BANHA, Egypt — His face smiles down from campaign banners everywhere, but splashes of red paint have bloodied a few.
Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the former army field marshal who led the military takeover last summer, is certain to win a landslide victory in the pro forma presidential election on Monday and Tuesday. But in this town about 30 miles north of Cairo, the mood is a discordant mix of murmured resignation, rapturous enthusiasm and old political machinery creaking back into action.
Disgruntled Egyptians scrawl “CC killer,” for short, on the walls or splash the red paint on Mr. Sisi’s posters to protest the deadly crackdown on his Islamist opponents. His supporters cheer for the return of a military man to the presidency. And businessmen and politicians who once backed President Hosni Mubarak are pouring their energy and resources into hanging Sisi campaign banners, many emblazoned with their faces and names in hopes of earning the good will of Egypt’s new ruler and his local allies.
But if the scene in Banha illustrates why Mr. Sisi is sure to win this week, it may also illuminate the growing challenges he will face if he hopes to achieve a durable stability, in part because his decision to run for president has already diminished his claim to be above the political fray.
“Didn’t he say in that conference hall that he doesn’t want power?” said Ahmed Galal, 24, recalling Mr. Sisi’s announcement that he was deposing President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood to install a new government. Mr. Sisi “married illegitimately, in secret, and now he is trying to legalize the marriage,” Mr. Galal said.
Among the dozens of residents interviewed, Mr. Galal was the only one critical of Mr. Sisi who was willing to be quoted by name. The others said they were too afraid of arrest or other penalties; Mr. Sisi is seen as the candidate of the military and the police. Many said the compressed campaign, lasting just three weeks, had scarcely touched Banha anyway.
A teacher relaxing by the Nile called the race “a theatrical play — a really, really bad one.” His friend, a fellow teacher, interrupted, saying, “There has been no campaigning at all, so what are you talking about?”
Mr. Sisi has apparently not left Cairo during the campaign. He has not made any personal appearances or attended any rallies, preferring to use television interviews, video conferences and an Instagram account. He did not release a detailed policy program.
Here, in the capital of Qaliubeya Province, he did not even open a campaign office. Instead, he absorbed or collaborated with the local “campaigns” to draft him that sprang up before he entered the race.
“The striking thing about the field marshal’s campaign is that he is not seeking out the people; the people are seeking out him,” said Zain Sarhan, 48, a former Mubarak backer who is now campaigning for Mr. Sisi.
Mr. Sarhan has provided campaign materials from a 300-employee paper factory that he owns. And he has overseen a youth campaign through his connections as chief of security at Banha University, a powerful post with close ties to the security services.
Retired military officers have campaigned for Mr. Sisi, who also served as defense minister, and many local businessmen have contributed money, said Mahmoud Hassan, 22, the coordinator of the local youth campaign that Mr. Sarhan oversees. On Monday and Tuesday, he said, some of the businessmen would provide transportation for Sisi voters, a regular practice of Mr. Mubarak’s political machine.
Mr. Sisi is competing against a lesser-known, underfunded and ideologically similar opponent, Hamdeen Sabahi, but his real foes, the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood, have boycotted the election as illegitimate. His supporters said their main concern was voter turnout.
Several local residents said Mr. Sisi’s campaign had, perversely, pushed them away, in part because he now appeared to be just like any other politician. They said they worried about Mr. Sisi’s tough talk, especially demands for patience and hard work.
“People became a little afraid of him,” a 37-year-old restaurant worker said.
Some bemoaned the lack of public debate. “Where are all the media professionals who used to criticize Morsi all day?” asked Ahmed, who said he was a retired officer in Mr. Mubarak’s presidential guard but declined to give his full name. “Now they are standing like statues. The media makes it look like Sabahi is just an extra.” A friend agreed. “The fear is back,” he said.
In a class of 32 college students in the Caravan tutoring center, seven said they would vote for Mr. Sisi and the rest said they would not vote at all. “I already have a president,” one woman said, referring to Mr. Morsi.
Another said that Mr. Sisi’s popularity was suffering “because of all the people he killed” at Islamist protests against the takeover, adding, “And I am not from the Muslim Brotherhood.”
A 35-year-old assistant medical professor at Banha University was pragmatic, arguing that Mr. Sisi had a better chance to govern effectively than either his opponent or Mr. Morsi because he had the unanimous support of the security agencies and the established media. But, he added, “At some point Sisi is going to have to come down and face the public.”
Security officers had repeatedly arrested students in his classrooms, and they had closed the dorms to prevent riots, he said. “If things continue to be like this,” he said, “it will not be good for Sisi.”
Among an older crowd at a bus stop, men sang his praises. Taher Saleh, 57, a van driver, commended Mr. Sisi for withholding details of his plans as president because he was “protecting the country and its secrets.”
In a nearby cafe, Gamal Ghanem, 52, a laborer, insisted that “Egypt has always been ruled by military men” and credited Mr. Sisi’s intervention with pulling Egypt from the brink of civil war.
As defense minister, Mr. Sisi “was more powerful than he will be as the president, but the will of the people made him change his mind and give it up,” Mr. Ghanem said.
Gamal Ragab, 45, a contractor, said: “Sisi runs in our hearts, in our veins. We love him. And this is not fear, this is love.”
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(via NY Times)