The United States looks at the upcoming Egyptian presidential elections with mixed – although increasingly critical – feelings. During his recent state visit to the Middle East, at the end of January, Vice President Mike Pence paid traditional lip service to Cairo’s strongman, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, confirming President Trump’s will to re-establish good political relations “after a time when our countries seemed to be drifting apart”.
Six years after the first free elections in Egypt’s post-Arab uprisings era, the Persian Gulf media’s attention to the country’s presidential election has considerably changed. Although the Gulf countries’ political support for Egypt remains unchanged – also expressed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s two-day visit to Cairo earlier this month in which he reaffirmed the highest level of bilateral cooperation – this election appears to be less important for Cairo’s Arab allies.
Later this month Egypt will witness its third presidential election since 2012. With only two candidates and very limited competition, there is no doubt that Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi is looking at a second term in office. The cornerstone of the Egyptian president’s first term in office was countering terrorism and radicalization. It is fair to say that Egypt’s war against terrorism and radical/jihadist Islam had an impact on numerous domestic policies as well as on Egypt’s foreign policy.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Emirates, three close allies, are building a new regional security order and want Israel on board. The Gulf countries need it for countering Iran, Egypt needs it for the Mediterranean’s security. Nevertheless, this requires a solution to the Palestinian issue.
Seven years after the popular uprising that led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, political activism continues to play the prominent role it had in the 18-day anti-regime demonstrations (25 January - 11 February 2011) and the subsequent democratic transition, which soon got stuck.
While Egypt approaches the upcoming presidential elections with an almost uncompetitive political sphere, the spectrum of violence in Egypt has become more diverse over the last few years. It has developed to the extent that we could speak of a “market of violence” among different groups who seek to maximize their respective market shares.
We could say that the history of the Muslim Brotherhood, born in Egypt in 1928 and wiped out by ‘Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi’s coup d’etat in 2013, has been a history of failed opportunities. For although the Muslim Brotherhood has been a grass-roots movement, deeply entrenched in civil society, it failed for decades to seize political power, and when finally, for two years (2011-2013) it succeeded in achieving its goal, its performance was poor.
Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s online communication strategy has mostly centred on two themes: economic development and a call for unity to all Egyptians, regardless of their faiths and political orientations, in the name of the greater good of the country. Drawing from 174 tweets from the official Twitter account of the Egyptian president over the last six months, four recurrent ideas emerge in the al-Sisi narrative:
Egypt has many challenges in its domestic economy, either inherited from Hosni Mubarak’s era or arising during the years of political turmoil and instability that followed the 2011 uprisings. During his first term as president, ex-field marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s military regime tried to resolve the country’s chronic problems in its own way.
The outcome of Egyptian presidential elections scheduled for March 26 is a foregone conclusion - incumbent President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will win and serve his second term unchallenged. The only question is whether he will then abrogate the constitutional clause that imposes a two-term limit and become - like all his predecessors - de facto president for life.