Yesterday, Monday 26th March 2018, was the first day of a three day election poll for Egypt’s presidency. The incumbent president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi only has one opponent: Moussa Mostafa Moussa. He is not very well known: even my Egyptian colleague on my War Studies course said that he knew of him but had forgotten his name. When I asked who was running, he replied ‘Sisi and Sisi’. Many young people are boycotting what they call a ‘charade’ election, even though voting in Egypt is compulsory. Fines for not voting are seldom imposed; there are simply too many people in Egypt.
One other contender, a former military chief of staff (Sisi is also ex-military), Sami Anan, was going to run but pulled out after he wars arrested and accused of ‘running without the army’s permission’ (FT, 27.3.18).
Results of the election are due on 2nd April 2018 and the next term will last four years.
Moussa Mostafa Moussa
According to The Guardian, 65 year old architect and French educated Mustafa Moussa, leader of the Ghad party, is a supporter of Sisi. He entered the race late on and hasn’t led much of a campaign. His party formerly endorsed Sisi and apparently he only decided to enter at the last minute when everyone else ‘pulled out’. There are no posters of him in the streets; only Sisi. Moussa has not been critical of his opponent and has said that it was important to step forward or the election would have turned into a referendum.
In terms of his entering the presidential race, some say: ‘he is running solely to lend a veneer of credibility to events’ (Guardian, 25.3.18). Moussa has denied this and has said:
‘I’m no puppet. I’m a leader, in all things including my business. Whoever wants a puppet could get one from the 104 political parties… We entered with the aim of winning. I think I have the chance’ (Guardian, 25.3.18).
Of the others who were interested in running, five (again according to the Guardian), were either jailed or barred from taking part. Former prime minster Ahed Shafiq dropped out of the race and former military chief of staff, Sami Anan, was arrested for entering. Another candidate, Colonel Ahmed Konsowa, was jailed for ‘making a campaign video in military uniform’ (Guardian, 25.3.18). There was a leftist lawyer, Khaled Ali, and former president Anwar Sadat’s nephew. Both pull out of the race saying that they were coerced to do so.
Sisi came to power when he led a military coup in 2013 against the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood president, Mohamed Morsi, who himself came to power after the former military leader, Hosni Mubarak, was ousted from government in the Arab Spring protests of 2011. He is presently held in prison. People became disenchanted with Morsi and had concerns that he was trying to Islamize Egyptian politics and so, despite being democratically elected in 2012, the protesters who had come together in 2011 to oust Mubarak re-emerged in their droves in 2013 to express continued dissatisfaction with the regime.
During the second wave 0f protests in 2013, Sisi brutally suppressed the protests and almost 1,000 pro Morsi protesters were killed in one day in what came to be known as the ‘Rabaa Massacre’ (Vox, 26.3.18). Interim President at that time, Adly Mansour, declared a state of emergency, thereby allowing them to impose military law.
In 2014, Sisi held a ‘presidential election’ in which he allegedly won 96.9% of the vote. Once established in power, he outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group and they were forbidden to take part in politics.
During his four years in power, Sisi has cracked down on civil liberties and brought the country’s political system firmly under his grip. He is backed by the armed forces that have a personnel of around 1.2 million. They also have links and financial interests in a large portion of Egypt’s economy; no doubt a kick back from Sisi in order to continue to have their backing.
Egypt’s first free elections
These were in 2012, after the Arab Spring protests of 2011. At that time, Cairo’s Tahrir Square was filled with tens of thousands of Egyptians demanding change and the ousting of their then president Hosni Mubarak, who had been the Egyptian president since 1981. Prior to Mubarak, Anwar Sadat was the president. Sadat was assassinated in 1981 by fundamentalist army officers. He had been a close friend to president Nasser, whose post he filled in 1970. Nasser was the second president of Egypt and was in power from 1956-1970. The first president of Egypt, immediately before Nasser, was Muhammad Naguib, one of the leaders of the 1952 Egyptian revolution that overthrew the monarchy. Nasser was also involved in this. Naguib didn’t remain in power long: for just over a year in fact. There had been a power struggle between Nasser and Naguib with Nasser accusing Naguib of being a supporter of the recently outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. Naguib resigned and was pretty much isolated from society at large, under Nasser’s instruction. In 1972, Sadat released him from the Nasser imposed state of exile.
The Arab Spring protests were concomitant with several other protests across the Arab domain, all demanding a greater say in politics, more jobs and less corruption. The slogan chanted in Cairo was ‘bread, freedom and social justice’.
Once Sisi has won, what is likely to happen to the opposition going forward?
According to the constitution, the President is only allowed to serve two terms, so this will be his last. What then will be in store for presidential contenders in the future? Or maybe he will take a leaf out of China’s book and abolish presidential tenure altogether so that he can remain president for life.
Did you know…?
36 years ago yesterday, on 26th March 1978, Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty. Egypt had been in a state of war with Israel since Israel was founded in 1948. Over the next 30 years, there were many short but violent conflicts, including the famous Six Day War in 1967 (The Atlantic, 26.3.18). Under the peace treaty, Israel agreed to withdraw their troops from the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt and Egypt, in turn, agreed to recognise Israel as a country. It was signed in a ceremony at the White House between Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Both Sadat and Begin were awarded the 1978 Nobel Prize for Peace as a result. Jimmy Carter was US President at the time.
Sources and Further Reading:
‘In Egypt, elections turn Arab Spring to Winter’, FT, 25.3.18
‘President Sisi will win Egypt’s election. But here’s why he should be worried’, Vox News, 26.3.18
‘Egypt Elections: Voter turnout is the main suspense’, Al Jazeera, 26.3.18
‘With little choice, Egyptians head to the polls in presidential election’, NPR, 25.3.18
‘What next for Egypt? Siri tightens grip on power’, France 24 Debate (in English), 26.3.18
‘Egypt’s cartoonists ease tensions as elections kick off’, Al-Monitor, 26.3.18
‘The Guardian view on elections in Egypt: two candidates, no real choice’, The Guardian, 25.3.18
‘Sisi -v- Sisi: Egypt’s 2018 presidential elections’, The New Arab, 28.2.18
‘On this day 36 years ago: the signing of the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty’, The Atlantic, 26.3.18
The Rabaa Massacre Remembered, TRT World
Image of Sadat, Begin and Carter, taken from The Atlantic article cited above
The Rabaa Massacre of 2013,
Moussa casting his vote:
Sisi casting his vote:
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