After three days of presidential elections, it’s official: former military leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is the new president of Egypt. But what does this say about Egypt and the Egyptian people?
Adly Mahmoud Mansour, the acting president since former president Mohamed Morsi was removed from office in July 2013, is the first Egyptian president that is leaving the office without going to jail or in a tomb. Yet, it is too soon to conclude that Egypt has entered an era of stability. At the same time, concluding that Egypt is returning to military rule and the Arab Spring is transformed into an Arab Winter — as the mainstream media often does — is also too simplistic.
To gain a more realistic picture, its appropriate to look at the reasons behind the widespread support for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). The popularity of the SCAF in combination with the socioeconomic challenges Egypt faces nowadays, make the election of Al-Sisi as the new president of Egypt dangerous.
Why the SCAF is still supported
For many it is difficult to understand why an institution that is responsible for so much violence can still count on the support of the majority of the Egyptians. During the revolution in 2011, which led to the fall of former president Hosni Mubarak, the SCAF used extreme violence to protesters. Three years later, this hasn’t changed. According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, over 2,500 civilians were killed, 17,000 wounded and 18,000 detained between July 2013 and January 2014. The police violence exceeds the situation under Mubarak.
The reason that the SCAF is still a popular institution is mainly because many Egyptians believe that for the moment it is the only institution that can bring stability. And stability is needed. After two revolutions in three years, the North-African country struggles with high unemployment rates and a deteriorating economy. Besides, the country faces security issues because of increasing violent attacks. An often heard opinion is therefore “il beled lazem timshi”: The country needs to move forward.”
Internetblogger Big Pharaoh explained to me why the SCAF is entrusted with this task: “First of all, here in Egypt every family has at least one family member inside the army. Secondly, you can compare their legitimacy with the royalty in your country (The Netherlands, ed.). And third, there is no alternative. At this moment Egyptians have to choose between the Muslim Brotherhood and the army.”
So, there is a historically seen popular institution like the SCAF, no available alternative and a strong urge that the country needs to move forward. Is the explanation for the popularity of the army that simple?
Why the SCAF should never take part in everyday politics
When looking at the vast levels of propaganda the SCAF put forward, the answer to the question is in short: yes, it is that simple. However, there is an important point that needs to be made, but that is rarely mentioned in the mainstream media. The election of Al-Sisi (a former chief of the SCAF) does not necessarily mean that Egypt returns to military rule.
Angela — a freelance journalist from Austria who has been living in Egypt since the first revolution — thinks this is mainly because Egyptians wouldn’t allow another dictatorship: “The people have learned from the past and that gives us hope. Although people could be — or are already — willing to accept certain constraints for the sake of security and economic stability,” she says. But if certain economic and security demands are not met, the Egyptian people will go to the streets. Again. Especially the youngsters learned that they have rights and that the government has a responsibility to meet those demands. Ignoring the Egyptian people isn’t an option anymore.
Given the political instability, electing Al-Sisi as a president is a risky gamble. What if Al-Sisi doesn’t deliver what Egyptians demand? What if Al-Sisi doesn’t deliver stability? If the only institution that holds the country together loses the trust of the people, Egypt is on the edge of becoming a failed state.
By Ivo Roodbergen
The name of the freelance journalist has been changed for security reasons