Egypt’s President Abdelfattah al-Sisi completed one year in office on Monday, and to some of his constituency, the former general stands as a symbol of stability and security in a time of economic uncertainty.
Elected by 96.1 percent of voters, many of which tired of a fluctuating economy following two years of political unrest that rattled the country, many expected drastic gestures to amend Egypt’s economic state.
‘First aim: economic reform’
“His first aim was economic reform,” Saeed Sadek, a professor of political sociology based in Cairo said.
“He did what nobody did before him,” he told Al Arabiya in reference to the introduction of electronic cards aimed to deal with the chronic issue of wasted bread subsidies.
“This is a very important improvement…people used to get the bread and feed it to the chicken, if you have this rationing card, you can take the bread that you need, and if you save, you can transfer the bread allocated to you through points and you can exchange it for sugar, oil, and other things,” he explained.
“Mubarak failed to do anything regarding the subsidies and he always justified it, and keeping [the system of subsidies] because of political unrest,” he said.
But Cairo-based writer and political sociology specialist Ammar Hassan said it was too soon to judge whether Sisi’s major endeavors – namely a large-scale economic conference and an extension to the Suez Canal – have been successful.
“Judging whether they have been successful or not requires time,” he told Al Arabiya News.
“There is improvement,” Sadek said, agreeing that one year was too little time to achieve the objectives set by 2013 movement that toppled Mursi.
“You cannot say he was a failure, you cannot achieve the objectives of any revolutions in one year, but at least you are starting,” he added.
As to the 4.5 percent increase in economic growth registered in 2015, Hassan attributes it to a series of factors that materialized following Sisi’s elections.
“It has to do with the improvement of tourism, with more Egyptians abroad transferring more money after the election of Sisi, and because of an increase of Egyptians depositing more money into banks due to the fluctuating economic situations which also prompted them to invest in stable projects such as real estate,” he said.
“In Mubarak’s days, the regime and the political authority achieved growth and a percentage of it would go to an exclusive minority,” Hassan added.
“It is necessary that Sisi avoids this,” Hassan said, adding that the distribution of wealth - amassed from an improving economy - must be better distributed than they were under Mubarak.
A worsening security situation and a flourishing insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula that pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) were trusted to the top of Sisi’s priorities upon assuming office.
One of the many challenges Cairo faces in Sinai is that militants “are living in a friendly tribal environment, and now they [Sisi’s government] are trying to turn the tribal environment against the terrorists, that was not easy but it is happening,” sadek said.
“The regime invested a lot of effort in north Sinai but there was a lack of training to combat terrorism and insurgency,” he added.
“So they [the government] needed some time to absorb the situation,” which led to a number of reappointments in military command in the campaign in the peninsula, he said.
There have been several changes, “because they felt they were not working as he [Sisi] wanted it.”
The growing militancy remains on the list of things people expect Sisi to address in the remainder of his term.
The insurgency in Sinai is “a source of great inconvenience, not only to authorities but also to society,” Hassan said.
Also this year, a newly approved anti-sexual harassment was added as an amendment to the Egyptian penal code following a call by Sisi. The United Nations commended the law and called on the Egyptian authorities to ensure its enforcement for the protection of women and girls in the country.
On Sunday, Sisi addressed the country’s security apparatus instructing them to be “mindful” in how they deal with citizens – a move that came as a surprise to many of his critics.
“I say to our sons in the police or any government agency they must be mindful that they are dealing with human beings,” the president told an audience at an event launching military-backed infrastructure projects.
“I apologize to every Egyptian citizen who has been subjected to any abuse. I am accountable for anything that happens to an Egyptian citizen,” he said.
Activists say the police, whose power waned as Mubarak fell, now act with impunity, a charge the Interior Ministry denies, according to Reuters news agency.
Through the statement, Sisi addressed a topic which Hassan said remains an issue that faces the president.
“People want a real change in how the security apparatus and the police deal with citizens,” which Hassan ties to human rights and the issue of releasing “political prisoners or those arrested from the youth that belong to revolutionary movements that played a role in toppling Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Criticisms of Sisi’s time in power
Despite his achievements, rights groups accuse the president of leading a repressive crackdown, with rights abuses marring his first year.
On Monday, Human Rights Watch stated in a report: “Over the past year, Sisi and his cabinet have provided near total impunity for security force abuses and issued a raft of laws that severely curtailed civil and political rights.”
Rights groups cite that the fact that hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood and Mursi supporters have faced a government crackdown that has left hundreds killed in street protests and thousands jailed since the Islamist’s president’s ouster in 2013.
Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said in April 2014: “In defiance of worldwide pleas for Egypt to respect its human rights obligations after 529 people were sentenced to death in March by the same court, hundreds [683 defendants] now face a similar fate at the hands of a judicial system where international fair trial guarantees appear to be increasingly trampled upon.”
Another criticism from observers has been that the military intervenes in the market and the economy.
“A closely guarded national secret, the size of the army’s economic assets can be gleaned from the vastness of its commercial holdings,” Safa Joudeh a Cairo-based broadcast and print journalist, wrote for the Atlantic Council.
During his first year, the president was also criticized for the country’s anti-protest law, although it had been signed by Sisi’s interim predecessor Adly Mansour.
More criticisms throughout the year came from the United Nations, international rights bodies and media personalities, raising concern over Egypt’s level of media freedom.
In the Reporters Without Borders (RWB) annual roundup on abuse against journalists worldwide, Egypt ranked fourth among the countries regarding the crackdown on journalists in 2014.SHOW MORE