By Yousuf Abdelfatah
The Egyptian elections are due to be held later this month and, unsurprisingly, it appears that they will be neither free nor fair. The current regime has done everything in its power to stifle political opposition and maintain its grip on the country.
Essentially every serious candidate that has tried to run against current President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has been forcibly removed from the race. His most serious opposition came from former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik and former chief of staff for the army Sami Anan. A few days after declaring his intention to run Anan was detained for attempting to run without having obtained permission from the military and attempted “incitement” against the army. Shafik, the former Prime Minister, was forced to withdraw shortly after announcing his intention to run after being reportedly threatened by the government. He had been deported from the UAE and held by Egyptian authorities after declaring his candidacy.
Sisi also faced challenges from several other candidates. A young army officer named Ahmed Konsowa had declared his intention to run but was then promptly arrested, prosecuted, and sentenced to six years in prison on the basis of declaring his intention to run for president while still in the military. Mohamed Anwar Sadat, a parliamentarian and the nephew of the former Egyptian president with whom he shares a name, and Khaled Ali, a prominent human rights lawyer, also intended to run but withdrew after it became clear that their candidacies blocked. Even before their withdrawals both campaign teams were facing constant harassment and obstruction from state agencies. To give the election some semblance of legitimacy the government recruited politician Moussa Mostafa Moussa to run against the president- an awkward position seeing as how he had already endorsed Sisi for the presidency.
The fact that Sisi was opposed by members of the country’s military establishment is a telling development. As the former Minister of Defense and the former head of the Egyptian Armed Forces it would be expected that the military would be among his most loyal supporters. However, it appears that a rift is beginning to form within the country’s military establishment between the president’s loyalists and those who oppose him. This threat from within his own base might explain some of the intensity with which Sisi has cracked down on his political opposition during the election cycle.
The government crack down has lead to calls to boycott the election, including by major political figures such as Sadat. In response the Egyptian government has threatened to prosecute the opposition for “attempting to overthrow the regime.” While boycotts are a legitimate possibility it is likely that voters will be incentivized to turn out through payments in food and fines for those who fail to vote. Turnout falsification is also a distinct possibility. Additionally, the government has been cracking down on media reporting on the election, with the country’s public prosecutor instructing his staff to monitor news outlets and social media in order to take action against those “undermining the country’s security.” This order also comes on the heels of a damning report by the BBC on the country’s forced disappearances. Such negative press coverage impacts the regime’s image both domestically and abroad and is the last thing the country’s embattled strong man needs at the moment.
Sisi came into the presidency promising to clamp down on extremism, especially in the Sinai Peninsula. To that end, the regime has engaged in a series of drastic human rights abuses that includes mass arrests, torture, restrictions on free speech, and media blackouts. However, he has been unable to do so and if anything extremist activity in the country has only gotten worse. Austerity measures imposed on the country have taken a significant toll on the population and a significant number of Egyptians, especially young Egyptians remained unemployed. Things are not looking good for the country with no sign that they will get better. Consequently, support for Sisi among the public has waned considerably.
It will come as a surprise to no one when Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi wins reelection at the end of the month. Furthermore, while shocking in its breadth, the government’s attempts at undermining its opposition are par for the course in Egyptian politics. However, what is surprising is how readily serious opposition candidates came to the fore and how many of them there were, even if their campaigns were brief. The question now is whether this is a sign of things to come or whether the government’s punitive response will discourage similar situations in the future.
Yousuf Abdelfatah is a senior at Rutgers University where he studies Economics and Political Science.
 “Armed Forces Officer and Presidential Hopeful Sentenced to 6 Years in Prison.” Mada Masr, 19 Dec. 2017, www.madamasr.com/en/2017/12/19/news/u/armed-forces-officer-and-presidential-hopeful-sentenced-to-6-years-in-prison/.
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