Egypt’s new president: an incomplete victory

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s victory was not a surprise, but the percentage he scored was

Sonia Farid
Sonia Farid - Special to Al Arabiya News
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On June 3, former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was officially declared Egypt’s president. His victory was not a surprise, but the percentage he scored, an overwhelming 96.9 percent, was.

Yet, the results, like the elections, remain controversial for while Sisi’s supporters see the number of votes he obtained as the ultimate proof of his entitlement to the presidency, his critics and several analysts prefer to look at the circumstances surrounding the results. And while the first camp views Sisi’s coming to power as a promising start to a new phase in Egypt’s political scene, the second foresees another era of state repression. Both parties, meanwhile, try to figure out the reasons and significance of such a victory.

While admitting that unlike his rival Hamdeen Sabahi, Sisi did not offer a clear electoral program, former MP and political analyst Amr al-Shobki argued that there is more to Sisi’s victory than what he promised to do during his presidency and that analyzing the 2014 presidential elections through candidates’ platforms is rather unrealistic at this stage. “Egyptians overlooked the candidate who had a platform and instead voted for one who did not have one,” he wrote in part two of a series of articles entitled “Landslide victory,” which he dedicated to analyzing elections results. “Even though victory was expected, this percentage and in free and fair elections was really striking.”

According to Shobki, the slogan Sisi chose for his presidential campaign, “Long live Egypt,” although too broad, played a major role in earning him people’s support. “Many Egyptians were emotionally affected by this slogan since it came at a time when they felt that Egypt was under a real threat.” The Muslim Brotherhood, Shobki added, constituted a decisive factor in Sisi’s victory whether during their rule or after their ouster. “The fact that Sisi responded to the will of the people and ousted Mohammad Mursi made him very popular,” he explained. “The violent rhetoric of the Muslim Brotherhood following Mursi’s ouster enhanced this popularity and confirmed Sisi’s role as the nation’s savior.” Shobki also argues that for a large number of Egyptians, Sisi defied the United States when he ousted the Islamist regime it supported, thus creating a general sentiment of sovereignty. “Egypt had been a subordinate of the United States throughout the 30 years of Mubarak’s rule and the same happened when the Muslim Brotherhood came to power, so Sisi was for Egyptians the man who defied this subordination.” The turmoil witnessed by neighboring countries, Shobki noted, made Egyptians more convinced that Sisi is the right person at this stage. “Egyptians chose to support the state because they realized that its demise would be disastrous and for them Sisi was the one capable of keeping this state afloat.”

For writer Emile Amin, the number of votes Sisi got, as impressive as it was, is not the most important issue when examining why his victory is not an ordinary one. According to Amin, the 2014 presidential elections constituted the first real democratic practice since the 2011 revolution. “This was an election that used neither religion nor money to blackmail the Egyptian electorate,” wrote Amin, in reference in the Muslim Brotherhood’s campaigning tactics in parliamentary and presidential elections. Amin explained that for the first time, Egyptians went to the polls without being manipulated by the religious discourse or bribed with money and foodstuffs. In attempting to understand the reason for Sisi’s overwhelming victory, Amin cites Syrian thinker Hashem Saleh who interprets the rise of radicalism in the aftermath of the Arab Spring in the light of Hegel’s concept of “the cunning of reason” or “the cunning of history,” that is the way regressive powers play a role in introducing a progressive path. This, Amin argues, is what the Muslim Brotherhood did in Egypt and what eventually triggered the rise of Sisi. “The word “cunning” here is used in the positive rather than negative sense,” wrote Amin the article he called “Sisi’s victory and history’s ‘cunning’ with the Muslim Brotherhood.” “What does this mean in relation to the story of the Muslim Brotherhood and Sisi’s landslide victory? It means that history uses unexpected tools, like reactionary movements, to achieve progress and sometimes even needs those tools for higher ends and long-term plans.” Therefore, Amin explained, Egypt had to suffer from a wave of radicalism in order to pave the way for a new era of enlightenment and progress.

Sisi’s victory is also seen as a glimmer of hope for Egyptian Christians, who were subjected to waves of violence at the hands of radical Islamists during the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood. Bishop Adel Zaki, Egypt’s vicar for Latin Catholics, pointed out that Sisi’s era is expected to be one of stability for Christians. “Sisi has never said anything to show that he discriminates between Muslims and Christians and sectarian tension is not expected while he is in power,” he said in an interview. “It is well known that he is a religious man, but for him religion is a personal matter and his topmost priority is Egypt.” This was proven, Zaki added, when Sisi ousted the Muslim Brotherhood to save the country. “Hadn’t it been for him, a civil war would have broken out and we would have become another Iraq.”

Mara Revkin, while agreeing that Sisi’s victory dealt a strong blow to the Muslim Brotherhood, does not see an end to radicalism in Egypt in the near future. In her article “Brotherly love: Why Sisi’s win is good for al-Qaeda,” published in Foreign Affairs magazine, Revkin argues that Sisi’s victory gives militant Islamist groups a pretext for stepping up their jihadist activities now that they are certain that taking part in politics, as in the example of the Muslim Brotherhood, proved a failure. “From al-Qaeda’s perspective, the election results have validated its core ideological claim that violence—rather than peaceful participation in politics—is the way to build an Islamic state,” she wrote. Revkin supports her argument through citing al-Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri and other jihadist leaders who blamed the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood on choosing politics over militant jihad and predicts that Sisi’s coming to power might signal a joining of forces between al-Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood members still at large. “That leaves thousands of disillusioned Brotherhood supporters susceptible to recruitment by radical groups… Sisi’s victory is likely to perpetuate a vicious cycle of violence and retaliation between the military and the Islamists.”

Political activist and chairman of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party Mohammad Abul Ghar sees the victory problematic in a different way. He first criticizes the way the state dealt with the electoral process especially as far as the low turnout is concerned. “The results of the elections were a foregone conclusion,” he said in his article “Sisi as president: A reading of the elections.” “That is why there was no justification for the state’s exaggerated agitation and which drove the presumably independent elections committee to extent voting for a third day, close several shopping malls, and threaten to impose a fine on boycotters.” Those measures, Abul Ghar noted, not only tarnished the image of the committee, but also revealed that extra efforts were made to attract more voters contrary to expectations. “Sisi’s campaign and others expected that at least 80 percent of registered voters would go to polling stations and vote for him and were surprised to see that less than half of them took part and that more than one million spoilt their votes in objection.”

This, Abul Ghar argued, puts into question Sisi’s popularity, which was thought to be overwhelming following his ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood. Abul Ghar lists the problems that, from his point of view, led more than half the voters not to support Sisi. “First, there is an obvious problem in Sisi’s relationship with the youths, who constitute 50 percent of the voters. Second, Sisi is surrounded by several figures from the Mubarak regime who think they can regain their power. Third, Sisi is totally neglecting all political powers including ones that supported him. Fourth, Sisi’s campaign was too over-confident.” Abul Ghar added that leading members in Sisi’s campaign might have been from the military and those had already proven their limited political expertise while results could have been better had the campaign been run by veteran politicians. Another obstacle that stands between Sisi and a sizable portion of Egyptians, Abul Ghar explained, is his stance on the shape of the next regime. “Many Egyptians fear the return of Mubarak’s dictatorship and Sisi did not say explicitly that he supports democracy, human rights, the constitution, and the separation of powers.” Sisi’s electoral economic plans, Abul Ghar added, are not applicable. “An economic program that depends on internal and external aid is unrealistic.” Abul Ghar also commented on the fact that Salafi factions declared full support for Sisi in the presidential elections then “stayed at home” as he put it.

In “When facts are falsified through song and dance,” Tarek Mustafa Salam saw the elections as having dealt a “fatal blow” to Sisi despite the victory. For Salam, the reaction of the media to the low turnout proves Sisi’s failure to garner the support he expected. “We saw TV presenters in different pro-Sisi satellite channels getting hysterical as they insulted Egyptians and called them unpatriotic and Muslim Brotherhood agents,” he wrote. “And we saw them giving lame excuses for the low turnout like the hot weather.” According to Salam, celebrations that swept Egyptian streets following the declaration of Sisi’s victory were only a way to cover up the failure to rally all Egyptians behind Sisi. “Only in Egypt are facts falsified through dancing and singing,” he wrote. In fact, Salam argued that the circumstances surrounding Sisi’s victory only confirm that ousted former-President Mursi is still Egypt’s legitimate leader, yet he denies being a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood. “My stance does not mean that I support t Muslim Brotherhood rule... I only support justice wherever it is and democracy no matter what its results are,” he concluded.

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