After short fling with civilian rule, Egypt falls for the army again

Former Egyptian army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi looks set to become the country’s fourth military leader

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Former Egyptian army chief and presidential frontrunner Abdel Fattah al-Sisi secured this week a sweeping 94.4 percent of the expatriate vote in a preliminary count, making it likely that he will become the country’s fourth military leader.

This has caused debate among analysts about why Egypt’s military is so appealing to voters.

“The military, along with the police, have always represented safety for Egyptians,” Nabil Sharaf el-Din, a political analyst and specialist in Islamic affairs, told Al Arabiya News.

Security is a growing concern in the country, he added.

In 2014, around 87 percent of Egyptians listed security and stability as their main priority, according to a survey by the daily Al-Youm al-Sabah.

“Egyptians are always looking for a savior. They tend to choose… the option which will guarantee them security and stability,” Sharaf el-Din said.

Ashraf Abdel Hamid, a political analyst and researcher at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told Al Arabiya News that Egyptians prefer military leaders “usually because of the army’s efficiency.”

Since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, “the army has established a wide range of development projects and provided average Egyptians, through the National Organization for Military Production (NSPO), with a wide range of services and products,” Abdel Hamid added, listing bottled water, furniture and electrical products as examples.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Force (SCAF) is believed to control over 40 percent of Egypt’s economy, with projects such as hotel resorts, gas stations and food factories.

SCAF also has a big stake in construction, with a deal signed last month with Arab contractor Arabtec.

The deal, estimated to be worth $40 billion, seeks to build one million homes in Egypt.

The failure of the civilian rule of Mohammad Mursi has also been a factor in Egyptians’ renewed desire for a president with a military past.

“Civil society in Egypt is weak and unable to come up with strong characters able to deal with Egypt’s problems and be in charge of the country,” Sharaf el-Din said.

Government debt grew from $30 billion, before Mubarak was ousted, to around $40 billion in 2013. Inflation, which was at 3 percent two and a half years ago, reached between 13-18 percent. Unemployment climbed to a record 13.2 percent.

During the same period, Egypt’s foreign relations were drastically weakened, experts said.

“Mursi was unable to handle Egypt’s international relations when he was in power. It was a disaster,” Ali Ibrahim, deputy editor-in-chief at the London-based daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat, told Al Arabiya News.

“Egypt’s relations were very limited during his rule, and he only maintained ties with Qatar and Turkey,” Ibrahim said, adding that Egypt’s ties with Russia, China and Iraq deteriorated during that time.

However, some analysts are skeptical of the idea that Egyptians approve of military rule.

“We can’t generalize and translate this number [94.4 percent] into a tendency for Egyptians to prefer military men to lead the country,” Sameh Rashed, deputy managing editor of Al-Siyassa al-Dawliya, a quarterly periodical on international relations, told Al Arabiya News.

“Sisi wasn’t elected because he has a military background, but more because of what he did for the country since he ousted Mursi in July and the popularity he gained since then,” Rashed added.

Egypt has been ruled by various military officers since 1952, starting with Gamal Abdel Nasser who led a coup against King Farouk.

Nasser was then succeeded by his close ally and former army officer Anwar Sadat, before the latter’s Vice President Mubarak took over for 30 years.

In 2012, Egyptians briefly broke with the trend, electing a civilian president, Mursi, who remained in office for a year.

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