cairo, Egypt, Friday, May 16, 2014. With only two people - former army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi - vying for the country's top post, the Egyptian election commission set the first round of voting for May 26 and 27, with results expected by June 5

Hamdeen Sabahi/AP

About 5,000 Canadian Egyptians lined up in Ottawa and Montreal on the weekend to participate in Egypt's second presidential election since the Arab Spring. While the first vote chose who would lead the country out of a swift, but messy, revolution, this election is about sending a message to doubtful onlookers or would-be autocrats.

Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi is almost certain to win. An enormously popular military leader, he rose to prominence when he took decisive action against then-president Mohammed Morsi last summer following mass protests against Mr. Morsi's one year of rule. The ousting was hailed as Egypt's second revolution by supporters, and as a coup by detractors and much of the international community.

Egyptians have lived through a tumultuous few years. Instead of improved freedoms and wealth distribution, the Jan. 25 Revolution in 2011 ushered in a period of economic turmoil, security threats, an unpopular Islamist president and mass detentions and killings since Mr. Morsi's ouster.

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Many believe Mr. el-Sissi will provide stability.

"We want to prove to the international community that we are going the right way," says Mohamed Elhalwagy, head of the Nile Association of Ontario. "We believe [Mr. el-Sissi] is the best one to help the country." He says the majority of the 300 or so Toronto-area Egyptians who boarded buses to Ottawa organized by the association are el-Sissi supporters.

There are only two candidates to choose from: Mr. el-Sissi; and leftist politician and activist Hamdeen Sabahi, who came in third in 2012 with 21 per cent of the vote. In the first round of the 2012 election, there were 13 candidates.

Fervour for the ex-military chief is omnipresent in Egypt – desserts are decorated with his image; banners line city streets; and videos featuring schoolgirls literally singing his praises circulate widely.

But he is also divisive.

"They're criminals," says Eaman Fahmy, a mother of five from the London, Ont., area, referring to the el-Sissi regime. "I don't want any part of it."

She cites anger with Mr. el-Sissi over Mr. Morsi's ouster, the killing of civilians in protests that followed and the human-rights violations that have taken place since, involving people she knows personally.

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It's been an "extremely trying period," in part because her husband, who is back and forth between Canada and Egypt, was at an anti-coup sit-in violently dispersed by police last summer, though neither he nor Ms. Fahmy support the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist political organization that was banned as an terrorist organization in December.

Ms. Fahmy, 51, boycotted this year's vote because she sees Mr. Sabahi as being complicit. "Hamdeen is not viable in my eyes."

Mr. Sabahi faces an uphill battle against an extensive PR machine and a media that idolizes his opponent.

Still, votes for him send a clear message to the presumed winner.

"I believe there should be some opposition. There needs to be an opposing voice," says Salma Nasr El Din, a 30-year-old Mississauga teacher. Her husband, Ehab Kamarah, 42, is also voting for Mr. Sabahi even though he believes Mr. el-Sissi is the strongman needed now. His vote is a statement: "It's healthy for [el-Sissi] and Egypt to not win with 95 per cent of the vote. There needs to be a balance."

Voting ran Thursday to Monday at the Egyptian embassy in Ottawa and the consulate in Montreal.

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