Saturday 2 June saw President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi head to Egypt’s House of Representatives to be sworn in for a second term as president. He was greeted with a 21-gun salute as fighter jets flew overhead releasing smoke that outlined the tri-colour Egyptian flag: red, white, and black.
Once he arrived, a military band played the national anthem, following which the President shook hands with the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmad al-Tayyeb; Pope Tawadros II, Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church; also the Premier, Cabinet Ministers, and senior officials who lined up to welcome him.
The 63-year-old president had last March won a landslide 97 per cent vote on a 41 per cent turnout, a good turnout by Egyptian standards.
The President’s supporters are happy with the regained peace and stability his first term brought following the turmoil, unrest, and economic doldrums Egypt sank into in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring and its Islamist-led aftermath. They are relieved Egypt is now a secular State, and is rid of the Muslim Brothers (MB) whom Egyptians had given a chance to run the country after the Arab Spring. The MB rule, however, was so undemocratic, harsh, and belligerent that Egyptians rebelled against it in a massive 30-million strong revolution on 30 June 2013. The then Field Marshal Sisi was Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and, seeing the looming prospect of civil war and the strong call by the people for the Armed Forces to step in and save the situation, did step in. He gave the then President, the MB Muhammad Mursi an ultimatum to respond to the people’s demands; Mr Mursi arrogantly rejected it; the military handed over the presidency to the Head of the Supreme Constitutional Court; and Egypt embarked on a secular course. A new Constitution was established, Sisi was voted in as President in 2014, and a new parliament elected.
President Sisi is widely criticised for the spiralling prices brought about by the economic reform measures which are seen by mainstream Egyptians as overly harsh. The economy is inching up and the GDP has risen, but Egyptians feel the sting of austerity measures and subsidy cuts.
The President’s opponents say he has restricted freedoms, but his supporters see it as a price to be paid for stability and the bloody battle Egypt is waging against post-June 2013 Islamic terror.
Egyptian identity takes precedence
President Sisi took the oath for his second term: “I vow to faithfully preserve the republican system; to respect the Constitution and the law; to fully care for the interest of the people; and to preserve the independence of the homeland, its unity, and safety of its land.”
The President asked everyone present to stand up in observance of a minute of silence in honour of all the sacrifices offered by “our great people”. He said it was not only in honour of those from the military, police, and civilians who laid down their lives for Egypt, but also for all kinds of sacrifices offered.
“Let me renew with you the covenant and contract to confront challenges in our existential battle to rebuild our country … as we guard our national mass alive and active,” he said. “I have been pleased to head the rescue of this nation from those who trade in religion and freedom … I applaud the Egyptian people on their free solid will, al-Azhar on its moderate Islam, and the Coptic Church as a symbol of peace … also Egypt’s women and all family members young and old who engaged in the effort to build and develop this country for a future of modernity, freedom, and democracy.”
Mega projects targeting economic, political, and social reform have been achieved during the first term, the President reminded. “Now,” he said, “our main concern will be the comprehensive building of the Egyptian in body, mind, and culture. Health and education will be given top priority; the Egyptian identity will be reinstated following attempts to tamper with it. [In this, the President appeared to be alluding to Islamist calls that the Islamic identity should take precedence over Egyptianness.]
It’s about inclusion
President Sisi said he desired to create a “common space” that would include all Egyptians, and exclude only those “who chose violence, terrorism and extremist thought as a way to impose their will”.
“Together,” he said addressing the House of Representatives, “we can confront all economic, social and political challenges.”
“Ladies and Gentlemen, the great people of Egypt,” President Sisi concluded, “Long Live Egypt … Long Live Egypt … Long Live Egypt!”
3 June 2018