The drama surrounding Egypt’s elections has reached a new peak. Over the past several weeks, as candidate after candidate has been disqualified from participating in the upcoming March polls, the Egyptian elections have been exposed as the sham that they really are.
In one of the more recent installments of this comical saga, a little-known Egyptian politician added his name to the candidate list, minutes before the country’s nomination deadline. Mousa Mostafa Mousa, leader of the Ghad Party, succeeded in obtaining a ballot for the presidential race late last week. Mousa had reportedly found eleventh-hour endorsements from several members of parliament, in addition to 47,000 signatures from the public. All of this, despite only publicly declaring his intention to run the day before the deadline. In fact, according to local news sources, Mousa submitted his candidacy just 15 minutes before the deadline.
Mousa now stands as the only challenger to Sisi. Considering that little more than a week ago, Mousa fully supported Sisi for president and circulated social media messages to that effect, it seems that what is occurring in Egypt now can hardly be called a political race.
The current situation is the result of a systematic purge of all candidates that have stood for the election thus far, a purge clearly orchestrated by the Sisi government.
The Egyptian president first went after Ahmed Shafik, former senior commander of the air force and a prime minister under former president Hosni Mubarak. Not long after Shafik announced his intention to run for the election, he was held against his will at a five-star hotel for two weeks until he reversed his decision to run. The former general even issued a statement praising the Egyptian dictator’s magnificent work for the country.
Other candidates did not merit such gentle treatment. In December, a military court sentenced Colonel Ahmed Qonsowa to six years in jail on trumped-up charges after he announced his intention to stand for election.
Another top challenger to drop out was labor lawyer Khaled Ali. On January 24, Ali announced that he too was withdrawing his candidacy. “The people’s confidence in the possibility of turning the election into an opportunity for a new beginning is unfortunately over,” Ali told his supporters. A week and a half earlier, Mohamed Anwar Sadat, a political dissident and nephew of the former president of the same name, also removed his name from the candidates list, stating that he feared what might happen to his campaign staff if he ran against Sisi. “There’s no political life anymore. It’s dead,” was the ominous message Sadat left his supporters with.
This shameless suppression of his political opponents is the culmination of years of near despotic rule by Sisi. Extrajudicial arrests of activists and opponents, government-sanctioned disappearances and killings, lengthy political detentions, and plenty of prison and death sentences have been the norm for the past four years under Sisi. The silencing of dissidents has been accompanied, on the economic side, by price hikes and an inflation rate that has exceeded 20 percent.
Yes, Egypt is ready for a new option, yet it seems that change will not be coming this time around.
As this slow and malicious manipulation of the democratic process in Egypt has progressed, the U.S. administration has remained silent. This has led a number of observers to lambast President Trump for not officially condemning Sisi and recognizing the elections as completely illegitimate.
Taking a look at how Sisi came to power and what his hold on Egypt means for American interests can help shed some light on the administration’s reaction — or lack thereof.
Sisi, former army chief turned politician, swept to power following a 2013 military coup that toppled his predecessor, the Islamist Mohamed Morsi. Morsi was a member of the notorious Muslim Brotherhood, and had come to power as a result of the Arab Spring, which saw populist groups emerge in several Middle Eastern nations. During the coup, Morsi was ousted by the military. Senior leaders and thousands of members of the Brotherhood were detained, and its headquarters was ransacked and burned. In the following election in 2014, Sisi won with 97 percent of the vote.
From this perspective, Sisi is seen by the U.S., and indeed many other Western nations, as both a stable and reliable ally, and a force that will keep Islamism from riding populist currents to power.
Indeed, the possibility of Islamist parties retaking control of Egypt is not an empty concern. To be sure, the Brotherhood is a shadow of what it was before the 2013 purge. However, there is much evidence that the group still has large bodies of sympathizers and supporters in the country. Even after the purge, many observers assessed that the group draws support from “hundreds of thousands of members and millions of affiliates and sympathizers” throughout Egypt. This is a disconcerting realization regarding a group known for its resiliency and ability to mobilize members. To this day, Egypt still deals with domestic Islamist groups, with a seemingly unending string of attacks by militants, and it continues to prosecute suspects from Islamist organizations.
In addition to keeping the Egyptian political scene “in order,” Sisi has also proven to be partner in the regional fight against terror, even collaborating with neighboring Israel in combating Islamic State cells in its northern territories.
Of course, passively backing Sisi is not a simple decision for any nation. In addition to the conundrum of being compelled to support a tyrant, enabling Sisi to suppress democracy in Egypt may in itself have grave consequences. Egypt erupting in some drastic civil unrest over Sisi’s despotism is not a far-fetched scenario, considering the country’s history of violent political opposition in recent years.
For now, however, it seems that the U.S. will, in all likelihood, allow the situation in Egypt to run its course. Sisi is far from ideal. However, from America’s perspective, by promoting an alternative, they run the risk of offsetting some of the delicate regional stability that’s been achieved over the past four years.