As the debates rage in Egypt on whether presidential elections should be held before parliamentary elections, the country seems headed to an all too familiar scenario. In February 2012, elections were held in Yemen with acting president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Al-Hadi as the only candidate on the ballot. While many Egyptian activists ridiculed this move, it seems likely that Egypt might just witness a similar feat. After nearly three years of going sideways, there is a growing consensus that General Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi might be heading to referendum-like elections, making him Egypt’s version of Abd Rabbuh Mansur.
Earlier this week, Amr Moussa said that Egypt’s military chief should run for president. Moussa further added: “If Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi refuses to run, we will urge him to do so.” Several political parties have echoed the same sentiment, lending full support to an Al-Sisi presidential run. Even presidential hopeful Hamdeen Sabahy has asserted that he would not consider a run himself should the general choose to run. Now, while the political situations in both Egypt and Yemen are completely different, one cannot help but notice the parallels.
First, Mansour’s accession to power was largely facilitated by the agreement backed by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) which was signed by Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. While there is no such agreement in place in Egypt’s case, the unspoken consensus amongst countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE essentially supports the move; both countries have been infusing financial aid in support of Egypt’s current transition by pledging $12bn in aid. While Saudi Arabia has a vested interest in the stability of its bordering country to avert several issues, such as a Houthi insurgency amongst others, it shares the same vested interest in the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood which is an existential threat to its current rulers.
Second, Yemen’s tribal mechanism allowed the emergence of a single candidate which was viewed as a best case scenario to rescue Yemen from an imminent civil war. While Egypt doesn’t necessarily have a tribal system, it boasts several well-established legacy institutions which act in a tribal fashion. Such institutions, notably the army, judicial system and media apparatus were key players behind the removal of former president Mohamed Morsi from power; a move which was seen as essential to avoid chaos.
Third, the need for stability remains a common factor in the two scenarios. The non-competitive presidential election in Yemen was seen as a bid for stability even if such stability is brought about by an uncompetitive democratic process. In Egypt, three years of going nowhere have made such a need more pressing. Stability is the key word on the streets.
It remains interesting how the situation in Egypt progressed from a revolution hailed as inspirational to a mere attempt to return to a pre 25 January status. The irony remains in how all the self proclaimed revolutionaries see no problem at all with such a transition. It is all part of a learning exercise that doesn’t seem to have an end in sight, where Egypt moved from following the trek of Tunisia to taking the long winding road to Yemen.