Ahead of March election, El Sisi jails rivals, turns from Washington to Moscow

In their two-day election on March 26-28, sixty million eligible Egyptian voters may cast their ballots for president. Their options have been systematically winnowed down. The incumbent Abdul Fatteh-El Sisi, 63, who has been president since 2014 after ousting the Islamic Brotherhood’s Mohamad Morsi in a military coup; and his lone challenger – albeit in name alone – Moussa Mostafa Mousa, head of the Ghad Party. He is an El-Sisi loyalist and put his name down for the nomination minutes before the deadline to save the president from being the sole candidate.

His solitary status as the only viable candidate makes El-Sisi isolated personally and politically in Egypt’s political and military landscape. Many observers believe he would have won the election had he taken the chance on a fair run, without removing his few rivals. And so he missed an opportunity to pump fresh blood into Egyptian politics and broaden is base of power.

Ahmad Shafiq, 76, former Air Force chief and President Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister before his overthrow in 2011, announced his candidacy from exile in the United Arab Emirates. He recanted after returning home on Jan. 7, when threatened with prosecution for sexual perversion and corruption.

Another would-be candidate was Gen. Sami Anan, 69, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces from 2005 until he retired in Aug. 2012. On Jen. 22, his home was surrounded by military police and he was arrested on the charges of breaking Egyptian law by “announcing his intention to run without first obtaining authorization from the military or terminating his service, of inciting against the military and of forging official documents stating his military service had ended.”

The two former generals ought to have taken note of what happened to a fellow officer when he tried not too long ago to test the ground for challenging El-Sisi. In December 2017, Army Col. Ahmed Konsowa was sentenced to six years in prison on the same grounds as Gen. Anan.

President El-Sisi may discover that he has caused himself substantial damage in three vital spheres:

  1. Although he came from the ranks of the military and rose to power with their support, a core of opposition is growing among the officers and creating an environment ripe for a military putsch against him. Most of Egypt’s rulers have come to power in military coups, which are endemic in Egyptian politics.
  2. This undertow of resentment, which has also infected the security forces, takes the edge off their willingness to go along with the president’s all-out persecution of the Muslim Brotherhood. Branded an illicit organization, El-Sisi pursues its members with the same determination and iron fist as any underground movement or terrorist organization, like the Islamic Jihad and the Islamic State. Army commanders at different levels, suffering from the malaise, maintain their job is not to combat internal dissent, but to focus on defending the country’s borders. This attitude mars the image El-Sisi seeks to present of a successful ruler who maintains law and order in the country and is on top of the war on terror. The Egyptian voter, like people everywhere, wants above all a leader who can promise him stability and security for earning a living and a normal life.
  3. While the International Monetary Fund praises Egypt for taking the right road to economic recovery, crediting the president’s policies for this success, the IMF’s favorable facts and figures are not trickling down to the street level. The average Egyptian family’s standard of living has not improved since he came to power and official unemployment figures stand at 30 percent, while the real figure for young people is closer to 50 percent.

DEBKA Weekly’s sources conclude that these three large flies in the presidential ointment carry over to his foreign policy. Relations between the presidential palace in Cairo and the White House in Washington are prickly. The US administration criticizes Egyptian politics as short on democratic and human rights norms and is reluctant to discuss expanding its annual economic and military assistance programs to the El-Sisi government. In recent months, the Egyptian president has cooled his interchanges with the Trump administration while, conversely, showing a smiling face to President Vladimir Putin.

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