Sunday, March 30, 2014

Egypt: Update--Second Presidential Election in Two Years Scheduled for May 26-27, Future Very Uncertain

According to Reuters, Egyptians will vote on May 26-27, 2014 in a presidential election that former Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is expected to win easily, meaning the former army chief who deposed Islamist President Mohamed Morsi could be sworn in as head of state by early June.

Although al-Sisi is viewed by many Egyptians as the country's de facto leader since he deposed Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, the former Field Marshal is viewed by the Islamist opposition as the mastermind of a coup that ignited Egypt's worst internal strife in modern history.

It will be the second time Egyptians have voted in a presidential election in less than two years, yet this election follows a fierce government crackdown on dissent that has included both Islamists and secular-minded democracy proponents.

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's best organized political party until last year, has been banned and driven underground.

So far, the only other candidate is leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi, who came in third in the 2012 election that was contested by more than a dozen politicians from across the political spectrum.

With al-Sisi expected to win comfortably, the vote is unlikely to go to a second round.

COMMENT: The result of the first round will be announced no later than June 5, the organizing committee said at a news conference to outline the timeline for the voting.

Al-Sisi stepped down as defense minister and army chief in order to announce his candidacy last Wednesday (March 19). He has been lionized by state- and privately-run media that are overwhelmingly loyal to the army-backed government.

Also, an al-Sisi victory will mark the return to the days when Egypt's presidency was held by men from the military - a pattern briefly interrupted during Morsi's one year in office.

A new figure released by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry on Saturday (March 29) said that 496 people, 439 of them soldiers and policemen, had been killed in what it described as terrorist attacks since last summer.

The 439 soldiers and police officers who have been killed in terrorist attacks are not expected to throw "soft-balls" upon encumbering the President's office.

The Muslim Brotherhood says it remains committed to peaceful activism, though the interim government has declared it a terrorist group.
 
Most of the Brotherhood's top leadership, Morsi included, have been jailed since last July. Khaled al-Azhari, a minister in the Morsi government, was on Sunday (March 30) sentenced to two years in prison for sheltering another Brotherhood politician.

Morsi faces charges that include conspiring with foreign militant groups and governments against Egypt. Since Morsi was overthrown, Egypt's relations have soured with Islamist states, including Turkey and Qatar, both of which supported his administration.

Three Al-Jazeera's journalists, one being an Australian, are facing trial on charges of aiding and abetting members of the Muslim Brotherhood. 

Human rights groups have criticized the case as a violation of freedom of expression.

As a devoted Egypt-watcher since I first visited the country as a US diplomat in 1973, my forecast is that al-Sisi will be unable to control his temptation to vigorously crack down on Hamas, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Last week three members of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood were arrested for plotting to assassinate al-Sisi even before he even becomes president.

One can only begin to forecast the former Field Marshal's mindset when he gets into office and will be able to run things with very few controls.

It is very unlikely that al-Sisi will resort to a kinder and gentler approach with any of the usual suspects including Hamas, the Brotherhood and Ansar Beit al-Maqdis.

The tourism sector is also not expected to see "soft-ball" treatment by the government after the Tourism Ministry's recent cancellation of two Sharm el-Shiekh licenses as a result of sexual attacks occurring on their premises. I remain to protest such dictatorial action as penalizing everyone for the actions of a miniscule minority without the benefit of an appellate process.

I again echo my strongest recommendation against tourists returning to Egypt until after the new president is in place for at least two months, which would bring us to September 2014.

At the moment, it is impossible to assess the turmoil; potential demonstrations, often marred by violence; political unrest and terrorist attacks that we may see in the months ahead, both during the campaign and until the newly elected president is in place at least for a couple of months. 

Hypothetically, let's fast-forward a couple of months and conceptualize that al-Sisi is successfully assassinated. Then what? Would you be content in being a foreign tourist in Egypt under such circumstances?




government after the Tourism Ministry's recent cancellation of two Sharm el-Shiekh licenses as a result of sexual attacks occurring on their premises. I remain to protest such dictatorial action as penalizing everyone for the actions of a miniscule minority without the benefit of an appellate process.

I again echo my strongest recommendation against tourists returning to Egypt, not knowing the turmoil, potential demonstrations often marred by violence, political unrest and terror attacks that we may see in the months ahead