In a news conference held on Monday to provide the schedule of the electoral process, the National Elections Authority (NEA), made up of senior judges, assured Egyptians that it will remain neutral towards all candidates, taking all necessary legal measures to ensure free and fair elections.
That includes allowing local and international organisations to observe the process, according to international norms and domestic laws. The vote was also extended over three days to ensure the widest possible popular participation.
The NEA called on Egyptians not to heed the suspicion and mistrust that some parties have been circulating, and to actively take part in voting in order to see for themselves that the country is about to witness a serious election in which several candidates will compete against the incumbent President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi.
Indeed, Egypt has endured a rocky decade since millions of Egyptians rose up on 30 June, 2013 to reject those who wanted to monopolise power in the name of religion and threatened to push the nation to the brink of civil war.
Since then, while the state has had to firmly confront the serious threat terrorist groups posed to the country’s security and stability, it has also worked hard on ambitious economic reforms and the rebuilding of old and decaying infrastructure in order to supply the needs of millions of Egyptians in terms of jobs and better living conditions.
In the past 10 years, some claimed that political reforms and freedoms were not at the top of the government’s agenda. However, since President Al-Sisi launched the National Dialogue 18 months ago, there has been ample evidence that the state was intent on turning a new page and making political reforms a priority. The vibrant and open discussions held in the dialogue’s many sessions on various political, economic and social issues left the participants confident that there was a serious intention on the part of the government to carry out required reforms.
Moreover, more than 1,200 political prisoners were released, including more than a dozen who had been issued final prison sentences and granted presidential pardons, and the local media has been more open in discussing issues of concern to the daily lives of Egyptians, topped by the harsh economic conditions due to rising prices and sky-rocketing inflation since the outbreak of the war between Russia and Ukraine in early 2022.
This atmosphere of openness was reflected in the relatively large number of candidates who announced their desire to compete in the upcoming elections, including leaders of three political parties known for strongly opposing the government’s policies.
Four other political figures and leaders of political parties have also expressed a similar desire, making up a list of at least seven candidates so far who announced their desire to run for president. President Al-Sisi is expected soon to officially announce his decision to run for a third term, as guaranteed by constitutional amendments widely approved by Egyptians in a public referendum in April 2019.
While there are no final candidates from the opposition yet – their eligibility, consisting of the endorsement of 20 members of parliament or 25,000 citizens or proxies nationwide, has not yet been established – there is no doubt that there is a sense of dynamism on the political scene. This is one reason to be optimistic about the country’s future and its ability to confront its many challenges, whether on the domestic, regional or international levels.
The president who will take over the responsibility for the next six years, starting 2024, will have many difficult tasks ahead. Yet with popular backing following fair and free elections, he – or theoretically she, since one woman candidate declared her desire to run for office – will definitely have a better chance of confronting those difficult tasks with confidence and determination.
That is why Egyptians have to shed any apathy and actively take part in the upcoming presidential elections. Meanwhile, concerned authorities also have an important role in making those elections a success, by providing a fair chance for all candidates to air and promote their programmes, whether by holding rallies, or speaking through the media.
There is no question that President Al-Sisi will always have an edge because of his current position as the country’s president, but there is plenty of room for others to express their opposing views in order to give nearly 60 million eligible voters the right to make their own decision.
Elections in our part of the world usually come along with challenges, questions and fears. However, the evidence we have seen so far from all political developments over the past 18 months give us hope that we are about to see a clean and free democratic process, providing a reason for optimism that the country will witness a better future.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 28 September, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly