Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s re-election victory raises questions about the country’s resurgent authoritarianism and the future of the beleaguered opposition.
In his victory speech, el-Sissi pledged to work for all Egyptians, including those who did not vote for him. He added that differences in opinion would be tolerated as long as they are not against the national interest.
Michele Dunne, director of Carnegie’s Middle East program and an Egypt expert, was not convinced by el-Sissi’s pledge of inclusion and says the real question is about the future of the opposition, which was riding high after the Arab Spring.
“President [el-]Sissi said in the past that the political freedoms that are spelled [out] in the Egyptian Constitution would be observed, but we have seen that that is not what happened,” Dunne said. “The opposition that was there before 2011 until 2013 has been imprisoned, exiled, completely crushed.”
On the surface, el-Sissi’s victory was overwhelming. The official count gave him 97 percent of the vote.
Turnout was only 41 percent, however, despite the government’s campaign for people to vote as their patriotic duty and essentially endorse el-Sissi’s policies.
One important indicator: 1.7 million ballots were disqualified for having write-in votes. That outnumbered the lone challenger, who was campaigning for el-Sissi before joining the race.
All serious rivals were allegedly arrested or intimidated in the lead-up to last week’s vote.
Younger voters were noticeably absent from the voting sites.
“Despite the fact that you have more Egyptian voters in 2018 than you did in 2014, the lower turnout rate means fewer people were motivated to go to the polls to vote for endorsing a second term,” said Andrew Miller, deputy director of Project on Middle East Democracy.
Dunne urged the U.S. government not to congratulate el-Sissi. She noted that although he has vowed to respect the two-term limit for presidents, his efforts to consolidate power by eliminating opposition have stirred concerns that he may try to amend the constitution.
El-Sissi has denied he discouraged the candidacies of any legitimate opponent.
Miller said el-Sissi’s path forward is being eased somewhat because Western allies aren’t pushing back amid signs of increasing authoritarianism.
“The absence of an international political response does provide more room to maneuver; it is one less thing to be concerned about,” Miller said.
He said that despite alleged human rights violations under el-Sissi, the U.S. and European countries prefer security cooperation with strategically located Egypt over concerns about democratic values and freedoms of expression and speech.
Miller said el-Sissi faces major challenges, including the continued insurgency and terrorism in Sinai and elsewhere and meeting people’s expectations of economic improvement.
Weak political structure
Experts agree that the election has highlighted how much party activism in Egypt has waned because of suppression of media and civil society and closing off political space.
But that would not lead to another popular uprising, Said Sadek, professor of political sociology at the American University in Cairo, said.
“The issue of a third revolution in Egypt is very difficult and impossible; the regime has empowered itself, and there is a counter-revolution that has been controlling the media and the culture,” Sadek said.
“Revolutionaries today are considered the enemies of the state,” he added.
Sadek said the public is fed up with the instability that followed the popular uprising and there is fear of the security apparatus that has restored its prerevolution posture.
Experts said if there is a lesson to be learned from the revolution, it is that political development is no less important than economic development.
So for Egypt to enjoy stability and a better future, there is a need for a regime that succeeds and helps establish a strong political infrastructure that includes a respected constitution; free media, responsible political parties; and a vigorous and involved civil society, they say.
Source: Voice of America