Now that it seems imminent that Field Marshal Abdel Fattah El Sisi will run for Egypt's presidency, some argue that it’s a done deal and that there’s no need to compete with him, especially due to the overwhelming support he is getting from both state institutions and media outlets, and others argue that anyone else’s participation in the elections would only be for decorative purposes, only further legitimizing the whole process.
Last week left-wing politician Hamdeen Sabbahi officially announced his presidential bid. Khaled Ali, the youngest presidential contender in 2012 may also announce his intent to run soon. The Tamarod (Rebel) movement, known for backing the military, is split over which candidate to support. Two of its three leaders support Sabbahi, while the third supports Sisi. This is excluding two other contenders, namely Sami Anan and potentially Ahmed Shafik, both military men, as they are very unlikely to gain support from any kind of progressive camp.
The political scene is not encouraging many to engage, especially with widespread arrests, unfair competition and the consolidation of power by state bodies. However, I would argue that there are several legit reasons to take the risk and challenge El Sisi in the upcoming presidential elections.
The snowball effect
Some might argue that the hope of having a civilian president has, to a great extent, receded after former president Morsi’s failures. The majority now prefer a military candidate over a civilian one. Nevertheless, the revolution itself was triggered by thousands who joined a Facebook event that was widely ridiculed and underestimated by Mubarak and his advocates. On 25 January 2011, small groups of defiant Egyptians took to the streets demanding the reform of the Ministry of Interior. Three days later, the numbers of protesters grew considerably and demands leapt to, “The people demand the fall of the regime”, which continued until Mubarak was ousted.
It doesn't take much to calculate how long it will take before people start to realize that the current “new-old” authorities will not fulfil their economic and stability aspirations. In fact, frustration at Sisi has already set in, especially among the working classes. In this video, a group of protesters blame Sisi for being conned into voting ‘yes’ in the January 2014 constitutional referendum. “Why did we vote for him?” one woman shouts, “We voted for him because we were promised we would gain our rights by doing so! Where is Gen. El Sisi?” As irrelevant as it may sound, everyone in this video understands very well who is in charge and who to blame.
Fady Samir, a Copt, was recently arrested in a protest and accused of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood. His father appears in this video saying: “El Sisi is not eliminating terrorism but rather eliminating the youth.” The young man provides yet another example of how the regime is losing its allies, this time the Coptic community, who were perceived as being key supporters of El Sisi. However, this support is steadily dwindling.
As time passes, more and more factions of society realize the facts and are slowly starting to make demands. When these factions reach this point they need to find a competent political substitute who can further persuade them off the old regime’s arena back into the 'revolutionary' as opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood camp.
The no-alternative pretence
Mubarak’s regime had often argued that there is no alternative and that chaos will prevail the moment his government leaves office. The same claim is likely to be raised with respect to Sisi, given the noticeable faction of Mubarak supporters and propagandists who support him now. If Hamdeen and/or Khaled Ali manage to secure a remarkable number of votes, possibly from young voters, this long undermining claim could be publicly refuted.
Maintaining our voting process
Days before the January 2014 referendum, at least seven activists from the Strong Egypt Party, including a friend of mine, were arrested while campaigning for a ‘no’ vote on the constitutional amendments. As a result the party decided to boycott the process in protest over the arrests. Had no one decided to rally for a ‘no’ vote, we wouldn’t have heard about violations committed by the police.
These young men bravely took the risk amidst the “dissent-narrowing procedures” carried out by authorities and exposed the regime’s goal to curb pluralism. If the ballot box is one of the few gains we succeeded in attaining after the January 25 revolution, then we should be persistent in keeping it clean and corruption-free by defying any attempts at a hijack.
Although he denies being 'the mantle of the revolution', Sabbahi often says the he seeks to achieve the goals of the revolution. In an interview he openly denounced regressions against political detainees and police violations against citizens. This is somewhat of an embarrassment for Sisi, who knows very well that the youth turnout was lower than expected in the referendum, which was interpreted as a sign of protest over the recent oppressive measures taken by the Egyptian authorities. The field marshal will have to embrace a more “revolution-friendly” narrative if he’s planning on winning votes from the youth, otherwise they’ll support Sabbahi or Ali. On the other hand, if he does this, he may well lose the support of his old state cronies, which puts him between a rock and a hard place.
With increasing workers' strikes, gas shortages and daily power cuts (in winter, when the demands of electricity are a fraction of what they are in the hot summer months) in addition to a dwindling economy and tourism industry, Egypt’s next president is already up against a huge challenge. Presidential hopefuls, including Sisi, should be aware that using traditional tactics to solve Egypt’s problems is not going to work in his or anyone else’s favour. This indeed at the least will put pressure on the military strongman to translate his “no going back” promise into an effective electoral programme, or else he’s at risk of losing the support he’s secured so far and could potentially face another uprising.