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Egypt’s Rigged Presidential Elections

Egypt’s Rigged Presidential Elections
 Michel Duclos
Special Advisor and Resident Senior Fellow - Geopolitics and Diplomacy

This could be a political twist of Agatha Christie’s novel And Then There Were None as we progressively came closer to the 29 January deadline for submitting candidacies to Egypt’s presidential elections (26 to 28 March), candidates started disappearing one after the other.

Thus, Colonel Ahmed Konsowa was sentenced to jail in December 2017, General Ahmed Chafik, who was briefly Prime Minister at the end of Hosni Mubarak’s rule and an unfortunate candidate to the 2012 elections, was forced to withdraw on January 7. Mohamed Anwar al-Sadat and Human Rights advocate Khaled Ali preferred to give up on their candidacies. Last but not least, General Sami Anan, former Chief of the General Staff to the Supreme Council of the Egyptian Armed Forces (SCAF), considered as President Sissi’s most credible challenger, was arrested on 23 January, three days after he announced his intention to run. 

"Results will be announced on 2 April. Chances that there will be a second round are slim, to not say non-existent."

Confronted to a fierce political pressure, even experienced politicians such as Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh and various intellectuals resigned themselves to a call for boycott. This led Aboul Fotouh, former candidate in the last elections and former Muslim Brother, to be thrown into jail. Finally, to avoid a single candidacy, the government had to convince el-Ghad party leader Moussa Mostapha Moussa, who was still supporting Sissi the day before, to announce his candidacy. This is far from the dozen of truly representative nominations encouraged during the 2012 elections, including those of Amr Moussa and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, both offering clear-cut alternatives, competing against General al-Sisi, who was already a candidate at the time.

The campaign for the presidential elections’ first round runs from 24 February to 23 March, and the vote is open from 26 to 28 March. Results will be announced on 2 April. Chances that there will be a second round are slim, to not say non-existent. 

It goes without saying that eliminating all the candidates who have the potential to even vaguely threaten General al-Sisi’s reelection before the vote is a sign of weakness. Are the authorities afraid of public opinion? It would not be surprising, given that IMF's Approach to Economic Stabilization has further impoverished the population without curbing mass unemployment, and that the elimination of the Muslim Brotherhood has encouraged a return to fierce repression. The relief of finally emerging from a phase of turmoils, and even terror, (Morsi’s time in power, from June 2013 to July 2013, followed by the military coup) is still widely felt, at least in certain social classes, but is mitigated by the military regime’s "security" record. Indeed, this track record is hardly convincing given the encystment of a jihadist threat in Sinai, coupled with numerous bloody attacks which occured in some major cities, such as Alexandria and Cairo (March 2015, December 2016, April 2017 ...).

"Several aspects of Sissi’s international stance may also have provoked disagreements within the army"

Above all, the several candidacies of high-up military men and the way they were brutally eliminated reflects a certain discontent within the military institution. No one believes that General Ahmed Chafik and even more General Sami Anan would have engaged in the campaign without the endorsement of  at least parts of the SCAF. Other signs such as unexpected transfers or visible tensions between intelligence services confirm that the atmosphere is hardly serene. Where would these potential dissensions come from? Do they bear on the very personality of President Sissi, on his methods, or on the challenge posed by the rise of jihadism, especially in Sinai? One could think that the Egyptian army’s relative failure to counter this threat is indeed a source of tension between military officials. Several aspects of Sissi’s international stance may also have provoked disagreements within the army: the distancing of America, relations with Israel, the country’s isolation, partly due to bad relations with Sudan and Ethiopia over Nile-related issues, and finally, a difficult relationship with Saudi Arabia, an Egypt’s indispensable funder, which The country followed during the Gulf, yet with whom it disagreed on the Syrian issue. One particular issue - the retrocession of the Tiran and Sanafir islets, located at the entrance of the Aqaba Gulf, to the Saudi Kingdom, despite the Supreme Administrative Court’s judgment - contributes to the unpopularity of Sissi’s regime. 

Seen from abroad, Egypt’s continuous weakening over the past years - which began before the end of Mubarak's rule - is one of the factors contributing to Middle East’s instability. Egypt was traditionally one of the pillars of the Middle East. The clash between Saudi Arabia and Iran would probably not have reached such levels of acuity had Egypt been able to play its traditional role. Unfortunately, the way the Muslim Brotherhood ruled the country after Mubarak’s fall, as well as the first free elections pushed Egypt in a spiral of destabilization. The Brotherhood disappeared but military forces are currently allied to a Salafist party which legitimizes their power. Meanwhile, Egyptian jails, full up to the brim, yet this time with jihadists rather than with Muslim Brothers (on this issue, see the testimony published by Orient XXI) once again foster extremism. The vanishing of dozens of people each week, (according to humanitarian organizations) probably have a similar effect.

"However, one can doubt that the Egyptian economy can really recover without Western, and especially European, investments."

How can this circle be broken? In recent months, the Sissi administration has made some progress on the macroeconomic level, after a currency devaluation and periods of fluctuation on the pound. Budget deficits are starting to decrease. Inflation is more and more controlled. The growth rate is around 5%, which is the best figure in the region. Tourism remains shattered but foreign investments are returning, from China for example. The size of the Egyptian domestic market (95 million inhabitants) remains attractive. However, one can doubt that the Egyptian economy can really recover without Western, and especially European, investments. However, such investments will only materialize if the internal political situation takes a different direction, offering the prospect of real stabilization.

Will the Egyptian presidential election be an opportunity for the military regime to realize what its people truly need? Not only does Egypt lack profound economic reforms, but it is also in need of political openness in order to respond to its population’s aspirations, particularly that of young people, who remember all too well the promises of Tahrir Square.

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