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

Scotland Vote Raises Questions of International Law

Experts say self-determination, as defined and protected by international law, confined narrowly to independence movements in process of de-colonization More

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 More

Annual Military Exercise Takes on New Meaning for Ukraine Troops

Troops from 15 nations participating in annual event, 'Rapid Trident' in western Ukraine 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.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid