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Opinion

March 27, 2018

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No sign of spring in Egypt

Presidential elections are currently being held in Egypt (between March 26 and March 28). However, Egyptian nationals who live abroad have already voted (between March 16 and March 18).

As per the World Bank’s latest figures, of the 10 million Egyptian expats in many countries across the world, those who are 18 years and above were eligible to vote. Similarly, out of the total population of around 98 million, there are 60 million eligible voters who can determine the future leadership of the country. To be successful, a candidate must garner more than 50 percent of the votes, otherwise a runoff would take place in April.

But what is the likely scenario when most of the potential contestants have withdrawn or, to be precise, were made to withdraw. Although there were a handful of prospective candidates who had expressed interest to run for presidency, Sisi’s high-handed tactics forced most of the eligible candidates to pull out of the race. Through a series of legal amendments and presidential decrees, Sisi has been able to frighten and strike out any rivals and silence any form of dissent ever since he has taken charge of the country. This has commenced with the imposition of a ban on the popular Muslim Brotherhood.

There is a consensus among many Egyptian academics and researchers that the elections can never be fair and genuine while other potential candidates have withdrawn due to the various maneouvres made by the regime.

Moussa Mostafa Moussa, the chairman of the El-Ghad Party and a pro-Sisi politician, is a ‘rival’ candidate who is believed to be only a ‘phony’ candidate who submitted his nomination papers just 15 minutes before the deadline. As a result, most academics are of the view that the polls are akin to a referendum with a guaranteed result. It seems as though academics and expats have lost their faith in the system.

Various international observers considered two of the country’s three previous elections – held in 2005 and 2014, respectively – to be highly “spurious”. Before the 2005 polls, former president Hosni Mubarak was elected for four terms in ‘yes or no’ type of referendum. Mubarak served from 1981 to 2011 and was dethroned after a bloody upheaval against his regime.

The 2012 presidential polls were considered to be the first ever democratic elections in Egypt’s history. Around 13 hopefuls contested in the first round, out of which four were engaged in a close race. Morsi eventually emerged as the winner in the runoff, obtaining just over 50 percent of votes. However, his tenure was cut short by the military and he was removed in a coup led by Sisi – who was an army chief at the time. This was an unfortunate incident for millions of people who were enthusiastic about their country being ruled by a truly elected government.

Sisi’s coup led was, in fact, only the second military takeover in the history of Egypt. The first one occurred in 1952 when President Nasser overthrew King Farouk. However, the military has de facto power in the country and the political system can hardly be billed as democratic. Since 1952, the military has become an integral part of the affairs of the state and Egyptian politics has remained “largely a one-man show, akin to the god-king of ancient times”.

Since the coup in 1952, the country has had only six changes in leadership. These include Mohamed Naguib (1953-1954); Gamal Abdel Nasser (1954-1970); Anwar Sadat (1970-1981); Hosni Mubarak (1981-2011); Mohamed Morsi (June 2012-July 2013) and then Sisi since 2014. Five of these rulers were from the military. Referring to the status of democracy in Egypt, a commentator has aptly stated that “personal authoritarian rule in Egypt survives and has been maintained for more than [six] decades”.

In the case of Egypt and Pakistan – and many other countries – it is vital to reflect on domestic policies and hold our own rulers accountable for what they have done (or have not done) to promote rule of law and democracy. However, many analysts are of the view that one of the main causes of the failure to promote true democracy in Egypt is the long-standing and unflinching US economic, military and diplomatic support given to the authoritarian regimes since the 1970s.

During this period, Egypt’s leadership has used different slogans, taken on different guises and embarked on different initiatives. But the fact remains that there has been little “genuine change with regard to the country’s personal authoritarian system of rule”. It has been argued that Hosni Mubarak always tried to show foreign audiences that Egypt was on the path of democracy.

However, the reality was that there had been increasing frustration as “Egyptians themselves wonder when they will ever arrive”. Until he was ousted in 2011 through an unprecedented popular uprising, Mubarak had broken his pledge of 1984 when he had stated that the president would limit himself to two terms in office and that he would be the first president to whom this principle would apply. Despite all this, the US was always satisfied with the Mubarak regime and had been extending its full cooperation to it in the form of economic and military aid. And the same policy and practice has continued under Sisi.

While there was a wave of optimism with the ouster of Hosni Mubarak after the Arab Spring, it was little more than false hope that heralded another long and dark night ahead. A recent report by Amnesty International observed that “a generation of young Egyptian activists who came to the fore around the ousting of repressive ruler Hosni Mubarak in 2011 is today languishing behind bars”. The report observed that Sisi’s regime brought back the same situation that has existed for decades.

Today, Egypt is once again a nightmare for rights activists and civil society organisations that are advocating for more rights, inclusive economic policies and political emancipation. Therefore, Shelley’s words, “if winter comes, can spring be far behind?”, have no optimism for those Egyptians who were hopeful for a real spring in Egypt for which many had sacrificed their lives.

The writer is a postdoctoral researchfellow at the German Development Institute at Bonn, Germany.

Email: [email protected]

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