Egypt: Presidential candidates must battle disillusionment of the electorate

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Presidential Elections will begin on May 26th.

 

Cairo

Egypt’s High Election Commission (HEC), the body which will supervise the upcoming presidential election, held a conference on April 20th in which it announced that the door for the registration of candidates had now closed, leaving the presidential race cut down to two potential applicants.

The two presidential aspirants who submitted their documents for nomination were former Defence Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Nasirist politician Hamdeen Sabahi, the HEC’s media spokesman said in a televised conference broadcast on state-run Nile News TV.

The first round of the presidential vote will take place on May 26th-27th with the results being announced on June 5th.

AFP (20/4) reports that al-Sisi, the ex-army chief, is lauded by millions for ousting an Islamist government. He resigned from the military on March 26th in order to stand in the presidential election in which he is the frontrunner, riding on a wave of popularity after deposing Mohamed Mursi, the country’s first elected and civilian president.

Al-Sisi’s sole rival, Hamdeen Sabbahi, came third in the 2012 election which Mursi won, and is seen by supporters as the only leader representing the aspirations of those who revolted against the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood will not feature in the election. Not only is it boycotting the vote, but it has also been blacklisted as a “terrorist” organisation amid a brutal crackdown by the military-installed authorities, despite sweeping all elections since Mubarak’s fall. The movement’s top leaders are behind bars, and its members are blocked from contesting any poll.

The May election comes against the backdrop of unprecedented violence set off by Mursi’s overthrow.

Amnesty International (AI) says more than 1,400 people have died in the police crackdown targeting Mursi’s supporters, while over 15,000 have been jailed.

The authorities say more than 500 people, mostly policemen and soldiers, have been killed in militant attacks since the overthrow of Mursi.

It is precisely this insecurity from which al-Sisi derives his unparalleled popularity, as supporters see in him a leader capable of bringing stability to the country.

With the economy in ruins, many are looking to al-Sisi to return the stability needed to reassure investors and tourists.

But Sabbahi hopes to capitalise on fears that al-Sisi represents a return to the authoritarian era of Mubarak, as the ongoing crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood has also targeted some leading activists of the 2011 revolt.

His supporters see in Sabbahi echoes of the social justice policies associated with Gamal Abdel Nasser, the charismatic and socialist-leaning military ruler who toppled the monarchy in 1952 and stood up to Western powers.

Despite the huge support, al-Sisi’s positions on economic and political issues remain unclear, and there is little idea of how he would approach the job of president, said Michele Dunne of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

She said the interim government had been operating in “crisis mode” since Mursi’s ouster.

“The big question is whether, once al-Sisi is president and the post-coup political road map is nearly completed, he will begin to take actions to cut through this knot of problems,” Dunne said.

“So far there is no sign of a political or security strategy on al-Sisi’s part to move beyond the crackdown in effect since July 2013.”

Dunne later told Al Jazeera (20/4) that the question was not whether al-Sisi would win, but by how much. Voter turnout is traditionally quite low in Egypt, often around 50% or less -and if that trend holds in May, “it would look like he won because he was the only viable candidate, but that there’s not a great deal of enthusiasm for him… He is not competing against other candidates; what he’s competing against is indifference and disillusionment.”

Egypt under al-Sisi would not look much different than Egypt today, said Samer Shehata, an associate professor of Middle Eastern politics at the University of Oklahoma.

“As time goes on and he is not able to deliver economic miracles or political solutions, his popularity will naturally wane,” Shehata told Al Jazeera. Indeed, Sisi will be vulnerable to some of the same criticisms as Mubarak, stemming from repressive policies, human-rights abuses and economic stagnation, with key sectors such as tourism, construction and manufacturing still reeling from the revolution. Studies have shown sustained economic underperformance in countries that experience political turmoil, from low growth and high unemployment to soaring deficits and a drop in investments.

The early stages of al-Sisi’s presidency will likely bring a concerted push against “terrorism” and a focus on economic development, with pieces of his anticipated economic strategy already trickling out, including the construction of a nuclear reactor and the building of one million low-income housing units. But the fervour surrounding al-Sisi – the myths driving his campaign – could ultimately backfire when his achievements stall, experts say.

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