General Sisi of Egypt to Contest Presidential Elections

Attached is my blog appearing in the Huffington Post on 01/31/2014.

Egypt had been subject to considerable unrest following the narrow presidential victory of Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, in the summer of 2012. The Egyptian public became disenchanted with his policies and expressed their disapproval through continuing street demonstrations. Attempts by Morsi to put down the swelling protest movement against him only seemed to exacerbate the situation. The Egyptian Chief of the Army, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, reacting to the popular outrage against the Morsi administration deposed and arrested him. As expected, this was a controversial move. Some countries called Sisi’s move an army coup. The United States appeared to sit on the fence. While declining to characterize the removal of the elected president as a coup, it suspended a portion of the roughly 1.6 billion dollars of annual aid-most of it to the Egyptian military-it disburses to Egypt.

The Muslim Brotherhood reacted with large-scale protests at the ouster of Morsi, some of which turned violent and were put down with ferocity by the Egyptian police and army elements.

According to some estimates since July 2013, 1,000 protesters have fallen victim to the bullets of the Egyptian forces. With the passage of time, the protests which were aimed at reinstating Morsi seemed to have abated, but Egypt is far from attaining a degree of normalcy. The interim government put in place by the Egyptian military has declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. It is doubtful if this is a wise move. The Morsi government may have committed a number of mistakes and failed to carry the people with it. However, removing an elected president ostensibly in response to public outcries against him, could only mean that the democratic process in Egypt had suffered a severe setback.

The latest reports suggest that General Sisi, with the advice and support of his fellow generals, will offer himself as a candidate for the forthcoming presidential election. In the absence of the Muslim Brotherhood or any other credible candidate, Sisi is virtually certain to be elected. During this period, he has also promoted himself from General to Field Marshal. This has raised some eyebrows as Sisi, in his military career, has not seen any major combat. His career has included postings as defense attaché abroad and also as head of Egyptian intelligence.

There is no doubt that he is arguably the most popular man in Egypt today. However, the popularity and acclaim that he has garnered by removing Morsi, who had become unpopular with a segment of the Egyptian people, could one day also backfire on him. Egypt, the largest Arab country at around 85 million, suffers from multiple problems of poverty, unemployment, a bloated and unresponsive civil service, and severe economic deficits, not least because of the long-standing subsidies given to different sectors of Egyptian society. Whether Sisi has the capacity and imagination as a military man to effectively tackle Egypt’s myriad problems must remain an open question. The odds are probably against him. While his army predecessor Gamal Abdel Nasser could enjoy popularity and approbation for nearly two decades, despite defeat at the hands of Israel in the 1967 War, Egypt has moved on since Nasser’s demise in 1970. Sisi may not enjoy the luxury of retaining his popularity for anywhere near that length of time without effecting a palpable improvement in the lives of his Egyptian compatriots.


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