Seven years after the January revolution which toppled long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak and called for political and civil rights, democracy is still struggling. Yet, previous elections, including one with Mubarak in 2005, saw more plurality than the upcoming one.
President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, whose election to a second term faces no real threat, maintained that he was keen on respecting people’s free choice regardless of what it would be, provided they participate in the election. At the same time, he said he would not let “a corrupt person near the presidency.”
Much of the current electoral dilemma stems from that approach: the regime desires to keep Al-Sisi in power, through a free and transparent election between several candidates.
But while a week ago plurality seemed promising, it seems that the state is now on a quest for more candidates—not voters.
This was caused, in a nutshell, after the state eliminated former military men rivals to the president, including Ahmed Shafiq, Sami Anan, and Ahmed Konsowa, with at least two of them believed to have had strong potential to gain significant votes. On the other hand, politicians representing civil forces—Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat and Khaled Ali—decided to withdraw, citing the destinies of their fellow candidates and having themselves previously experienced persecution from the regime. The latest is that negotiations are ongoing with Al-Wafd Party to present a candidate.
With no significant presence of political parties or groups in Egypt, here are the main challenges now facing the election, at the top of which come political plurality and voter turnout.
Political plurality, competitiveness
Many writers and experts in political affairs have recently highlighted the importance of political plurality for a healthy democratic system. Yet, they also voiced concerns regarding restrictions on the public sphere and bias towards Al-Sisi, whether in the media or other institutions. Equally, there were opinions supporting Al-Sisi and discussing his achievements.
Tarek Fahmy, professor of political science at Cairo University, believes that the current electoral scene reflects the non-development of the political situation over the past few years, especially in the inability of political parties to produce any candidates. He refuted claims that this was the result of a regime that is not willing to allow other candidates to compete against Al-Sisi.
“Although given a chance to rise after the 2011 revolution, political parties failed to work on building visions and programmes, or even practice politics through parliament,” Fahmy opined to Daily News Egypt.
According to him, a political stronghold would have survived in the face of security pressures and interference with politics.
Commenting on arguments made by candidates who withdrew, such as Khaled Ali and Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat saying they were intimidated, Fahmy said those were risks involved as part of the process.
Moreover, he criticised candidates with military backgrounds, Shafiq and Anan, for failing to present themselves properly to the public, unlike Ali for instance, whose political programme and stances were known to the public.
Yet, Fahmy mostly blamed the lack of plurality on the absence of new blood, a result of political parties’ failure, according to him.
On the other hand, political professor and commentator Said Sadek blamed the regime for “violently” dealing with presidential candidates, especially by jailing some.
Additionally, Sadek opined that it would be “a shame” for Al-Wafd Party to present a candidate to compete against Al-Sisi at this point. “The party will lose its credibility after previously announcing its endorsement for Al-Sisi,” he told Daily News Egypt.
This comes as writer and political analyst Abdullah Al-Sinawy described the coming election as “the strangest of all,” telling Daily News Egypt that the current scene is “unprecedented in the history of Egyptian politics.”
According to Al-Sinawy, Al-Wafd’s candidate—expected to be its head Al-Sayed Al-Badawi—seems like an attempt to “fill a gap”, while reality is that it does not help the current situation, especially since the party already supported Al-Sisi, and it seems like the state will be in charge of finding this rival candidate a way into the election.
“This move will kill the party and it will lose its public respect,” he said.
Writer and political researcher Ammar Ali Hassan raised another point of view where he asked in a tweet last week why Al-Sisi was removing his rivals from the race and why he would not put his popularity to a real test through an open election.
The National Electoral Commission said there were so far over 1 million endorsement forms by citizens, according to state media on Friday. Each presidential candidate needs a minimum of 25,000 of those forms to be eligible for election.
But whether high voter turnout should be expected remains uncertain, amid an election for which the result is already expected.
“It will be challenging,” said Fahmy. “The media will have much responsibility in mobilising the reluctant voting bloc,” he added.
Al-Sisi called on people to cast their votes, regardless of whom they would choose.
Meanwhile, Sadek expects low turnout in the election, which according to him, is a concern for the regime that this becomes a measurement of Al-Sisi’s popularity.
Likewise, Al-Sinawy argued that there will be no high turnout in the election, explaining that mobilisation alone is not enough to push voters to ballot boxes in an unhealthy political environment.
“People are interested in voting when there are different candidates and programmes to compare and evaluate in a transparent race. I believe even Al-Sisi’s supporters will not be keen on participating, because the result are predicted,” he stated.
Insight on previous presidential elections
(Official government statistics)
|Number of candidates||Voter turnout|
|2012 – 1st round||13||47%|
|2012 – 2nd round||2||54%|
“Your voice is a message to Egypt and to the world” is the slogan of the National Electoral Commission’s televised advertisement, which reflects the state’s interest in international opinion about the election.
Moreover, the State Information Service issued on Thursday a statement criticising the electoral coverage of foreign media, especially in the case of Sami Anan. The statement highlighted what it described as “professional violations” which included using the “same batch” of sources, ignoring official sources, disregarding relevant facts, “of which the most significant is the legal characterisation of the status of [Anan].”
Meanwhile, Egypt was outraged by a statement by US Senator John McCain on 23 January on the occasion of the revolution’s anniversary, in which he slammed the status of human rights and freedoms. Most seriously, the Arizona senator cited “a repressive climate and fear of retribution” on the part of presidential candidates who have either been arrested or “forced to withdraw.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected the statement, saying it “included unfounded accusations, fallacies, and misinformation about the situation in Egypt and its political trajectory.”
To Al-Sinawy, the “faked” election damaged Al-Sisi’s image internally and externally. “It looks like the president was afraid his popularity would be at risk in front of competitors, but actually ballot boxes are not the only measurement and he surely would have won over his rivals if there was real competitiveness,” he argued.
The Muslim Brotherhood
Speaking to two representatives of former presidential candidates on separate occasions, popular television host Lamees Al-Hadeedy asked them how they felt about being supported by the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, insisting to ask “whether they felt bothered or not” that they would receive votes from “those with blood on their hands.”
In response, Amr Abdelrahman, a spokesperson for Khaled Ali’s campaign denied any coordination with the Muslim Brotherhood as a group but said all citizens were welcome to cast their votes in favour of his candidate.
Likewise, Hazem Hosni, spokesperson for Sami Anan, defended the right of registered voters to elect whoever they choose, adding that if anyone was involved in violence and should be banned from voting, that would be the responsibility of the National Electoral Commission.
But Al-Sinawy does not believe the Muslim Brotherhood would have any significant role in Egyptian politics in general. “They became a burden on any democratic change. People are angry and bored with them, their problem is with the people, which would disable them from making any gains even if the president’s popularity declined,” he said.
According to Sadek, the “mismanagement” of the 2018 election reflects the struggle of the country’s path towards democracy. “We are still an emerging democracy, a process which needs education, awareness, and training,” he argued.
“It comes with ups and downs and we will not be a democracy overnight,” he explained. To Sadek, the regime overkilled the process with this election by violently dealing with candidates, especially ones with military backgrounds, whose bids for the presidency could be an indicator of “different opinions existing inside the military institution.”
But he argued that the choice of the ruler of Egypt is also affected by military, economic, and regional factors, and therefore is not solely depending on people’s choice.
Moreover, “society is deeply polarised, violently judging each other based on gender and religion among other things, suffering from bureaucracy and hypocrisy, which together with the weakness of liberal powers, is unable to produce alternatives to the military ruler or extremist religious leader,” Sadek stated.
For his part, Al-Sinawy explained that a healthy political environment, more important than elections themselves, should start with people pressuring for change and opening up of the public sphere, which so far has left political parties marginalised and weakened.
Recap on what happened to candidates
Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat did not bid for the presidency, announcing that he would not enter the race after facing intimidation and citing an unfavourable political environment.
Ahmed Shafiq claimed to be detained in the UAE after announcing his bid, then deported to Egypt amid news for several days that his whereabouts were not known, after which he declared withdrawing from the race, saying he was perhaps unsuitable for the position because of his five-year absence from the country.
Sami Anan was summoned for investigations after announcing his bid for presidency, according to a military statement saying he violated legal procedures, forged documents, and incited to create tensions between the military and citizens.
Khaled Ali withdrew from the race after Anan’s case, citing intimidation and unfavourable political circumstances.
Ahmed Konsowa was sentenced to six years in jail by military trial after announcing his bid, for breaching legal military procedures by getting involved in politics while in active service.