The final show of Egyptian election performance begins today. The showman President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is all set to steal the win after a well-crafted performance of being the most popular leader on Egyptian soils who managed a nearly 100 percent mandate in his favour. The Peoples President actually rose to power after staging a coup as a Defence Minister in 2013 against the Islamic President Mohammad Morsi. Sisi is said to have ousted every potential opponent who held some credibility in the public eye the prominent ones being Ahmed Shafiq and Sami Anan either by intimidation or imprisonment. The only other stallion who has dared to dare the daredevil Moussa Mustafa Moussa is a staunch Sisi supporter and has great relations with the Egyptian security forces. He is widely seen as a symbolic figure placed in opposition to justify the whole story of the ready-made elections.
To add to the drama, the elections are taking place amidst the violent crackdown on thousands of people who are continually being imprisoned on false accusations which have deep political repercussions. All civil rights groups are harassed by the Sisi police and all the media houses who stand to challenge the state’s narrative are being penalised for speaking the truth. The government, in turn, is erecting its own media fort by buying various private firms to up the pro-Sisi voices. The forces are resorting to torturous ways to silence any voices of discontent with many people reportedly gone missing. The State of Emergency has further faded any miniscule of civil rights left. However, despite the above, President Sisi will emerge victorious after showcasing a popular mandate.
The Military Connection
The rise of Sisi by brutal repression and suppressing all candidates even with military connections enumerates the fine and the critical underlying link between power stemming from allegiance to the military. The point of note lies in the emerged fact that few opponents arose from military ranks itself which shows the dwindling support of Sisi – a fact which has taken Sisi off-guard. There is no denying the hard fact no matter who is at the helm, it is the army which actually runs the show as anyone who felt as a burden to its own stature and interests was removed. Thus, it will not be surprising if military revokes its support to Sisi who has failed to draw support from civil society and is thus increasingly at the mercy of military to stay on in power.
Hosni Mubarak had also come to power in a military coup but unlike Sisi, he had forged strong alliances in the civil community and powerful business lobbies in addition to security agencies. Mubarak had carefully mobilised these interest groups and thus gathered huge support and backing which was ultimately helpful in creating a robust party rule. Sisi by contrast outrightly rejects the civil establishment and has been ignoring and criticizing the state bureaucracy which has actually fuelled strong sentiment against him. He has further fostered the grip of the military on the economy and has gradually eliminated the avenues for private companies. It can thus be seen that Sisi is unknowingly alienating himself from majorities he wants to rule with repressive tactics.
There have also been sporadic reports of veiled discontent growing in the military. This can be gauged from the fact that Sisi took some controversial decisions which were shunned by both the politicians and top military command like giving of two islands in the Egyptian Red Sea to Saudi Arabia in 2016. In another shocking incident, Sisi had sacked Chief of Staff Mahmoud Hegazy when latter had defied some policies of Sisi. The Sisi administration has already hinted at removing the Presidential term limits or a complete overhaul of the Constitution which will scrap the position of a Defence Minister. Latter is appointed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). All these finally culminated in the decision of contesting the Presidential elections 2018 by high-profile figures from military which included Ahmed Shafiq former Prime Minister and Commander of Air Force and Sami Anan the former Chief of Staff. Anan was superior in rank to Sisi in Army. Both the candidates had possibly risked their intent to contest only with the army support and were highly critical of Sisi’s authoritarian rule and his dealing with national security issues. Sisi cleared his vision in a surprise speech in January wherein he slammed all kinds of opposition and stated that there can be no repetition of a military uprising like the one which happened in 2011.
The military in Egypt is generally not a risk-taking entity and will not take the bold action against Sisi unless it believes there is no other option on the cards. The primary fear of the armed forces is mounting mass discontent and unrest which turns violent and thus difficult to contain. This acts as a potent trigger for the military to act. Sisi’s repressive rule has by far been able to suppress any such occurrence. This makes it difficult to assess if the episodic incidences of distrust and discontent can take shape of a full-blown coup as the military finds it riskier to keep the President in power than to remove him as he has lost public support which may cause great damage to the military reputation of backing such a President.
The deepening Economic and Security crisis
Egyptians have shared a long kinship with poverty which has only sought to be fostered under the current rule. There is a steady decline in living standards topped with other grievances. A Revolution of the Hungry’ can no longer be considered an alien fear as the deprived populations can stand-up against the ruler and the whole political system. These were the main concerns in the revolt of 2011 against President Mubarak while unending shortages of vital commodities had turned the wave against the Morsi Presidency. The conditions looking familiar, any mature and massive civil uprising may force military to take action against Sisi. This can effectively distance the military from the repressive policies of Sisi. The President has taken cognizance of the situation and has introduced tough austerity measures like giving up subsidies, devaluation of Egyptian pound etc. to counter the macroeconomic challenges. Latter have however made the living conditions of people even worse but people have kept heart depending on the argument that governments have to take short-term austere measures to ensure prosperity in the long-term. However, if the economic conditions continue to deepen it will be impossible to maintain popular patience which can turn into popular frustration. Economic reforms have the potential of firing up higher aggregate growth but the benefits are not always shared widely as unemployment, poverty persists.
Another major challenge is worsening of security conditions due to rise in jihadist groups. This has come to the forefront in the wake of the consistent failure of the army in the Sinai Peninsula as there are rising army casualties against their battle with ISIS affiliates. There is a looming fear and possibility of enhanced terrorist activity in the area.
Despite the human rights excesses and widespread repression Sisi government has always enjoyed patronage from the US Presidents with or without reservations. The US considers Egypt as a vital ally in the regional geopolitics. The US has regularly delivered aid adding to a staggering figure of $1.66 billion under the provisions of Camp David Accords. The bulk of the same goes for the military. In addition to the US, key European and Gulf nations have also offered Egypt diplomatic and financial aid.
Many western governments have significantly been instrumental in the consolidation of the Egyptian military. There are a continuous aid and security support which is largely veiled as Egypt has become the third largest arms importer nation in the world.
The GERD challenge
Sisi will have to come to face with the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam which will start to fill in summer and thus significantly cut the flow of Nile waters by 25 percent. It is a very dangerous proposition for the Egyptians who already fall in the bracket of the lowest per-capita water shares in the world. Ethiopia on its part has shown an unwillingness to address the Egyptian concerns which leave Sisi Presidency of resorting to a military option. However, the chances of winning the latter are bleak due to limited capacity and thus a failed attack can severely hit the security image of Egypt.
Thus, the victory in the election will register another Presidential term in his name in historical annals but will his policy approach survives the same is not yet confirmed. He may have ensured his grip on power but hasn’t been able to secure it completely.