'Honeymoon period' crucial for Sisi

Army may abandon the president-elect if he fails to meet the demands of the people.

The massive win for former army chief Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in Egypt’s presidential election surprised no one. Provisional results for three days of polling show that Sisi garnered 23.9 million votes or 96.92 per cent, while his Leftist rival, Hamdeen Sabahi, secured 7,57,000, or three per cent.

But both Egyptians and foreign observers who visited polling stations were surprised that so few voters participated in this, the crucial 10th popular consultation since the ouster of 30-year President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. The unofficial figure for turn-out stands at 46 per cent: 25.6 million out of 54 million registered voters. Many Egyptians and observers consider figure inflated and European Union monitor Robert Goebbels called the voting process “free but not always very fair,” citing considerable state, financial and media support for Sisi.

The purported turn-out figure becomes significant when comparing this election to Egypt's 2012 election when Muslim Brotherhood candidate Muhammad Morsi won 52 per cent of the vote, narrowly defeating another former military man, Ahmad Shafiq. The turn-out in that election was 52 per cent. Morsi received 13 million votes, just over half the number won by Sisi, who ousted him, won. The Sisi camp is claiming a famous victory. Such a victory is necessary for Sisi to gain legitimacy with Egyptians, the international community and Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries which are expected to fund proposed multi-billion dollar development programmes.

Responding to Sisi’s victory, which is due to be confirmed by the Election Commission early next week, the Brotherhood and its allies insisted the turn-out had been low, announced a “third revolutionary wave” to reinstate Morsi and called on the military to “step back.”

However, the Brotherhood is widely reviled by most Egyptians who demand an end to the movement’s dwindling but disruptive demonstrations, restoration of security, and economic recovery. Voters met by Deccan Herald at polling stations in deprived areas of greater Cairo formerly supportive of Morsi are now enthusiastically pro-Sisi. “The Brotherhood has lost legitimacy,” stated veteran commentator Hisham Kassem.

An end to the hostilities between the military and the Brotherhood is not on the cards as
reconciliation is rejected by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates which have injected $13 billion into Egypt’s economy and are expected to provide another $7 billion for 2014-15 in addition to development funds. A career army officer who rose to head military intelligence under Mubarak and to take overall command under Morsi, Sisi, 59, not only faces a diminishing Brotherhood revolt and a jihadi terrorist campaign but also inherits an economy in crisis.

Critical areas

Egypt’s growth rate stands at 1.25-1.5 per cent but the population is expanding by 2.6 per cent per annum. Unemployment, estimated at 14 per cent, reaches 24 per cent among youth. Egyptians at all levels of society suffer from inflation running at 12 per cent with the cost of fruit and vegetables rising to 24 per cent over the past year. Revenues from tourism fell from $12.5 billion in 2010 to $5.8 billion last year. International investment is down to $2 billion from $12 billion.

Foreign currency reserves are an unhealthy $17 billion, down from $35 billion in early 2011. Egypt is under pressure to cut subsidies on fuel and food. The fuel subsidy alone amounts to $28.5 billion, one fifth of the budget. However, Sisi contends, “You can’t get rid of subsidies all at once. People won’t tolerate it. We need to improve people’s living standards first.”

Angus Blair, chairman of the Cairo-based Signet consultancy firm, said the new government must change people’s “sentiments” by using “Egypt's resources for development not subsidies” on which poorest Egyptians depend. Blair argues, “The honeymoon period (of the new president) is going to be critical in changing people’s sentiments. He will have a window of opportunity to do something. But it will be a short period. He must make a very good start to show people that change is possible.”

However, Sisi will face many deeply entrenched interests resistant to change. These include the military which runs a vast economic empire, big business, monopolies, officials, and political, tribal and community leaders who benefit from rampant graft the system has bred. Kassem expressed the hope that Sisi will learn from two lessons Egyptians taught Mubarak and Morsi. “Don't be corrupt,” and when millions of “people come out against you, resign.”

He argues that the army will abandon Sisi if he fails to meet the demands of the people for security, economic stability and a decent standard of living. The army will not “shoot at the people” if they rise up against Sisi. Other commentators think the soldiers would protect their man against all challengers.

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