Egypt on its way to democracy
It took three years and two revolutions for Egyptians to set themselves on the start line on the track to full democracy, a civil State and freedom.
Back in February 2011, a popular uprising which brought about the stepping down of long time President Hosni Mubarak also brought in conflict, chaos, a spate of Islamist rule under the Muslim Brother (MB) President Muhammad Mursi and, one year on, a revolution that overthrew Mursi and the MB.
Now Egyptians have in place a new Constitution they have overwhelmingly endorsed by a landslide 98 per cent vote, and it’s time to move on to elect a new president and new parliament.
Last week saw several steps in that direction.
Sisi poised for the presidency
Perhaps the move the majority of Egyptians had waited for was an indication that General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi would run for president. He had never explicitly said he would, but then neither had he ruled out the possibility. Last Monday, President Adly Mansour promoted Sisi from Major General to Field Marshal, a final honour before he would resign his post as head of the Armed Forces, and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) issued a statement unanimously approving Sisi’s nomination for president. “The SCAF looks with respect and honour to the desire of the large masses of the great Egyptian people that Abdel Fattah al-Sisi should run for the presidency. It considers this a mandate and an obligation,” the military high command said in a statement.
So it was a matter of hours, or at most days, for the 59-year-old Sisi to leave the Armed Forces and his post as Defence Minister and run for president. The state-owned Cairo daily al-Ahram said that his chief-of-staff General Sobhy Sedqy would replace him as head of the Armed Forces.
The general feeling was one of rejoicing, anticipation, and defiance in the face of the horrendous threats and acts of terrorism by the MB who were taking their revenge against the Egyptian people and police for overthrowing Mursi last July. Marshal Sisi is for Egyptians the epitome of patriotism and decisiveness, and they look forward for him to be president. He is expected to win the presidential race without a doubt. For his part, Mursi was on trial on various charges ranging from the killing of protestors and police to espionage.
Presidential elections first
President Adly Mansour had last Sunday announced that presidential elections in Egypt would be held in the near future, as soon as the Higher Elections Committee makes the preparations necessary for them. The upcoming elections would constitute the second step Egyptians take along the Roadmap their representatives set up last July for a future civil State of democracy and freedom. The first step was the establishment of the new Constitution, and the last would be parliamentary elections once a new president is in office.
President Mansour tweaked the original Roadmap which had proposed parliamentary elections first. But since the new Constitution has made provision for presidential elections to precede parliamentary elections, the President’s decision is not baseless. It was grounded in his reading of the political scene in Egypt and the meetings he held with the icons of the national and political forces.
The announcement generated a sense of comfort among the majority of Egyptians who agree that the current security situation requires the presence of a strong elected president when parliamentary elections are held. The latter are more often than not embroiled in strong clan and partisan loyalties, meaning that conflict, clashes and street fights are often the order of the day. The current precarious security situation would in all probability render the added burden of securing conflict-ridden parliamentary elections insupportable for the police. Politicians see an added advantage to pushing parliamentary elections later: it would offer the political parties that emerged after the 25 January Revolution in 2011 precious time to re consolidate their ranks and set up strategies to run in the elections.
Former presidential candidate Abul-Ezz al-Hariri says President Mansour’s decision is sound. Mr Hariri says that, now that we have endorsed a Constitution, we urgently need a strong, decisive person in charge to handle the security challenges, on both local and foreign fronts, and especially to confront the terrorist attacks against the country.
As for the article in the Constitution that stipulates that the President of the Republic must be sworn in before the parliament, Mr Hariri explains that there is a constitutional alternative in case there is no parliament: the president may then take oath before the Supreme Constitutional Court.
In the same vein, security expert General Fouad Allam assures that with a new president in office measures and regulations may be put in place to enforce law and order, enhance security, and regulate issues related to politics and elections in general. This should pave the way for parliamentary elections, the third step along the Roadmap, to take place in peace and order.
General Allam stresses that both parliamentary and presidential elections require strong security measures, but parliamentary elections are riddled with conflict and violence related to clan loyalties, which makes extensive security measures imperative. Presidential elections, he says, are by comparison usually peaceful.
Marguerite Azer of Free Egyptians Party and former MP, believes the Egyptian street now needs more than ever a leader that would unite its various factions, and this can be only be achieved by holding presidential elections first. Parliamentary elections by contrast are rather divisive.
The people of Egypt, Ms Azer says, need a leader who speaks in their name and guarantees stability and security. This would also benefit Egypt on the international front where many countries prefer not to deal with interim governments and place all treaties, whether economic, commercial or cultural on hold.
Sisi outshines all others
For Ahmed Hassan Amin, Secretary-General of the Nasserite Party, presidential elections first come in answer to wide popular demand. Amid the widespread terrorist attacks by the MB, the priority is to choose a strong leader. As Egyptian masses took to the streets last weekend to celebrate the third anniversary of the 25 January 2011 Revolution there was a popular consensus on mandating Major General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, today Field Marshal Sisi. The mandate reflects the will of the apolitical public as well as the political movements and parties.
But if Marshal Sisi runs for president, and in view of his overwhelming popularity, would other presidential candidates still proceed with their presidential bid or would they rethink it? Mr Amin admits that Marshal Sisi’s decision would definitely reduce the number of candidates since many presidential hopefuls will rethink running against a man of such immense popularity. But this does not diminish in any sense, he says, the right of any Egyptian who sees in himself or herself the capability and competence to run for president.
Thousands of endorsements
Mr Amin stresses the importance of amending the current election laws according to the provisions of the new Constitution. Article 141 says: A presidential candidate must be an Egyptian born to Egyptian parents, and neither he, his parents or his spouse may have held another citizenship. He must qualify for civil and political rights, must have performed the military service or have been exempted therefrom by law, and cannot be younger than 40 years on the day candidacy registration is opened. Other requirements for candidacy are set out by law. Article 142 stipulates that: To be accepted as a candidate for the presidency, candidates must receive the recommendation of at least 20 elected members of the House of Representatives, or endorsements from at least 25,000 citizens who have the right to vote, in at least 15 governorates, with a minimum of 1,000 endorsements from each governorate. In all cases, no one can endorse more than one candidate. This is regulated by the law.
Although some details concerning the presidential elections have raised minor controversy and may be subject to future amendment—the number of citizens required to endorse a presidential candidate might be amended to 20,000 instead of 25,000—there is no other way under the current situation and the absence of a parliament but to start collecting signatures from all governorates to endorse potential presidential candidates.
29 January 2014