Upcoming Elections: What Is At Stake In Egypt

Written By Dr. Sasha Toperich For USMilitary.com and Co-written with Andy Braner, Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations SAIS at Johns Hopkins University

On March 26, Egyptians will go to the polls to elect their new president. Two candidates will confront each other, current President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and Moussa Mostafa Moussa, leader of centrist Ghad party. Ahmed Shafik, Khaled Ali, and Mohamed Anwar El-Sadat redrew their candidacy recognizing the overwhelming popular support President al-Sisi has in Egypt. The candidacy of General Sami Annan, former Chief of Staff at the Egyptian army, was dismissed due to a military law violation that prohibits military members from running for president, a law enacted decades ago.

Much of the international press is keen to call the election “a farce,” pointing out that al-Sisi has already won. Yet, the lack of understanding of Egypt’s internal dynamics, or perhaps, the lack of will to examine them and write about them, is troubling. The latter rings truer.

Egypt indeed has issues, especially with human rights, something that al-Sisi has publicly recognized. He also stressed the need and the right for all Egyptians to have access to food, shelter, safety, education, health, and jobs – and his administration is set to improve on these measures.

Muslim Brotherhood and the Arab Spring
Almost eight years went by after Mohammed Bouazizi, a young fruit vendor in Tunisia set himself on fire triggering flames across the Arab world, now known as the Arab Spring. If anything, it has become clear that the type of democracy we live in, will take a longer time to come to life in this part of the world.

Libya is gripped with ongoing violence, continued power struggle, kidnappings, assassination, threats, and waves of terrorism.

Syria is devastated with the ongoing civil war, at this point confusing even those well-informed, with so many actors involved. The situation in both countries has forced major shifts in geopolitics that are shaking the entire region and beyond.

Tunisia, referred to as the only success story of the Arab Spring (rightly so) is also immersed in ongoing political power struggles and fractioning of the political landscape, making it more difficult to push for needed reforms. Waves of terror attacks in Tunisia, in 2013 (at the Sousse beach resort that killed 38 out of which 30 were British tourists), and in 2015 (at the Bardo National Museum that killed 20 foreign tourists, and two Tunisian nationals), severely damaged Tunisia’s already fragile economy. In 2016, public debt rose from 40 to 60 percent and the Tunisian dinar lots 40 percent of its value towards the dollar, bringing people to the streets to demonstrate for a better life. And not all of Tunisians embraced newly found democracy, where several thousand joined ISIS.

In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood was the only well-organized group that took advantage of people’s rage against the Mubarak regime. They took power in Egypt placing Morsi as new president. It was not too long after, that the people of Egypt regretted, not the Arab Spring protests, but what emerged from them. The motto of the Muslim Brotherhood organization is “party first – country second” and Morsi’s government was no exception. People endured much, tourism suffered, attacks on the Christians mounted. A doctrine aimed to divide society based on ethnicity and religion shocked Egyptians. But, it was when Morsi issued a presidential decree practically announcing himself “temporarily untouchable” with powers to pass the new pro-Islamist constitution in-making (regardless of possible opposition), when al-Sisi, then-Defense Minister decided to act, and seize the control of the country. This was also the tipping point when Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood lost support of most of the revolutionaries, and when government officials refused to listen to Morsi’s government orders. The country was in serious danger of a complete breakdown. The economy was in disarray, tourism dropped significantly as foreigners feared the Islamist rule, Egypt’s image in the world went in downward spiral, and above all, people became disillusioned that the Arab Spring revolt would bring about better life. Al-Sisi became a hero in the country, determined to rebuild Egypt’s shattered image abroad, restore trust, peace, and order to bring back tourism – a crucial part of country’s economy representing 12 percent of Egypt’s workforce.

Israeli Energy Company Delek Announced $15bn Deal With Cairo To Export Natural Gas To Egypt – Boosting Ties Between Two Countries
Al-Sisi’s government launched a set of comprehensive reforms, signed a 12 billion dollar-loan agreement with the IMF, passed legislation to improve the business climate and provide more incentive for domestic and foreign investors, launched reforms in education, among with many others, all while combatting terrorists in Sinai, their infiltration from the unprotected border with Libya, and continued efforts from the banned, underground-based Muslim Brotherhood that used social media to instigate further violence and turn Muslims against their fellow Christians. Al-Sisi was the first head of state in the Arab world to call for action to combat extremist ideology (at the end of 2014). “We need to revolutionize our religion” he said during his famous speech at Al-Azhar, the world’s oldest degree granting Islamic University, in Cairo. The Imam (the Grand Sheik of Al-Azhar) and Grand Mufti of Egypt heard the call, working together with the government on religious reform to fight extremism.

And while Egypt truly needs to improve its human rights record, stop the crackdown on the LGBT community, improve the newly elected NGO law to allow free civil society activity, and strive towards establishing a genuine democratic society; given all circumstances Egypt is facing now, the country needs friends and partners. Egypt needs all the support it can get to navigate these stormy waters. To be clear, Egyptian law (No. 10 from 1961) does not ban the LGBT community but prohibits propagating for it by any means. Equally, the latest NGO law that spurred much controversy is not in effect, with the former law (No. 84) from 2002 still valid.

Negative Media Spin – Not Helping Egyptians
Unfortunately, there are plenty of journalists and scholars who make a living on criticism without providing any context to the story at hand.

The media has blamed al-Sisi’s government for the rise in inflation, often citing discontent from ordinary Egyptians. While they rightly address the cause of inflation to the decision by the government to float the Egyptian pound back in 2016, (which was overvalued) journalists omit to mention that such a move was conditioned by the IMF prior to signing the comprehensive 12 billion-dollar loan agreement. They also did not mention that the government’s decision to float the currency completely closed the money exchange black market opening the country to a set of comprehensive reforms, often winning praises from the IMF in various stages of their implementation.

Yes, Egypt needs to further curb state subsidies if it is to grow a healthy economy, something that is easier said than done. In Egypt, people were accustomed to huge state subsidies since early 1900’s. But this gradual process has to go hand in hand with more investments, and further painful reforms. Egypt should also address its natality issue and create a clear platform how to tackle this huge problem for the country of already more than 91 million citizens and several thousand newborn’s every day.

Egypt Did Not Rely On Israel To Bomb Terrorist In Sinai
The Muslim Brotherhood continues to undermine Egypt and attempt to create a rift between the Egyptians of Christian and those of Muslim faith. In the past two years, the Coptic Orthodox Church has endured several deadly attacks from Islamist militants, and last November, militants killed at least 305 and wounded 128 in Egypt’s deadliest attack ever, in the Sufi mosque on the Sinai Peninsula. After a series of deadly attacks, Egypt launched the “Comprehensive Operation – Sinai 2018” with a goal to “defeat terrorism in all parts of the country.” Both Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church and Al-Azhar supports the military campaign calling for all the Egyptians to support “the brave man of the army and police in their fight against terrorist and criminal elements.” The latest misguided news is now the viral claim that the Israeli Air Force actually bombed Jihadist in Sinai in order to help Egyptian army. Clearly, the Muslim Brotherhood tries to use propaganda to undermine the “validity” of al-Sisi’s government in eyes of the “Islamic brothers.”

As we live in a time of the “fake news” phenomena, Egyptian elections are no exception. Muslim Brotherhood TV stations last week broadcasted videos of children in Sinai running out of school in disarray, under fire from the Egyptian army, trying to demonize the ongoing “Comprehensive Military Operation in Sinai- 2018.” This “breaking news” was made on Friday and Saturday when schools were in fact closed in Egypt. Similarly, on social media, edited clips of al-Sisi’s speeches and statements have appeared, twisting his messages in effort to undermine his standing and legitimacy.

Egypt has a long road ahead before establishing itself as a modern democracy respectful of human rights and democratic procedures. At the same time, while we fail to recognize the huge progress being made under al-Sisi’s government, Russia is quick to fill the void and has been strongly reaching out to Cairo.

Moscow started by offering S-300 anti-aircraft missile system and 50 MIG 29 fighter jets – a 3.5 billion-dollar deal. Russia will also build the first nuclear plant in El Dabaa, in the Matrough region on the Mediterranean coast – a deal worth 21 billion. The plant, when finished, will be operated by ROSATOM, widely opening the local energy market for Moscow. In 2015, Moscow also offered, as a gift, the Molniya P-32 missile craft to Egypt. Last November, Egypt and Russia reached a draft agreement granting the right for Russian war-planes to use Egyptian airports and bases, an agreement that also allows for Egypt to use various Russian airports as well.

We should never stand for less than what our founding fathers proclaimed, but we should increase our efforts to understand the emerging Egypt of today; understand (and respect) its culture, habits, history, and customs. And we need not to look into the fascinating history of this great nation, but merely at the recent events briefly outlined in this article, to at least recognize, with its flaws, that Egypt deserves the chance to reinvent itself after the damage done by the Muslim Brotherhood rule.

With ongoing reforms, Egypt is moving in the right direction, and for achieving –what is for us – an accepted level of democracy and pluralism, we should give al-Sisi a chance. With so many Egyptians killed by waves of terrorist attacks in recent years, the government is under continued pressure.

It seems that the U.S. administration understands this and that is why it seems to have been walking a well-balanced line with one of our most important allies in the Middle East. Al-Sisi’s second term has the potential to make Egypt a healthy, stable, and truly democratic society. Only time will tell.




3 Responses to “Upcoming Elections: What Is At Stake In Egypt”

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military dot image Andy    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

Very good and balanced article. The US and Egypt need to develop a stronger people to people relations. We need Egypt as a strong and stable country in the Middle East. Being more involved, creating friendships and partnerships, we can help Egypt develop democracy. Good points !

military dot image larryf    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

Brilliant reading! Interesting insight! Thank you Dr. Toperich & Andy Braner!

military dot image Josh    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

Thank you for this article. Very informative and well written. Bad guys failed to divide Egyptians and Christians and Muslims live well together as they did for centuries.

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