No challenger can worry the outgoing president, even the only ‘real’ candidate is blocked. The unprecedented worsening of the Egyptian economy weighs on the tailor-made race, but the crisis in the Middle East is the topic of the only rally
Troubled waters in Egypt where presidential elections will be held from tomorrow to December 12th with a predictable outcome, with the confirmation of the third mandate for Abdel Fattah al-Sisibut in a regional context of very high tension, with the war in Gaza and thousands of Palestinians crowded at the Rafah crossing, and serious internal problems, with the country in economic crisis. The vote, according to analysts, will be little more than a formality for al-Sisi, who since the outbreak of the war in the Strip has been ‘competing’ with Qatar for the leadership of the negotiations and the title of ‘defender’ of the Palestinians.
THE repercussions of the war beyond the border are overshadowing the presidential elections and convincing Egyptians to put their economic problems aside for the momentwhile in Cairo only the giant billboards with the smiling face of al-Sisi posted in the squares and along the main streets recall the elections, which activists abroad consider “a useless waste of public money”. A tailor-made race, where the other three candidates do not have a popular base and are largely unknown to the public. And while all the country’s televisions are tuned to images of the devastation in the Palestinian enclave, the vote appears to many Egyptians as a non-event.
Al-Sisi, who from 2 October – day on which he made his candidacy official – he did not participate in any television interviews, he remained silent on all internal issues and also on his government program, he finds himself in a complicated situation. The Palestinian cause remains a highly flammable topic for Egyptian public opinion and the regime must oscillate between firmness towards Israel and its strategic alliance with the Jewish state, without being seen as complicit in the suffering of the Palestinians.
It is no coincidence that the Gaza crisis was at the center of the only electoral rally of al-Sisi, who took the stage on November 23 at the Cairo stadium. In his speech, the Egyptian leader reiterated the call for a ceasefire, the denunciation of the Israeli “death machine” and the “collective punishment” inflicted on the inhabitants of Gaza, as well as his firm opposition to the plans for forced displacement of the Palestinians towards Sinai, for Cairo a “red line”.
Anxious to raise his status at an international level, in recent months the Egyptian president has taken on the role of the head of state courted by world leaders who have successively gone to Cairo to ask for his good offices on thorny issues: from the exfiltration of foreign citizens from Gaza to the release of hostages and the organization of the humanitarian response. On this last point, Egypt openly criticizes the Israeli blockades that hinder the distribution of humanitarian aid, but maintains strict control over entries and exits from Rafah.
According to observers, if Abdel Fattah al-Sisi intends to make the Gaza crisis his strong point, it is also to avoid talking about another crisis: the unprecedented worsening of the Egyptian economy, for which he had been much criticized before 7 October and the outbreak of the war. In addition to its record debt, Egypt – according to the World Bank – is one of the 10 countries most affected by inflation, which reached almost 40% in September and 70% for food products. A further devaluation of the lira seems inevitable in the coming months.
Learning from the mistakes of the last presidential elections – which at the time were denounced as “a farce” by Egyptian and international human rights organizations – this time the Egyptian authorities tried to give a semblance of democracy. If in the previous elections al-Sisi had ‘clashed’ with Moussa Mostafa Moussa, an unknown architect lent to politics, in the next elections he will compete with three candidates. However, the fact that all of his challengers are not military has led many Egyptians to doubt their real strength. The military, the institution from which every Egyptian leader in the modern era has emerged – with the exception of former Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi, who was forcibly ousted from the army in 2013 – has shown it is unwilling to hand over power to a civilian government.
The authenticity of the electoral process is greatly affected by the fact that al-Sisi’s only serious challenger, Ahmed al-Tantawyformer MP and former head of the left-wing Karama (Dignity) party, was forced to renounce his candidacy a few hours before the deadline expired. Many of his supporters were arrested and al-Tantawy himself was reported. Amnesty International said last month that “genuine opposition candidates were barred from competing,” adding that since October 1, Egyptian authorities “have arrested and interrogated at least 196 people due to their participation in unauthorized protests.” The three admitted candidates are Farid Zahran, of the left-wing opposition Social Democratic Party (perhaps the best known), Abdel-Sanad Yamama, who represents the Wafd Party and Hazem Omar, candidate of the People’s Republican Party.
In the last two presidential elections, in 2018 and 2014, voter turnout was decidedly low, standing at around 40% and 47.5% respectively. Many Egyptians did not show up at the polls, believing the results were already decided. For analysts, al-Sisi’s legitimacy would be undermined if voter apathy were to be confirmed. This is why the government has done everything to include other candidates, albeit cosmetically: a large turnout would dispel doubts about the leader’s popularity. The official results will be announced on December 18th.