High hopes rest on Egyptian army chief

Egyptians face stasis, stagnation and counter-revolution from the remnants of the Mubarak regime.

When Egyptians voted by a landslide in favour of the new constitution in the January 14-15 referendum, they were, in fact, opting for security and economic well-being rather than a document few had read and fewer understood. This referendum was the ninth consequential popular consultation since the fall in February 2011 of 30-year president Hosni Mubarak. A stunning 97.6 per cent cast yes ballots out of more than a third of the registered electorate that turned out to vote, a credible figure for Egypt where during Mubarak's time nine per cent used to vote.

Egyptians vote because they believe they will, ultimately, achieve the goals of the 2011 uprising, or revolution, as some call the movement that ended Mubarak's reign: bread, freedom, and dignity. The drafting of a new constitution and the referendum constitute the first stage in a roadmap devised by the military and the interim government following the removal of the country's first democratically elected president, Muslim Brotherhood stalwart Mohamed Morsi, on July 3 last year by the army at the command of millions of Egyptians protesting his failure to deliver popular demands during his year in office.

The next stages are presidential and parliamentary elections. Although the military-backed interim government has not decided which should come first, Egyptian watchers say they believe the presidential poll would precede the parliamentary election. The popular choice for president is army chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi who has said he would consider running if he receives a popular mandate. Ehab Samir, adviser to the president of the liberal Free Egyptians Party, said Sisi “will win because he is a national hero... (people feel) we need someone like him for a (four year) term. The army is an integral part of what Egypt is all about, the only strong institution left...” However, Egypt's next president will face violence, political chaos, insecurity, and economic free fall.

Challenges ahead

Backers of the Brotherhood, which demands Morsi’s reinstatement, have committed bombings and shootings. Radical jihadis are attacking army and police posts in restive Sinai and kidnapping and killing civilians. Large injections of cash from the UAE and Saudi Arabia have staved off bankruptcy but boosted the country's debt. Tourism, a major source of revenue, has collapsed. The rich do not pay their taxes, the country's infrastructure is crumbling, and the poor grow poorer and increasingly frustrated over the unfulfilled promise of the 2011 uprising.

Instead of wide ranging reform and change, Egyptians face stasis, stagnation and counter-revolution from the remnants of the Mubarak regime. Political analyst Hisham Kassem said Sisi will have to "resign from the military and run as a civilian politician. He will  be on his own. If he fails to deliver (what the people expect) he will lose the support of the military" as well as the populace. "The army will not shoot people to defend political failure or allow the politicians to manipulate it." 

If Sisi does not decide to run for the presidency, mainstream alternative candidates might be former Arab League Secretary General and Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa or former intelligence chief Murad Muwafi. Moderate fundamentalist Abdel Moneim Abdu El-Fattouh and leftist Hamdeen Sabahi, who stood against Morsi in 2012, may also run. Kassem said, "The Brotherhood is finished" as a political force for the time being." People are furious that the Brotherhood seeks to derail the ongoing political process." 

Parliamentary elections are likely to be problematical for several reasons.  The new constitution bans parties based on religion, in theory, barring both the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and the ultra-orthodox Nour Party from fielding candidates. However, their fate will be determined by whether the ban is enforced.  So far, the Brotherhood has been proscribed as a "terrorist" group but its party has not yet been outlawed. The survival of Nour, which had a representative on the committee that drafted the constitution, will depend on acceptance of the post-Brotherhood order.

The parties that survived or emerged after the fall of Mubarak remain small and divided and may have to contend with the revival of Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP), perhaps under a different name. It is expected that Egypt's traditional opposition parties and the post-uprising parties will form mergers and electoral alliances during the pre-election period but there is no guarantee that they can defeat the NDP machine which largely remains in tact or that the mergers and alliances will survive once the unicameral parliament meets and tries to tackle the challenges Egypt faces. Egypt cannot lose time and credibility due to parliamentary in-fighting as this could put the country at risk of becoming a ‘failed state.’  

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