Seven years after ebullient crowds demonstrated in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to overthrow longtime President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt’s second revolution in 60 years, the country is facing more sober political, economic and security choices, as it prepares for a fresh presidential election in March. That vote will be, for the most part, a referendum on the popularity of incumbent President Abdel Fattah el Sissi.
In January 2011, as the Egyptian public’s new-found enthusiasm galvanized into a wave of political change, traditional political forces were overwhelmed by a public seeking a dramatic new landscape. Today’s reality has made many more circumspect in their outlook, but analyst Said Sadek says some things have changed for the better.
There is a lot of criticism,” he argued, “of the president, of officials, which never happened, for example, 50 or 60 years ago, under [former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel] Nasser.” For that reason, he believes that “Egypt is progressing,” but he suggests it would not be fair to “compare [the situation with] whatever happened in countries that took them civil wars and centuries to develop their democracy.”
Other Arab Spring revolutions in Syria and Libya devolved into bloody, protracted civil wars. The Egyptian military steered the country away from the most bleak scenario of impending street-warfare, however, while clamping down on some newfound freedoms and liberties that suddenly and unexpectedly had come their way.
President Abdel Fattah el Sissi, who was elected to lead the country in 2014 following a wave of counter-revolution that overcame Egypt in 2013 after a year of turbulent rule by Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, now prepares to run for a second term. His candidacy evokes a mixture of apathy in some quarters, unhappiness in others, and mobilization by core supporters. Analyst Sadek said that Sissi has accomplished a number of things.
Sissi, he maintains, has been “rebuilding the Egyptian Army … rebuilding the Egyptian economy, [rebuilding] infrastructure.” He says Sissi has been “tackling a lot of difficult issues, [including] the population explosion.”
though, with Islamists angry at him for overthrowing the Muslim Brotherhood, while liberal voters are displeased about the erosion of certain key liberties. Many also are disenchanted with the economy.
But, says Jane Kinninmont, senior research fellow at Chatham House in London, Egyptians have a strong sense of nationalism, which often confounds Western perceptions of the country.
“There are sensitivities around sovereignty,” she underscored, “and there is more of a feeling of nationalism than in many countries in the Middle East, because this is, of course, a very old land, with an ancient civilization.”
Kinninmont said she thinks Egypt has “a sense of wounded nationalism, a sense that the country is behind where it deserves to be, economically and politically.”
Egypt’s electoral commission is gearing up to hold presidential elections in March, despite possible logistic challenges, and most political commentators think President Sissi will win re-election.