Egypt’s entirely predictable presidential election has been won by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, president since 2014. From the election date announcement (several months earlier than it was due) to the declaration of result, the outcome was never in doubt.
This is despite deepening economic problems; 71% food and beverage inflation in October, falling living standards with millions already suffering severe hardship, and chronically under-funded public services and frequent power cuts. Wars across Egypt’s borders in Gaza and Sudan (and never far from breaking out in Libya) add to the unstable situation.
Sisi won 89.6% of the votes, but the three other low-profile candidates were carefully selected to give the appearance of a contest, without being credible challengers or offering a radically different programme.
Wealthy businessman Hazem Omar leads the Republican People’s Party and got 4.5%. He previously served in the government as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and has not disagreed with Sisi in public in the last ten years.
Farid Zahran of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party got 4%. He is also seen as close to Sisi and the security services. The first prime minister after the 2013 military coup that overthrew Muslim Brotherhood President Morsi was a member of this party.
Abdel Sanad Yamama of the long-established Wafd Party, which supported Sisi in his last election, got 1.9%.
Potentially more popular candidates were obstructed before and during the nomination period. In September, a prominent Sisi critic, newspaper publisher, Hisham Kassem, received two separate three-month prison sentences. He was charged with “defamation” of a former minister, as well as “contempt” of a police officer during his arrest in August. He had been seen as a possible Free Current candidate, a three-party coalition advocating economic ‘liberalisation’.
Gameela Ismail, the only woman to declare an interest in standing, did not get the backing of her Dostour Party (formed in 2012 by former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed El-Baradei, as a “broad non-ideological party”).
Only one candidate offered a significantly different programme to Sisi. This was Ahmed el-Tantawi, who has two million followers on Facebook. A former member of parliament of the Nasserist Karama (Dignity) party, his campaign was supported by some who had been active in the struggle against the dictatorial former president, Hosni Mubarak.
“The authorities fear the campaign,” a supporter said, “because it is based on a grassroots movement that enjoys the support of thousands of young people, workers, students, retirees, and individuals who were previously apolitical but have now recognised that their livelihoods are at risk if they do not step forward.” (Middle East Eye 5.10.23)
However, despite his Facebook following, Tantawi was unable to collect the 25,000 nomination signatures needed in 15 governorates. Forms were held in government offices, where officials and pro-government thugs prevented many from signing. Dozens of his supporters were arrested and campaign events blocked. His phone was hacked many times, with state forces implicated as the likely source.
During the campaign Sisi held no public meetings, debates or television interviews. His one public speech was a staged event in Cairo stadium, entitled “Long live Egypt, a popular response in solidarity with Palestine.” He was greeted by a guard of honour of hundreds of volunteers mobilised to deliver aid to Gaza. In the background, were rows of parked lorries, loaded with the emergency supplies.
After one state-organised protest in solidarity with Palestine on October 20th, where hundreds of protestors chanted against Sisi, no further protests on Palestine have been allowed. Despite Sisi presenting himself as a mediator in the release of Palestinian prisoners for Israeli hostages, his regime holds an estimated 60,000 political prisoners in overcrowded prisons. Egypt ranks 136 out of 142 countries in the World Justice Project’s rule of law index.
Tight government controls over the media – both public and privately-owned – restricts reporting and scrutiny of Sisi’s record. Reporters Without Borders ranks Egypt 166 out of 180 countries for press freedom.
Voter turnout in 2012, the first presidential election after Mubarak’s fall, was 52%. In 2018, when Sisi faced a sole ‘opponent’ who was in fact a supporter of his, turnout was 41%. This time, turnout is claimed to be 66.8%. Voters received food parcels in some areas (despite Sisi saying before election day, “If the price of the nation’s progress and prosperity is to go hungry and thirsty, then let us not eat or drink.”!)
Future threats to Sisi build
“I will not vote because I am sick of this country,” said a 27-year-old taxi driver. “When they hold a real election I will go out and vote.” (Reuters 12.12.23) Nevertheless, it is possible that the Gaza crisis has led to a fear of instability spilling into Egypt, boosting Sisi’s vote.
It has also made the US, EU and Gulf states more fearful of instability throughout the region, strengthening Sisi’s leverage with them for now.
The new capital built in the desert has cost $58 billion, so far. External debt ballooned to nearly $165 billion by the end of June 2023, up from about $46 billion when Sisi officially assumed power in 2014. Debt repayments of $42 billion are due in 2024.
Sisi’s election victory will not strengthen his position to push through cuts in food and fuel subsidies or further privatisation, as the International Monetary Fund has demanded as a condition for a further loan. Wealthy Gulf states, repeatedly bailing out the Egyptian economy in recent years, now demand ownership of Egyptian companies in return for more money. Many of these are owned by the Egyptian military, providing good incomes to retired senior officers.
In December 2010, Hosni Mubarak’s party won 83% of the seats in parliamentary elections. Just six weeks later demonstrations began that were to end his 31-year rule within 18 days.
Sisi’s 2019 constitutional amendments allowed him to stand for a third term as president, for six instead of four years. But he will not be able to prevent future mass struggles developing against the poverty and repression that have marked his years in office.
It won’t be his hand-picked ‘opponents’ in this election that will lead that struggle. To win power, workers and youth will need to build their own independent party and arm it with a programme for socialist change and genuine workers’ democracy, appealing to workers across the region to take the same road.