Egypt - A Cairo Letter: Egyptian Presidential Election to Yield No Surprises


A Cairo Letter: Egyptian Presidential Election to Yield No Surprises

Revolution is an instrument of political change in times that need to deal with the status quo swiftly and abruptly. In Egypt, the revolution currents moved the country into complete diametrical extremes within the last three years. First, away from its half a century long military dominance and towards an Islamic rule, only to be followed by another revolution turned into a coup, which reinstated the same military power. End of May, Egyptians will cast their ballots in a new election. The upcoming process will legitimize the head of state and hopefully create a podium for peaceful political engagement.

Egypt has been in political turmoil since the January 25th Revolution in 2011 that ousted President Hosni Mubarak after 30 years in power. Riding on the wave of Arab Spring, voices on the Tahrir Square were loud and clear. Times were ripe for political change that should yield social development and freedoms. As in the rest of the Arab world, the citizenry wanted to execute their right to influence the political process and move away from conceited political establishments. The first presidential and legislative election after the Revolution inaugurated Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. However, with each reform introduced by the Islamists, the Egyptian populace felt even further from the ideas of a democratic society. Morsi’s brotherisation of the most populous state in the Arab world backlashed with a coup, followed by an interim period without the parliament in place and amending of the 2012 Constitutions.

The Executive - Competing Candidates

On May 26-27, Egyptians will cast their votes for the president. Two candidates have submitted their nominations, for which they had to present a minimum of 25,000 endorsements by eligible voters from at least 15 out of 27 governorates. A standoff of two figures is distinctively different to the 2012 presidential run, when 13 candidates competed in an extremely vibrant political campaign. The 2014 Constitution limits the presidential position to two terms, but continues with traditionally high powers vested in the president, giving him supreme executive and partly legislative powers.

Abdel Fattah Al Sisi became a world-known figure after his instrumental role in the coup on Mohamed Morsi. A former head of the Egyptian Armed Forces and until recently the Minister of Defense was at first opposing a candidacy. However, due to the growing public support and army’s approbation he resigned his ministerial function to run for the presidency as an independent. His supporters gathered 200,000 endorsements to demonstrate his wide base and a number of liberal-nationalist and Nasserist parties officially endorsed him: New Wafd, Tagammu, National Movement Party, Arab Democratic Nasserit Party, Nour Party, Congress Party, National Sufi Movement, Free Egyptians.

In a polarized Egyptian society, the military enjoys popular support of estimated 80 percent, while the banned Muslim Brotherhood is close to one fifth of the population. Trust in the armed forces is not unusual for Egypt. In 1952 the military expelled foreign forces and ensured independence of the state. Since then, the army was continuously controlling Egypt’s politics and economy except under a brief time under Morsi. According to various estimates, the military steers up to 40 percent of Egypt’s economy and is therefore, the country’s biggest employer. Although the popular support might not directly translate into votes for Sisi, at the moment everyone in Egypt would dare to predict that the former general is to win the presidential battle.

His opponent Hamdeen Sabahi is running for the highest post in the country for the second time. The leader of a leftist political movement Egyptian Popular Current secured 20 percent of the votes in 2012 elections, coming third after Morsi. Sabahi will seek votes from the youth and workers on the left side of the political spectrum. During Morsi’s short-lived government, he founded together with Amr Moussa an alliance of parties to oppose the brotherisation of the country. Some of this parties expressed to support his presidential efforts, among them Karama, Socialist Popular Alliance, Revolutionary Socialists, Constitution Party, Communist Party, Justice Party.

The Judiciary – Out of Control

Notorious mass trails in Minya, sentencing 529 individuals in March and another 683 in April 2014 to death, undermine the trust in judiciary. While there is an elaborative and sophisticated legal system in place, the court in Minya governorate exercised an extreme degree of interpretational liberty. Moreover, it entered the game of dealing with political grievances. Egypt’s trading partners, USA and EU, promptly reacted. The EU referred to breaches of international human rights law as the trials lack the most basic procedural standards and issue disproportionate verdicts. In response, the US Senator Patrick Leahy, the leader of the panel that appropriates foreign aid, announced to put a halt to 650 million USD military aid to Egypt.

In view of the elections, judiciary controls all levels of the electoral process from the highest Presidential Elections Commission to voting on the ground with judges as heads of polling stations. As judiciary is no longer perceived impartial and often serves public opinion rather than safeguarding the legal system, the question is whether judges will resist the temptation to influence the vote on the Election Day.

The Fourth Estate – Under Pressure

Media independence and journalistic freedoms have been under scrutiny of every Egyptian regime. According to Reporters Without Borders, more than 200 journalists have been arrested, 50 injured and at least nine killed in the past three years. Morsi replaced editors of state owned media with Muslim Brotherhood supporters to establish a pro-brotherhood editorial coverage in the newspapers, but the same applies under the current interim president.

The 2014 Constitution guarantees the freedom of the press and under the Article 71 it is prohibited to censor, confiscate, suspend or shut down media outlets. Nevertheless, constitutional guarantees do not translate into safeguards for journalists. Reporters Without Borders have noted 125 arbitrary arrests since July 3, 2013. Even more, journalists have been trialed before military courts and accused of being members of terrorist organizations only for conducting interviews with members of the Brotherhood. Ahead of the election, pressure on freedom of opinion and press creates an atmosphere of fear, in which self-censorship becomes a survival strategy and right to information only a provision on the paper.

The Legislative – Not in Place

After the presidential election, Egypt will still continue to lack the legislative branch. Last parliamentary election held in 2011/2012, brought the Islamists majority of seats for the first time in history. A complicated dual-system combining plurality voting system with proportional lists in three voting phases from November 28-January 12 was utilized, which the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled to be unconstitutional and a third of parliamentarians invalid, majority of them belonging to the Morsi’s winning Freedom and Justice Party. Consequently, this dissolved the whole parliament adding to ongoing ideological polarizations between liberal-nationalists and Nasserists on one side and the Islamists on the other. The 2014 Constitution fails to stipulate an exact electoral system to be employed for the House of Representatives election, hence history might repeat itself intensifying political schisms in the country.


“As humanity hopes to move from the age of maturity to the age of wisdom to build a new world where truth and justice prevail, and where freedoms and human rights are protected, we, Egyptians, believe that our revolution is a resumption of our contribution to drafting a new history for humanity.” (Constitution of the Arab Republic of Egypt, 2014)

Human dignity, social justice and freedom were aspirations of the January 25th Revolution. Protests took a toll of 850 people and around 100,000 were injured. The goal was not only to oust Mubarak, but also to secure a democratic future. For that, the new president will have to ensure, that the judicial, legislative and executive branch of the state remember those aspirations and give the fourth estate ample room to contribute to democracy. Only on that basis, decades of economic grievances and underdeveloped areas can start to be addressed.

Ljubljana, May 11, 2014