Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.
On March 26th, Egypt will hold its presidential “election.” This coming election has received little coverage in the West, and for good reason. Its outcome is predetermined.
الرئيس مع أهالي الطلبة المستجدين اليوم باكاديمية الشرطة اثناء زيارتهم لابنائهم pic.twitter.com/ArLi8Xs5lH
— Abdelfattah Elsisi (@AlsisiOfficial) February 23, 2018
Incumbent President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is running unopposed in all but name, and the election is nothing but a procedural farce. Any candidate that could have mounted a meaningful opposition bid has been arrested, banished, or intimidated into silence.
To further cement the predetermined outcome, the president has ordered the military and security services, longstanding affiliates of the president, to conduct crackdowns against the few scraps of free press that still exist in the country. The Egyptian government has long played the adversary to a free and critical press. Its role as a foe against the pen is only intensifying, and it is doing so with a clear purpose in mind.
While the short term goal for the el-Sisi administration is to win the already won election, the long term goal appears to be to make sure that el-Sisi becomes President for Life. Most indicators have it that the government will announce the removal of term limits in the months following the election, perhaps as early as July 2018. To do this, the administration, and its president, must control the media image of the events. This move mirrors el-Sisi’s brethren and his predecessor, Muhammad Hosni El Sayed Mubarak, the man who ruled Egypt for over 30 years.
Since el-Sisi’s control is deeply rooted, he largely controls the national political dialogue. President el-Sisi is a product of military leadership, and this affords him enormous power in the nation because the military is the largest employer as well as the largest industry in Egypt.
#EgyElections: Ahead of a farcical election, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi goes after the press – Egypt’s paranoid president (The Economist) https://t.co/VDsmyEg2rl #JournalismIsNotACrime #MoussaMoustafa #Egypt
— fustat (@fustat) March 9, 2018
Lieutenant General Sami Hafez Anan represented the only viable alternative to el-Sisi’s candidacy. Anan was the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces from 2005 until August 2012, and was part of the US-supported Egyptian military push to remove President Mubarak in 2011. He announced his candidacy to stand for the Egypt Arabist Democratic party on January 19th, only to be arrested on January 24th for fraud and for “inciting against the Armed Forces.” Anan’s arrest happened days after the former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq was deported from his residency in the United Arab Emirates after declaring his bid for Presidency. Upon arrival to Cairo Airport, Shafiq was held in incommunicado for 24 hours, and he withdrew from the race afterwards, stating that he was not “the ideal person to lead the state’s affairs”.
While the short term goal for the el-Sisi administration is to win the already won election, the long term goal appears to be to make sure that el-Sisi becomes President for Life
Now, the only remaining candidate to stand against el-Sisi is the al-Ghad Party candidate, Moussa Mostafa Moussa, a close and long-running confidant of el-Sisi and the Mubarak family alike. With Moussa entering the presidential fray on January 20th, he began campaigning just in time to see all but himself and el-Sisi removed from the campaign trail. By all accounts, Moussa’s candidacy is there only to serve as a token opposing candidate.
With China having removed its own term limits, making its incumbent president, Xi Jinping, the most powerful Chinese politician since Mao, Egypt is moving to do the same. Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin is about to be re-elected yet again.
Maybe 2018 is indeed the beginning of a new Season of the Dictator. But then again, the post-Cold War, post-Arab Spring and post-Truth world has already proven to be an increasingly unpredictable and volatile place. One might actually find some comfort in knowing who will win the next election.
More about this, and more in the coming American Foreign Policy Review article, part 4 entitled “The Season of the Dictator.”
John Sjoholm, Lima Charlie News
John Sjoholm is Lima Charlie’s Middle East Bureau Chief and founder of the consulting organization Erudite Group. He is a seasoned Middle East connoisseur, with a past in the Swedish Army’s Special Forces branch and the Security Contracting industry. He studied religion and languages in Sana’a, Yemen, and Cairo, Egypt. He lived and operated extensively in the Middle East between 2005-2012 as part of regional stabilizing projects, and currently resides in Jordan. Follow John on Twitter @JohnSjoholmLC
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