Abdel Fattah el-Sissi’s election as the new president of Egypt was never in doubt. The field marshal, who led last summer’s military coup, won handily, taking more than 90 per cent of ballots cast. The military government’s control over virtually all forms of political discourse in Egypt leading up to the vote virtually assured his success. His victory was so certain, he barely bothered campaigning.
But tepid turnout of roughly 40 per cent, a lack of alternatives due to some other contenders and parties being banned, and voter irregularities – including threats to fine those who failed to vote – hardly give Mr. el-Sissi the legitimacy he had hoped for. Egypt may, technically speaking, have an elected leader, but a giant asterisk on that election means Egypt is no closer to fulfilling the democratic promise of the Arab Spring.
For much of the past year, Mr. el-Sissi has presided over a brutal crackdown on virtually any form of dissent. Egypt’s military rulers have banned the Muslim Brotherhood, which won the last election, along with secular groups such as the April 6 movement, which helped oust former president Hosni Mubarak. Egypt’s judiciary has, in recent months, sentenced 700 people to death in farcical mass trials. More than a dozen journalists, including Canadian Mohammad Fahmy, remain in jail.
Perhaps none of that matters to Egyptian voters, many of whom crave the stability of the old order. Mr. el-Sissi has promised them exactly that. Democracy will come to Egypt eventually, but that will take at least 25 years, he has said.
However, it remains unclear whether he can deliver on the promise of less freedom for more security. Egypt’s security situation has rapidly eroded since the military coup. In the face of repression, anti-government protests have increased. Attacks on supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood have provoked revenge attacks from jihadist groups. The military has been unable to quell a simmering insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula. Is it any wonder that Egypt’s economy – in spite of being propped up by money from Western and Gulf countries – remains stagnant?
Mr. el-Sissi’s plans around economic reform sound like a flashback to the failed nationalization policies of Gamal Abdel Nasser. His vow to promote stability in exchange for personal liberty is a delusional equation. A majority of voters may be willing to give Mr. el-Sissi a chance, but a majority of Egyptians don’t buy any of it. And neither should we.