Sisi will win Egypt’s vote, but what then?

Do Egypt’s youth want a country more like what they remembered during the 2011 uprising?

H.A. Hellyer
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Numerous reporters are cancelling trips to Egypt to cover Sisi ‘coronation elections’ because their editors, or producers don’t care.

- Borzou Daraghi, Middle East and North Africa correspondent for the Financial Times.


It is not that the election of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is insignificant in Egypt. Of course, it is noteworthy – the former defence minister is about to formally take the reins of government in a highly significant country for the international community. The relevance of the election, however, is highly diminished by the fact that no-one really doubts the outcome. Much of the Egyptian media continues to purport there is a race of sorts – but in reality, neither of the two candidates (and there are only two, compared to many more in 2012’s presidential election) doubts that by this time next month, President Sisi will be presiding over his government. The question is not if Sisi becomes president – it’s what he is going to do when he formally is.

The word “formally” is also important to put into the discussion. There has been an interim president since the former president, the Muslim Brotherhood leader Muhammad Mursi was removed by the military last year. He has presided officially over the office of president since July 3rd – but few observers have been left in any doubt that if Sisi was not the power behind the throne, he certainly had the power of veto over other cabinet ministers. Whether he chose to use it or not on a daily basis is another question – but he certainly had it.

Do Egypt’s youth, who account for the overwhelming majority of Egypt’s population, want a country more like what they remembered during the 2011 uprising?

H.A. Hellyer

This will be different going forward – and it will, actually be different. There will be those that claim that a President Sisi will be little different from a Defence Minister Sisi, based on the inordinate authority he had as defence minister. It’s an understandable assessment, but ultimately a deeply flawed one. Not so much due to incorrect appraisal of Sisi’s power as defence minister – that much is clear – but the nature of his position going forward, and the nature of the state itself.

We are all curious

Observers and analysts, Egyptians and the international community, are all curious – what will a presidency occupied by Sisi look like in its policies? It’s a difficult question to answer, given the lack of information his campaign has provided on all manner of issues related to specific policies. However there is another critical question to ask, that is less about his micro-policies, or even his macro ones, which few seem to be asking – and that relates to Sisi’s vision of the nature of the Egyptian state itself.

Under Hosni Mubarak, who was removed by the military after the beginning of the January 25 revolution in 2011, the state’s elements and makeup were more or less clear. Even if unruly, it existed according to a certain kind of logic, regardless of its many unsavoury aspects. The last four years has seen that logic unravel – and no one knows what will take its place. The assumption unfolding in many quarters is that it will be simply a return of the “Mubarakian” state – but that set of agreements is over.

It is not to say that will come will be better than the Mubarakian system. The point is that it will be different – and it is still in the process of being formed. There will be different interests groups struggling for power dominance in the new arrangement. There may be many of the same actors and players – or if not them in particular, then those related to them in some way or another. It would be foolish to assume otherwise – but while that may tell us something about some of the elements that eventually get absorbed into the new accommodations, it does not tell us which elements will have what power positions. That, in and of itself, could make a great difference.

What differences will arise?

As of yet, we do not know what differences will arise. It could mean, however, that those who were a part of Mubarak’s wider network may turn out to be some of the new regime’s most critical foes. Their reasons will hardly be similar to why, for example, more progressive elements backed the revolution against Mubarak. But that does not obviate the possibility of their, nonetheless, playing a significant role in problematizing certain parts of Sisi’s forthcoming period in office. It’s entirely likely that the military apparatus will play an even more direct role in not only being an immensely strong pivot in Egypt’s power structure – but also at the heart of Egypt’s economic plans. That too will be different from Mubarak – and it will bring a different set of problems and challenges.

It ought to go without saying that none of this is what the revolutionaries who fought for the January 25 revolution had in mind when they went to the streets time and again over the past four years. Their struggle has morphed into something very different, with challenges they could not have begun to imagine. Mubarak’s system was an animal they understood and knew how to navigate. They ultimately set its destruction into motion. The forthcoming period will bring different kinds of opportunities, alternate trials they will have to endure, and distinctive tests they’ll be forced to pass. The more sage among them know that their struggle is not over, nor have they been defeated – but certainly, they’ve learned a revolution is not a moment, but a process.

The real question for them, as well as for Egypt’s new rulers – do Egypt’s youth, who account for the overwhelming majority of Egypt’s population, want a country more like what they remembered during the 2011 uprising? Or do they want a world inspired by a Sisi presidency? That is the real question – and sooner or later, Egypt will be forced to answer it. One way or another.


Dr. H.A. Hellyer, non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution, the Royal United Services Institute, and the Harvard University Kennedy School, previously held senior posts at Gallup and Warwick University. Follow him on Twitter at @hahellyer.

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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