The door has not yet opened for presidential hopefuls to present their candidacy in the Egyptian presidential elections, the second since the 25 January 2011 Revolution. However,
unlike the previous presidential elections in 2012 when the fight was between supporters of the modern civil State and those backing a religious Islamist State, the Egyptian people do not appear preoccupied with the potential candidates; they appear to have already made up their minds. A large majority is obviously for Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi as the country’s upcoming president, and a feeble minority is against him. As matters stand today, and barring any major changes on the Egyptian political scene, the votes of the not-for-Sisi minority appear to carry no great weight given the landslide vote Sisi is expected to win. Voters who don’t intend to vote for Sisi may be as yet undecided, but the Sisi voters have already made up their minds and, according to all appearances, are highly unlikely to change them.
The Islamists who won the presidency in 2012 dragged the country to the verge of collapse and jeopardised the very Egyptianness of Egypt in their attempt to Islamise the country. Worse, they took care to render impotent all the tools of democracy and all the system of checks and balances which gives democracy its bite. Egyptians saw very clearly that when it was time for the next elections there would be not the merest chance of their being free or democratic; it was Islamist now Islamist forever. The people of Egypt rebelled; some 33 million took to the streets on 30 June to bring down the Islamist president Muhammad Mursi who belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and his regime. They looked desperately for a way out, for a saviour whom they found in the army and its leader, then Major-General Sisi. By taking the people’s side against the Islamist regime and ousting President Mursi, Sisi lived up to the people’s expectations and became their legendary popular hero, saviour and deliverer from the Islamists. With his wisdom and bold decisions, he is now widely regarded as the country’s staunch guardsman against any threat to the Egyptian nation’s identity and future.
Standing up to the West
Further enhancing Sisi’s image as national saviour is his standing up to the US and its EU allies who have been applying almost intolerable pressure on Egypt to accept and include the MB. To this end, Egyptians have observed, aghast, the facts on the ground in their country falsified and twisted by the western media and political leaders to favour the MB. The MB were consistently depicted as the peaceful, non-violent, unarmed victims of police brutality, and the atrocious crimes and terrorism they have conducted against the Egyptian people, police, and military have been systematically downplayed. The result was that the reconciliation touted by the West has been rejected by the wide majority of Egyptians who regard the MB as Egypt’s Nazis, and by the MB themselves who reject any conciliation unless they are reinstated to the former power they held. Amid this gruelling tug-of-war, Field Marshal Sisi worked to strengthen ties with Russia and was off to Moscow earlier this month where he signed a USD3 billion arms deal with Russia and was backed in his run for presidency by no less that Vladimir Putin himself. Putin told Sisi: “I know you have made a decision to run for the post of president of Egypt. It is a very responsible decision to assume this mission and responsibility for the fate of the Egyptian people.”
Compared to De Gaulle and Eisenhower
Abdel-Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil al-Sisi, born on 19 November 1954, is Commander-in-Chief of Egypt’s Armed Forces and has been Minister of Defence since 12 August 2012. He graduated from the Egyptian Military Academy in 1977, served in the infantry and was later appointed Commander of the Northern Military Region before becoming Director of the Military Intelligence. He is married and father of three sons and a daughter.
Field Marshal Sisi has been compared—favourably—to former Egyptian leaders Gamal Abdel-Nasser and Anwar al-Sadat. Nasser is widely regarded as the leader who spearheaded the power of the people and the Arab nationalist movement, and Sadat was the hero who led Egypt to victory in the 1973 October War against Israel, and later made peace with Israel and regained Sinai.
The enormous popular pressure for Sisi to run for president has also brought on comparisons with WWII French and American heroes Charles De Gaulle and Dwight D. Eisenhower, who subsequently took office. De Gaulle is seen as the godfather of the fifth Republic and the hero of France’s fight against Hitler’s Nazi occupation. After fleeing to London in the first days of German occupation, De Gaulle set up the Free French Forces, who fought beside the Allies, and sent his famous radio appeals to the French people rallying against the Nazis: “Has the last word been said? Must hope disappear? Is defeat final? No!… Whatever happens, the flame of the French resistance must not be extinguished and will not be extinguished.”
Renowned writer Gamal al-Ghitani believes it is such a rallying call that Egypt needs now. “Egypt is in dire need of great men who ignite the spirit of determination and challenge,” he says. The country is facing great perils and needs a charismatic leader like De Gaulle, and for this he sees no other person than Field Marshal Sisi.
Despite the huge popular support for Field Marshal Sisi’s presidential bid, there is already one candidate, Hamdeen Sabahi of the Egyptian Popular Current who is a leftist and has decided to run against the Field Marshal. Mr Sabahi, 59, ran the 2012 presidential race and came out third with some 21 per cent of the votes. A former journalist, he is a leading opposition figure, and had been imprisoned several times during former regimes in Egypt for political dissidence. He participated strongly in the 2011 revolution which brought down long-time President Hosni Mubarak, and became famous as a revolution figure. His popularity, however, waned because of what was seen as his inconsistent political views and loyalties, and veritably paled before that of Field Marshal Sisi.
Another leftist, Khaled Ali, who also ran in the 2012 presidential elections and only attained some 0.5 per cent of the vote is again expected to run in 2014 but has not given a final word yet. Mr Ali is a prominent Egyptian lawyer and activist, known for his advocacy for public and corporate governance and for zealously promoting social justice and labour rights. At 42, he is the youngest candidate.
Perhaps the most controversial figure who has declared his intention to run for the presidency, however, is Lieutenant General Sami Anan, the former Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, who was a consultant to Mursi but was dismissed by the former president in August 2012. The Lieutenant General has given no clue of his platform, but has adamantly declared he would run.
It is not far-fetched that others may appear on the scene once the candidacy for the president’s office is officially opened.
Ammar Ali Hassan, political analyst and expert at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS), believes that if Field Marshal Sisi resigns from his post as Defence Minister and runs for president, he and all other presidential candidates must be given an equal chance with respect to media coverage, making media appearances, presenting their platform, campaigning and holding rallies. The final decision must be left to the Egyptian people to vote for whomever they choose.
Dr Hassan denies that Field Marshal Sisi is the army’s candidate for the presidency. “As a member of the Armed Forces, he had to ask the military to endorse his bid for president. This does not mean that he will be the army’s man in power because the army belongs to the people and not to specific persons. This is what happened in January 2011 when the army took the side of the revolution, although Mubarak was also Commander of the Armed Forces,” he explains.
Hussam-eldin Ali, spokesman for the Mu’tamar party, says Mr Sabahi’s decision to run for president will result in the fragmentation of the votes supporting Field Marshal Sisi. He wrote on his Twitter account that Mr Sabahi’s candidacy could be considered an indicator of the scale of the civil opposition, and pointed out that votes could further be fragmented in case another liberal or revolutionary figure decides to run for president.
Tamer Hendawi, a member of the January revolutionary youth, is among those opposed to Field Marshal Sisi’s presidential bid. He believes there are four main losses that will be incurred should this happen. First, Sisi will lose popular consensus and will fall from the rank of national hero to mere presidential candidate. Egypt will also lose a main balancing factor of the political equation, one who is not directly involved in it yet acts as a guarantor to it. Moreover, if the armed forces immerse themselves in politics and become another political front, this will be considered a big loss for the military institution. Last but not least, the active participation of the people in politics, a fruit of the January revolution, will be forever lost and the people will revert to their role of spectator.
Bassem Kamel of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, posted on his official Facebook page: “I appreciate Sisi’s patriotic role and his support of the will of the people in 30 June 2013; nevertheless, I am completely against his run for president for the sake of his credibility and the impartiality of the military institution. The army is supposed to protect, not rule.”
Treading on thorns
Hani al-Aasar, a researcher at ACPSS, calls the current political situation in Egypt “pathetic”, because of the lack of political movements capable of mobilising the Egyptian public.
What makes things worse, Mr Aasar says, is that many young public figures who were considered icons of the 25 January Revolution have now shown their true faces. Recordings leaked recently have exposed operations in which they are involved, such as receiving foreign financing, breaking into State apparatuses and blackmailing their colleagues. These leaks have destroyed the image and weakened the position of any politician who has worked with them or used their slogans.
So it is that while Field Marshal Sisi’s star is rising, other presidential hopefuls are desperately struggling to gain supporters.
“This makes us believe strongly that if Sisi runs for president, he will win by a landslide,” Mr Aasar says. “But one must not forget that Sisi’s road to the presidency is paved with perils on both the domestic and foreign fronts.”
Economic expert Mukhtar al-Sharif sees that the main obstacle facing Field Marshal Sisi or any other elected president is the problems that have been piling up for more than fifty years. Some of these problems are related to health, education, and technological advance which are all major problems that require extensive funding. Other problems relate to the massive water crisis expected in the future, and the rational consumption of water required to cushion it, as well as the expected shortage in energy supply. Add to that the problem of slums and their sociological implications. “All in all,” Mr Sharif says, “Egypt’s next president is heading into a real mine field.”
In all cases, the final word will be that of the people.
23 February 2014