Egypt’s Presidential Elections: From the Outside Looking In [Part II]

Despite personal convictions about holding presidential elections first, mentioned in the first part of this article, the nomination of two military candidates, in Minister of Defense Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and former Chief of Staff Sami Anan, has become a foregone conclusion. (At least at the time of writing.) While some candidates may already have garnered sweeping public support, emotional and passionate slogans are no longer believable, since the obstacles awaiting the next president are complex. It would seem that this has become more apparent to Egypt’s neighboring Gulf countries than it has within Egypt itself.  

The clearest international signs of support for the possible presidential nomination of General Sisi, recently promoted to the highest military rank of Field-Marshal, have come from the Gulf regimes, led by Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia’s stance is significant, being one of the first and biggest supporters of the current regime. It would appear, however, that Saudi Arabia has started to harbor concerns related to Sisi’s ability to succeed, when facing the unreasonable expectations his supporters in Egypt have. 

The sweeping enthusiasm supporting the new president, however, will not last long. It is very likely, that with the first obstacles he faces, the Brotherhood will lead a new wave of protests, attempting to disrupt any political stability. Additionally, revolutionary movements will also likely join these protests, if a candidate with a military background does in fact win the elections.

Hampering progress has become an easy and repetitive game in Egypt.  Sisi’s opponents will not find it difficult to use this against him, attempting to humiliate him from day one, as others did to Morsi in the early days of his presidency.

Perhaps this is what has driven the Gulf regimes to re-examine their support for Sisi’s candidacy. The Gulf regimes, which are heavily invested in Egypt’s future, are fully aware that if Sisi’s presidency is unsuccessful, the image of the military will be shaken, and this will negatively impact the Gulf regimes. 

Certain voices in influential circles in the Gulf prefer that Sisi remains in charge of security issues, both internal and external, and all that comes with that mandate, rather than taking on other complicated issues such as the economy, institutional reform, and more.

The majority of Egyptian media outlets which laud Sisi’s possible candidacy do so entirely within a security framework. The truth is that this specific requirement represents the desire of the overwhelming majority of Egyptians – but the question that begs asking is what can Sisi add to this issue as president? Practically speaking, he is already the most powerful man in Egypt, and all security issues are his responsibility – as they have been prior to July 3.

Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Ruler of Dubai Mohamed bin Rashid al-Maktoum clearly expressed this sentiment when he indicated his hope that Sisi would maintain his role as head of the Egyptian military, steering clear of the presidency.  Prominent Saudi writer Abdul Rahman al-Rashed, who is close to the decision making circles in the Kingdom, elaborated further. Rashed sees Sisi as the guardian of the constitution and patron of the regime, but in deciding to run for election, his attention will shift from protecting the presidency, to the presidency itself. This will place him at the heart of all the problems that are expected to unfold in the coming four years. The Brotherhood is not the only group that will stand in opposition to the next president. Other opposition groups, with different economic and social demands that result from Egypt’s precarious situation, are bound to join it. They will take to the street, seeking that their demands are fulfilled.

Sisi allowed people to raise his picture alongside Nasser’s, and stood by as Nasserist writers painted flattering, yet exaggerated, depictions of him and his abilities, comparing him to Nasser in all facets, even in a shift in Egypt’s relations with Russia, in response to the Obama administration’s policies. Sisi – the Intelligence man – benefited from all of this, all the more so by not taking a clear stance on it, neither approving nor disapproving of this behaviour publicly. As a result, in Western circles, Sisi’s rise is warily viewed as a return of a Nasserist or socialist era in Egypt. In my personal opinion, this assessment does not ring true.

Despite my reservations on the leaked conversations, whether in phone calls or private meetings for religious and ethical reasons, in order to understand the full picture, I am compelled to rely on leaks of Sisi’s meeting with Al-Masry Al-Youm journalist Yasser Rizk and prior clips from a meeting with army leaders last December. These leaks reveal certain features of Sisi the politician, in contrast with the ambiguity and uncertainty surrounding his public persona. None of these revelations point in the direction of a new Nasserist project, as much as they hint more at a project closer to Sadat’s economic and international policies implemented in Egypt.  

Nader Bakkar is a co-founder of Egypt’s al-Nour Party and serves as a member of the party’s presidential and foreign affairs committees, as well as the chairman’s assistant for media affairs.

Image: Photo: Egypt Armed Forces