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Opinion

Fleeting moments

February 5, 2018

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Egypt’s missing equilibrium

If all goes well, our general elections will be held in mid-July, 2018. Perchance, the elections in Egypt too will be held within this year. As the date of the general elections in our country is nearing, the political temperature is rising. Scoring points by ridiculing one’s political opponents has become the name of the game. But that is not how it goes in Egypt.

Contrary to the exchange of bouts between our politicians who demonstrate innovative ideas to run down their political opponents, a deathly calm prevails in Egypt. In fact, either all of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s opponents have been arrested already or have dropped out of the presidential race. Two of Sisi’s serious contenders, labour lawyer Khalid Ali and a former army general, Sami Anan, have thrown their hands up in the air one after the other.

General Anan was dragged out of his car and produced before a military court for violating ‘good order and military discipline’ by joining politics. When the general went missing after the court appearance, lawyer Khalid Ali, sensing imminent danger, quickly withdrew from the race. That leaves Sisi as the only candidate in the presidential run. Many in Egypt say that an unpopular candidate will be pitted against the incumbent president, to show some semblance of competition. This candidate will at least get to live with the consolation that he ran against a formidable political foe.

The only fair elections that took place in Egyptian history were after Hosni Mobarak’s ouster in the aftermath of the Egyptian uprising of 2011. Mobarak had ruled Egypt for around 30 years. The elections held after his departure brought the Muslim Brotherhood’s government, headed by Mohamed Morsi as the fifth president of Egypt. No sooner had Morsi ascended to the office of the president that a string of events begun to unfold. Foremost to turn off was the spigot of $1.3 billion US aid that Egypt yearly received. Then mass unrests were fomented, ostensibly by the Egyptian military whose generals were unaccustomed to living under a civilian president.

Mohamed Morsi had hardly lasted for a year when Sisi, then defence minister, threw him out following a military coup. The Muslim Brotherhood followers staged protests, which were ruthlessly crushed by the military resulting in around 820 protesters being killed and about 4,000 wounded. A long list of charges was brought against Morsi. State prosecutors demanded the death penalty for the ousted president. But death penalty for what? For winning the election and becoming a civilian president?

After deposing Morsi’s government, the immediate step Sisi took was to declare all those opposing his rule ‘terrorists’, meting out long sentences to them after summary trials. Clearly, such a harsh treatment handed out to the former president and his followers was meant to serve as retribution for Morsi stepping into a ‘no-go’ area, and a warning for those who entertained ideas like him. Sisi was elected president by winning 97 percent votes in the election held in 2014. His loyalists claimed that the three percent who didn’t vote for him were probably sick on election day.

Now with the elections to be held on March 26-28, two-thirds of the parliamentarians have already endorsed Sisi for a second presidential term. But Egyptians who live outside the country have become critical of their military usurping power and authority that logically belongs to the civilians. They are also critical of the fact that the Egyptian military has vast commercial interests, ranging from producing bottled water to manufacturing TVs and assembling cars. Under the usual pretext of security, records of these companies are not auditable. Robert Czulda writes in his book, ‘Transformation Process in Egypt After 2011’, “... Without any doubt, it can be said that in Egypt there is a visible lack of equilibrium between the historically powerful military and civilian society.”

However, the Egyptian military could never have been in power for so long if the mighty superpower didn’t approve of it. It is in the US’ interests that the military rules Egypt; because it is easier to control the top military man than control a democratically elected parliament consisting of independent-minded members.

The writer is a freelance columnist based in Lahore.

Email: [email protected]

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