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Friday, 20 July 2018

After Egypt's 2018 presidential elections: Hurdles to cross

With President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi expected to win the vote by a landslide analysts are focused on the policies he will adopt in his second four-year term

Gamal Essam El-Din , Thursday 29 Mar 2018
presidential election
Egyptian children (Photo: Mustafa Emeira)
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Voting in Egypt’s three-day presidential election closed on Wednesday with the results expected to be announced on 2 April.

“There is no doubt that President Al-Sisi’s achievements in his first four-year term, particularly in the area of fighting terrorism and restoring security, will have persuaded millions of Egyptians to vote for him in the last three days,” says Al-Ahram political analyst Gamal Abdel-Gawad.

“The only other candidate, Moussa Mustafa Moussa, is a little known figure, the head of a party, the Ghad, which has little influence in political life.”

Abdel-Gawad expected the turnout would be similar to 2014 when 23.7 million Egyptians voted for Al-Sisi.

Journalist and MP Mustafa Bakri predicted a higher turnout, a result, he said, of pro-Sisi forces mobilising energetically. “We viewed the vote as a challenge.

We want a record turnout to respond to those who issued boycott calls or claimed Al-Sisi had lost much of his popularity,” said Bakri.

The National Election Commission’s (NEC) Spokesperson Mahmoud Lasheen said on Tuesday an initial tally showed record voting was expected in Egypt’s most populous cities — Cairo and Alexandria — and in North Sinai.

But once President Al-Sisi is announced as the winner what comes next?

“President Al-Sisi’s second term in office is supposed to be his last. Under the constitution he cannot remain in power after 2022,” says political analyst Amr Hashem Rabie.

“For political parties and other civil forces the pressing question, therefore, is how they can best prepare themselves for the 2022 presidential poll.”

“President Al-Sisi has a role to play in this respect, by dismissing calls for the constitution to be changed to either extend the presidential term or allow candidates to run for an unlimited number of terms.”

Rabie recalls president Anwar Al-Sadat vowed in 1971 — a year after he came to office — to serve no more than one term in office, “but in 1980 the constitution was amended to allow him to stay in power forever.”

“Hosni Mubarak also promised when he came to office after the assassination of Sadat in 1981 that he would stay no more than two terms but he left power only after being ousted from office 30 years later.”

“We do not want the same scenario to be repeated with President Al-Sisi,” said Rabie.

Shawki Al-Sayed, a leading lawyer and political analyst, told Al-Ahram Weekly that “political reform should be the most dominant issue in the next four years.”

“Just as he adopted a package of economic reforms in his first term, President Al-Sisi should pursue political reforms in his second, allowing viable candidates to emerge before the 2022 poll,” said Al-Sayed.

“Without active political parties capable of fielding credible presidential candidates the only thing people can hope for is that the constitution is amended to allow Al-Sisi to remain in office beyond 2022, or for another military strongman like former prime minister Ahmed Shafik to contest the poll and win.”

Conservatives Party head Akmal Qortam agrees. “Now the public recognises a wrong choice for president, like the election of Mohamed Morsi in 2012, can throw the country into chaos, their only hope in 2022 is that someone like Shafik becomes president, or Al-Sisi remains in office.”

Shafik, who announced early in January that he would run in this year’s ballot only to withdraw suddenly and announce his support for Al-Sisi, will be 81 in 2022.

Political analyst Abdel-Moneim Said noted in an article in Al-Ahram that “political parties decided to support Al-Sisi in the 2018 poll with the stipulation that he leads the country towards democracy in his second term.”

“This means maintaining the current constitution, changing the election law to allow for a stronger parliament, amending the political parties law to help opposition forces develop their own legal forums and empowering young people.”

“President Al-Sisi should begin his second term by holding a national dialogue with political leaders to reach a consensus on the political reforms necessary to make Egypt a fully-fledged democracy by 2022.”

“Without this, we could face a big problem in four years’ time.”

Al-Said believes “combating terrorism will remain a top issue on President Al-Sisi’s agenda in his second term.”

“The Comprehensive Operation Sinai 2018 will continue to uproot Islamist militants and Al-Sisi winning the vote by a landslide will kill any hope of reconciliation with the banned Muslim Brotherhood that might allow it to re-engage in political life.”

“The long anticipated law forming the National Council for Combating Terrorism and Extremism will soon be issued by parliament. It will focus on reforming religious discourse, stemming radical Islamism and containing sectarian strife,” said Al-Said.

“These should be major priorities in the next stage because they will stop Egypt from being a breeding ground for extremists and make it safe from terrorist threats for years to come.”

Al-Said also argued Al-Sisi will face a major task reconstructing North Sinai.

“Injecting billions of dollars of investments into North Sinai will be needed, in tandem with security operations, to rid the peninsula of terrorists.”

Gamal Zahran, a professor of political science and economics at the University of Suez, believes President Al-Sisi needs to do more to persuade Western powers to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation.

“President Al-Sisi did a good job in his first term, forming an alliance with moderate Arab Gulf countries against Qatar and Turkey, and building good relationships with US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin,” Zahran told the Weekly.

“In his second term he should work to exploit Trump’s hostility towards Islamist movements to have the Muslim Brotherhood designated a terrorist organisation in the US.”

Political analysts also agree Egypt’s runaway population growth and problems posed by Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam will provide headaches during Al-Sisi’s second term.

Zahran expects another package of IMF-inspired economic reforms is just over the horizon.

Sayed Abdel-Aal, head of the Tagammu Party, warned in a statement last week that “as Egypt’s foreign debt in President Al-Sisi’s first term has ballooned to a staggering $80 billion, servicing it now takes up 38 per cent of the state budget.”

“Instead of seeking real revenues to pay off these debts the government chose the scenario favoured in the Mubarak era, implementing an IMF-inspired privatisation programme,” said Abdel-Aal.

He further complained the programme entails privatising companies in the strategic insurance, container handling and banking sectors, warning “such policy opens the door for foreign monopolies to dominate the local market.”

Minister of Finance Amr Al-Garhi said in a press conference on 20 March that shares in 23 government-owned companies — including insurance, container handling, housing, tobacco, and aluminium — will be sold on the stock market, generating between LE5 billion and LE6 billion in proceeds in the first three months and LE80 billion by the end of the programme.

*This story was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly  

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