Egypt is therefore preparing to backtrack. While Islamist Mohammed Mursi – the deposed president who ironically had appointed Sisi as the army’s commander – was the first civilian Egyptian leader, with Sisi – who officially has returned to wearing civilian clothes – the country will return to the old and “reassuring” model with a general for president.
Sabahi will not in fact manage to come close to the surprising results achieved in the 2012 elections when, running against four other candidates, he missed qualifying for the second ballot by just a handful of votes. A Nasserite, Sabahi is a historical figure in Egyptian politics, initially a leader of the students union at a Cairo university during the unsettled Seventies, and thrown in prison for four years for having challenged then president Anwar al Sadat live on television.
The boycott front
Sabbahi will not manage to gain votes, not only because most Egyptians consider Sisi as the nation’s saviour and wish to contribute to his coronation, but also because a significant part of his reference voters, the young, will prefer to boycott the elections. In the non-Islamist camp, the coalition of deserters is headed by April 6, the movement that played a leading role in the 2011 revolution, and recently banned by the interim authorities. Those choosing to boycott will, above all, be members of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sabahi’s former allies in the 2011 general elections.
The Brotherhood – a clandestine movement once again since December 25th – will not take part in elections in which it has not been permitted to play an active role, considering illegal the entire political process following the removal of Mursi. The movement’s more radical cousins, the Salafites will instead support al Sisi.
A return to repression
Some analysts say the Brotherhood’s boycott could be a bluff. To understand whether this is the case, it will be sufficient to look at what happens in the Brotherhood’s strongholds, especially in the Delta region. Repression has been used at the highest level to immobilise the Muslim Brotherhood precisely in the Minya Governorate, between March and April, sentencing to death over 1,200 of its members. These mass sentences – which presumably will not be taken seriously – are the litmus test for a series of human rights abuses already reported in March by 27 nations – excluding Italy – worried about the state of civil society. According to what little data is available, the recent repressive wave has supposedly been even more intense than during the worst two years of the Mubarak era.
It is also for this reason that a number of NGOs and youth movements have asked the international community not to send observers, in order to avoid validation of an electoral process that is, already from the start, non-competitive. In spite of this, all along the Nile there will be not only observers from the European Union, who have threatened to pack their bags and leave, and from the Carter Institute, but also representatives from the African Union, the continent’s league that is now mending relations with Egypt, expelled the day after recent military intervention.
Challenges for Sisi
In the course of the election campaign, candidates have above all quarrelled over Nasser’s legacy, competing to prove they are the real successors of Gamal Abdel Nasser. Sisi’s very few critics include some who accuse the future leader of wasting money on an election campaign that, according to the polls, is a waste of time. In spite of this, although Sisi can sleep peacefully from an electoral perspective, his campaign does have some importance.
Poverty and unemployment among the young are the first challenges the president will have to address. Over 25% of the population lives on $2 a day and another 25% with little more. Unemployment is above 13% and, in 70% of cases, affects young, educated people aged between 15 and 29.
Recent Egyptian history has shown that the real competition to be won is not the one leading to the presidential chair, but one guaranteeing one will remain seated there while making unpopular decisions. Although for the moment Sisi prefers to remain vague, the time will come when he will have to address unpopular issues demanding a clear stand, at least if he really wishes to try and get Egypt moving again, as he says.
When this day comes, Sisi will be able to use the consensus acquired during his election campaign to contain the discontent that will cause tremors, affecting the stability that, once again, risks being unsustainable.