News / Middle East

Column: Sissi Wins But How Will He Rule?

FILE - Egypt's former Defense Minister Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, May 22, 2013.
FILE - Egypt's former Defense Minister Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, May 22, 2013.
There was never any doubt about the outcome of Egypt’s presidential elections: with the full power of the state behind him and no real competition, Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sissi has won more than 90 percent of the vote.

But desperate efforts by the government to boost the turnout by extending voting to three days have punctured the myth of Sissi’s overwhelming popularity and the notion that he can rule Egypt successfully without regard to the views of millions who showed their ambivalence or disapproval by staying home.
 
The government insists Sissi’s toll far exceeded the 12 million votes Mohamed Morsi took in Egypt’s first – and so far only -- competitive presidential elections in 2012. However, the 40 million people Sissi exhorted to turn out did not do so even by the government’s own claims. With little independent monitoring, it is hard to know how many votes Sissi actually received.
 
The lack of enthusiasm for Sissi is not surprising. Despite their many disappointments since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak three years ago, Egyptians have become used to a certain amount of political freedom and saw little reason to participate in an election whose results were seen as predetermined. Also, the support for Sissi that developed during Morsi’s misrule has faded since last summer’s coup. Egypt’s economy continues to languish with high unemployment and sparse investment and is only able to dole out subsidized necessities because of cash handouts from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy, visiting Washington earlier this month, said the Egyptian economy needs “to grow 8-10% a year just to make ends meet.”
 
A recent poll by the Pew Research Center showed that 72 percent of Egyptians are unhappy with the direction of the country. Barely half of those polled -- 54 percent -- supported last year’s coup against Morsi, the same percentage that said they approved of Sissi. According to the poll, 43 percent opposed the ouster of Morsi, 45 percent viewed Sissi unfavorably and 42 percent expressed a favorable opinion of Morsi, who languishes in jail along with thousands of other supporters of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and members of the liberal opposition. A government crackdown has killed some 2,000 people in just the last year and Sissi has equated political dissent with terrorism.
 
The elections thus were hardly a ringing endorsement of the new president. Egyptian commentators say that Sissi relied too much on state dominance of the media and are worried about what his failure to stage more successful elections says about his ability to govern effectively. As a military man, he appears unaccustomed to dealing with a society that refuses to obey orders.
 
Michele Dunne, an expert on Egypt at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told VOA that Sissi might need to rethink his initial decision not to form a political party given the difficulties in mobilizing voters this week. “He thought he could do it without a machine,” she said. Dunne also called official claims of a 47 percent turnout “not credible.”
 
With his halo cracked, Sissi would do well to show some humility and reach out to his opponents but that may be too much to expect in a region where politics has reverted to zero sum. Dunne noted that Sissi is obliged to continue his crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood by his Saudi and UAE backers, who have also outlawed the organization. Sissi will also be hard-pressed to institute needed economic reforms, she said, out of fear that he will antagonize a lukewarm base. “Sisi has support but it’s soft and it’s falling,” Dunne said.
 
At some point, a way must be found to reintegrate supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and liberal groups back into the political process. The former are too numerous and influential to isolate or expunge, while the latter was responsible for sparking the 2011 revolution and is the source of innovation and intellectual heft. Both groups are likely to be emboldened by the low turnout for Sissi and to continue protests both inside and outside Egypt that will scare away tourists and potential investors.
 
Clearly, elections without political pluralism are not the solution.While millions of Egyptians were sitting out this week’s vote, tens of thousands of Syrian refugees were lining up in Lebanon and elsewhere to approve a third seven-year term for their embattled president, Bashar al-Assad. Many feared retribution if they did not vote but the chances they can return to Syria in the near future look dim. Assad will of course “win” these elections; the only question is whether he claims a bigger percentage of the vote than Sissi.

Such hollow democracy disappoints those who saw genuine promise in the uprisings of 2010-2011 and feeds Islamic extremism. In his speech at West Point on Wednesday, President Barack Obama underlined the importance of true democracy and respect for human rights as “an antidote to instability and the grievances that fuel violence and terror.” In advance of the Egyptian election results, he promised to continue security cooperation with the new government but also to “persistently press for reforms that the Egyptian people have demanded.”
 
The United States has little choice but to hold its nose and work with Sissi against real terrorists who threaten Egypt and the interests of the US and its other allies. But counterterrorism partnerships of the sort Obama described at West Point are not sufficient to help the region achieve stability and prosperity.

Obama, who has repeatedly quoted Martin Luther King in saying that “the arc of history bends toward justice,” expressed optimism that democratic change will eventually come to countries that have suffered authoritarian rule. Social media has brought new sources of information to once isolated peoples and there is less tolerance everywhere for corruption, incompetence, hypocrisy and lies.
 
One thing is certain: Sissi’s path will be bumpy and he will not be another Nasser, Sadat or even Mubarak. Egyptians are done with presidents for life.

Barbara Slavin

Barbara Slavin is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center and a correspondent for Al-Monitor.com, a website specializing in the Middle East. She is the author of a 2007 book, Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the US and the Twisted Path to Confrontation, and is a regular commentator on U.S. foreign policy and Iran on NPR, PBS, C-SPAN and the Voice of America.

You May Like

Afghan Government: Taliban Leader Mullah Omar Died in 2013

President Ashraf Ghani's office confirms reclusive Taliban leader died in 2013, but Taliban itself claim Omar is still alive More

Erdogan in China Amid Tensions on Uighurs, Missile System

Turkey's president has criticized China's heavy-handed policies toward Uighurs in violence-plagued Xinjiang region, where China says it is fighting foreign-backed separatists More

Critics: China’s President Using Law to Tighten Grip on Power

President Xi, who has stressed importance of 'rule of law' and law-based governance, has exerted increasingly tighter grip over society since coming to office More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Xaaji Dhagax from: Somalia
June 03, 2014 2:51 PM
Irreplaceable, life-president, field marshal, doctor, el-hagi Abdel Fattah el Sissi. What a great leader!

by: sherif from: cairo
May 30, 2014 12:34 AM
this writer mustn't write again about the Egyptian affairs, she doesn't realize the facts on the ground, I think she transfers a past false written talks about Egypt without awareness and scrutinizing.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponentsi
X
Henry Ridgwell
July 28, 2015 9:53 PM
A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video Special Olympics Athletes Meet International Friends

The Special Olympics are underway in Los Angeles, California, with athletes from 165 countries participating in an event that gives people with intellectual disabilities the chance to take part in an international competition. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that for athletes and their families, it's also an opportunity to make new friends in an international setting.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs