EGYPT: Which way will the wind blow in Sisi’s new realm?

The re-election of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as Egypt’s president raised fears about the future of partisan politics in the country. Criticisms linger over the way that almost all Egyptian members of parliament endorsed Sisi, which led to a tepid electoral competition.
More of the same for the next four years?

“This is why there are expectations that the next four years will not be different in any manner,” said Hassan Nafaa, a political science professor at Cairo University. “A military commander to the marrow of his bones, Sisi does not like opposition by nature.”

When Sisi stepped in to lead the country in 2014, Egypt’s economic and security conditions were deplorable. The streets were full of chaos, the terrorist threat was at its highest and Egypt was close to bankruptcy.

Sisi’s administration stabilised the situation in many areas, including the economy, national security and foreign relations. However, challenges remain and perhaps the largest criticism has been a perceived lack of openness to political opposition.

Seven months before Sisi became president in June 2014, Cairo enforced the Protest and Peaceful Assembly Law, which required those planning peaceful protests to first seek approval from security agencies.

The law led to the jailing of many political activists, including those involved in the revolution that ousted longstanding President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

The Protest and Peaceful Assembly Law, along with the dominant pro-Sisi media, ensured that Egypt’s political opposition was unable to gain ground.

“The political atmosphere prevalent nationwide does not encourage political parties to have a presence on the political stage,” said Sayed Abdel A’al, president of the leftist National Progressive Unionist Party. “The political parties are not allowed to organise events on the streets to make people familiar with their programmes and they are banned from campaigning in universities.”

There are more than 100 political parties in Egypt, the vast majority of which appeared after the anti-Mubarak uprising in 2011. Before the uprising, political parties needed to have a strong platform and to secure endorsement from thousands of Egyptians before being licensed by a government-run political party committee.

After the revolution, most of the restrictions were eased, encouraging a huge number of the anti-Mubarak revolution young people to form parties.

Egypt’s left-wing vote in particular fragmented into a dozen nearly identical parties, many of which failed to secure any presence in parliament or in the country’s political consciousness.

Sisi has repeatedly called on political parties to form coalitions to secure a stronger share of the vote. Egypt’s 2015 legislative elections saw a decline of party politics, with more independent MPs elected than MPs affiliated with political parties. Most party MPs were affiliated with parties that backed Sisi.

The only political party to field a candidate this year against Sisi in the presidential election was the centrist El-Ghad Party, which does not have a single representative in parliament. Party Chairman Moussa Mostafa Moussa had backed Sisi’s re-election before entering the race himself. He received less than 3% of the vote.

Before the election, Sisi confirmed that he had appealed to Egypt’s political parties to field candidates against him. “However, the political parties are not ready,” he said in a presidential campaign documentary.

Sisi is now facing calls to allow more political freedoms and partisan politics, particularly as Egypt’s constitution sets a two-term limit on the presidency.

Egypt’s political parties are already looking ahead to the 2022 elections, with Moussa confirming he plans to run in the election. Al-Wafd party — Egypt’s oldest political party — has said that it would compete in the next election. New party Chairman Bahaaeddin Abu Shoka said he hoped to see stronger “multiparty politics” over the next four years.

This would depend on the outlook of the government, critics said. “Political parties cannot be strong if there is not a will on the part of the government to make them so,” said A’al.

Tarek Fahmi, a political science professor at Cairo University, described the condition of Egypt’s political life as “dangerous.”

“The political parties do not have real programmes and have no competent politicians to lead Egypt in the future,” Fahmi said. “This is why there is a need for action on the part of the president and on the part of the political parties as well.”

This edited article by Ibrahim Ouf first appeared in The Arab Weekly

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