Egypt’s election race shows the chinks in Sisi’s armor

Many people believe that the result of Egypt’s presidential elections due in late May is predictable, but challenges lie ahead

Abdullah Kamal
Abdullah Kamal
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Many people believe that the result of Egypt’s presidential elections due in late May is predictable. Supporters of former defense minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the lead presidential contender, think that his win is a foregone conclusion. A multitude of challenges lie ahead, however.

Although these challenges will not result in Sisi losing the vote, they may end up producing a bruised winner. The ex-general might not secure the anticipated voter backing, enough for him to fulfill his announced agenda as a president.

Likewise, the presidential election may not resolve the bloody conflict, which Egypt has experienced in recent months - strife mainly aimed at blocking the nation’s political transitional roadmap and plunging it into a vortex of prolonged instability.

The only declared rivals so far for Egypt’s top post are Sisi and Hamdeen Sabahi, a left-winger politician who came third in the 2012 presidential polls. The battleground for the coming elections goes beyond a mere rivalry between a strong populist candidate and a rival convinced that he does not stand a big chance.

In fact, the race is underlined by a host of influential factors with a far-reaching impact.

On the home front, Egypt’s state institutions are locked in an inexorable battle against the Muslim Brotherhood, which has officially been branded a terrorist organization. Each side has its supporters inside and outside Egypt. Though Sabahi does not support terrorism and opposes the Brotherhood in public, he may unwillingly become the Islamist group’s presidential candidate when it decides to manipulate him in its battle against its arch-nemesis Sisi and declare war against the Egyptian state.

Perceived as having cult-like adulation and being a strongman, Sisi has to come up with a platform that lives up to incredibly high local and regional expectations

Abdullah Kamal

In external terms, Egypt’s political conflict signifies a battle between two regional projects. The first formulates a vision for the region’s future and the balance of powers. This project is based on Sisi’s winning the presidency and his success in reviving Egypt’s key regional role so as to initiate a wider Middle East rearrangement and rejuvenate Arab nationalism. The second project aims at keeping Egypt out in the regional cold so as to bring other allied Arab countries under control. This anti-Arab, hegemonic formula is designed to break up major entities and reduce them to malleable dominions.

Historically, a battle is under way between Egypt’s’ post-1952 project, even if Sisi represents its new face, and a set of socio-economic and cultural projects with religious, leftist, anarchistic and even terrorist leanings.

Multi-faceted complexities

Accordingly, the hitherto-two presidential contenders are entangled in multi-faceted complexities, intensified by the prevalent crucial circumstances. While Sisi sounds able to grapple with these circumstances, Sabahi seems impelled to remain in the race despite his dim chances and previously unthought of factors - a situation that may turn him into a presidential contender serving the interests of several quarters.

Basically, the presidential battle appears to pit a contender, who stands no chance for victory and whose strength lies in his weakness, against a front-runner whose weakness lies in his strength. In other words, Sabahi has nothing to lose - any point he wins in the race will be a major gain for him.

In contrast, Sisi’s loyalists will settle for nothing less than a landslide win, otherwise his triumph will be bittersweet and open to criticism.

Perceived as having cult-like adulation and being a strongman, Sisi has to come up with a platform living up to incredibly high local and regional expectations. Paradoxically, his electoral program will be like a sword of Damocles on his authority.

His rival, meanwhile, is not required to spell out a vision or come up with a viable platform. No one expects that his ideas will come under serious political debate. With this in mind, Sabahi is, ironically, a weak presidential hopeful with some sort of strength. He also can practice “political coquettishness” because his presidential bid lends the current race a sense of competitiveness, which would stop to exist should he threaten or decide to drop out for any reason. A third rival is unlikely to throw his hat in the ring.

In contrast, the lead contender - Sisi - is now paying the price for his massive popularity that motivated him to stand for the presidency, prompting other potential candidates to decide not to run. With the outcome of the presidential vote seeming practically certain, the election lacks in drama and media suspense. This is just one chink in the armor of the front-runner.


Abdullah Kamal – Egyptian journalist and political analyst, an adviser to Al Rai Kuwaiti newspaper in Cairo, working now on writing a book about the end of Mubarak era under the title of The Penultimate Pharaoh. The writer had been editor- in- chief of both Rose El-Youssef magazine and newspaper (2005 – 2011) and a member of Shoura Council (2007 – 2011)

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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