Sisi’s One-Man Show

No serious candidates allowed in Egypt’s upcoming elections

By Abdel Bari Atwan

Following the arrest of former Egyptian army chief Gen. Sami Anan after he threw his hat into the ring to contest the forthcoming presidential elections, and the earlier withdrawal of three other candidates including the lawyer Khaled Ali, author Alaa Aswani posted a job advertisement on his Twitter feed.

It read: “Required: Presidential candidate, aged over 40, to lose the elections to President (Abdelfattah) Sisi. Walk-on part with speaking role. No previous experience necessary. Alluring media coverage, privileges and financial reward. Will obtain between 0.5 and 1.0 per cent of the vote. Auditions held at 10:00 am daily at intelligence headquarters. No intermediaries.”

This in may respects describes the role played by former interim president Adli Mansour, who was appointed after the 2013 military coup and held the job until Sisi formally took over.

Egypt’s 25 January 2011 revolution, whose anniversary is being marked these days, overthrew one of the Arab world’s most corrupt dictatorships and led to the first, and perhaps last, free and transparent democratic elections in Egypt’s history. The military establishment, which oversaw the process and accepted its results, ceded power to an elected parliament and president. It seemed to be acting as genuine guarantor of the country’s security and stability and protector of its new democratic dispensation.

How did this institution and its role change into what we see today?

Seven years on from the revolution, Egypt’s democratic outlook is far from rosy. Two months before the presidential elections are due to be held, the country is still looking for a strong candidate, and not a mere bit-part actor, to contest them and compete against Sisi as a serious contender. We can confidently predict that  this search will take a long time, that if a suitable candidate is found they will not  not be allowed to stand, and if anyone does stand they will not win even if the entire Egyptian electorate votes for them.

Article V of the Egyptian Constitution states that the source of legitimacy is the establishment of a political system based on multi-party pluralism and the peaceful transfer of power. Reality on the ground bears no resemblance to this. The genuine opposition has been totally stifled, its members either behind bars or in exile, and the ‘elected’ parliament is the voice of the ruler rather than the representative of the ruled.

The presidential elections are sure to be held on time, and they will be free and fair, but only in accordance with the specifications sought by Sisi. He has urged Egyptians to turn out and vote for whichever candidate they choose. But at present there are no candidates other than Sisi himself. Everyone who has taken the risk of announcing their candidacy has either been jailed, like Gen. Anan, placed under house arrest, like that other general Ahmad Shafiq, or opted to save their skins by withdrawing, such as Khaled Ali and Muhammad Anwar as-Sadat.

As things stand, three predictions can be made about the forthcoming presidential elections. Sisi will win a second term as president, perhaps to be followed by a third, fourth and fifth. They will not be free or fair by any conventional standard. And turnout will be low due to public indifference.

After he was elected president in 2012, Muhammad Mursi lavished extravagant praise on the Egyptian military and security establishments. He bent over backwards to appease them and avoid incurring their anger. But that did not earn him forgiveness, nor prevent him from being ousted a year later and thrown into jail.

Sisi is a son of the military establishment, and we must take issue with those who question his competence or skills. He has managed to impose a cast-iron grip on the military and also the parallel security/intelligence establishment. He fired intelligence chief Gen. Khaled al-Fawzi on the mere suspicion that he and his institution were sympathetic to Anan and replaced him with loyal aide Abbas Kamel.

When then-president Mursi accepted the resignation of Field Marshal Muhammad Tantawi as defence minister and chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and appointed then-general Sisi to replace him, I remember being called by a friend who is close to the Muslim Brotherhood. “Thank God,” he said, “everything went well, and now we have our man as head of the army.” How, I asked him, do you know that he’s ‘your’ man? “Oh yes,” he responded enthusiastically, “the guy is devout. He prays and fasts and never misses a prayer-time. His pro-Brotherhood sympathies are obvious.” It was inconceivable to my friend that Sisi would go on to force the Muslim Brothers from power and become their most ferocious persecutor ever.

Sisi will effectively win by acclamation rather a free and fair vote, like all the military presidents who preceded him. Nobody will run against him unless they consent to being a puppet, and if no such person can be found, one will be invented. All this will be done in the name of safeguarding Egypt’s security and stability and completing the economic reforms. And for anyone who dares to object or cry foul, a place is ready and waiting for them behind bars.