Sunday, April 20, 2014

Egypt: Update--Retired Field Marshal al-Sisi Visits, Gets Support from Coptic Pope Tawadros II

According to The Associated Press, Egypt's former military chief and presidential front-runner visited the Coptic pope Saturday (April 19) ahead of Orthodox Easter, making his first public appearance since he formally announced his bid for the presidency.

Pope Tawadros II is a strong backer of retired Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, who removed the country's first democratically elected president last summer after a wave of popular protests.

Pope Tawadros backed the military's overthrow of Islamist Mohammed Morsi and appeared alongside the former Field Marshal with Muslim leaders and secular politicians after Morsi's ouster. 

Al-Sisi's visit to the pope's seat of power at St. Mark's Cathedral is a tribute to the country's Christians, some 10% of Egypt's population. 

The ousted Morsi never visited the Cathedral, instead sending a representative.

Al-Sisi is is expected to win the coming May 26-27, 2014 presidential election. There is little opposition to the former military chief, who retired before declaring his bid as Egyptian law bans military officers from running for office. 

COMMENT: Campaigning is scheduled to begin May 2, when officials announce a final list of candidates.

The elections will be held amid a fierce government crackdown on Morsi supporters and little tolerance for criticism. 

At least 16,000 people have been detained and hundreds face trial. Violence also has been on the rise, with regular militant attacks against soldiers and police.

In another sign of how different the mood is in Egypt, Saudi-owned satellite television network Middle East Broadcasting Center said Egypt's top satirist, Bassem Youssef, will be off the air until after the election to avoid influencing voters. 

One can never know whether al-Sisi was genuine in his calling on Pope Tawadros II, yet from a strategic standpoint,  it was clearly astute.

The one obvious omission, perhaps by design, is Egyptian authorities' failure to invite independent foreign election observers to evaluate the objectivity of the presidential and legislative elections. 

No doubt, a missed opportunity, considering that all Egyptian elections are viewed as questionable.

It is also remiss, albeit a missed opportunity, on the part of the world's developed nations to not have suggested that Egypt consider having independent election observers.