The Egyptian Interim President Adly Mansour announced that Egypt will conduct a presidential vote before polls in parliament according to Reuters. Mansour’s objective in doing this maneuver is to have a strong president be elected in order to forge parliamentary coalitions and deter violence coming from rebels in the Sinai region and in Cairo from members of the Muslim Brotherhood – labelled as a “terrorist organization” by the interim government. The current front runner, who has not announced his candidacy, is General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, the current head of the armed forces of Egypt. Former President Mohammed Morsi appointed him to the post in August 2012.
General al-Sisi, invoking the name of the Egyptian people, overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood regime in mid-2013. Al-Sisi has been described as both “charismatic” and “calm” according to the BBC. His specialty in the army after graduating from the Egyptian Military Academy was in the mechanized infantry, and later he was active in the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces as head of military intelligence. He has no combat experience. Al-Sisi’s reputation in the West is split. He originally defended the infamous “virginity tests” conducted in Tahrir Square, and according to al-Ahram, he claimed it “was done to protect the girls from rape.” On the other hand, he studied in Washington and conducted training exercises with elements of the American military. Furthermore, during a later meeting with Amnesty International, he promised that the army would end the “virginity tests.” According to BBC’s Arab affairs analyst Sebastian Usher, “many Egyptians believe Gen. Sisi is the strong man the country needs, but others are concerned that if he stands and wins – which seems the likeliest outcome – it will make him too strong, giving him all but complete control.” Furthermore, the Anti-Coup Alliance, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, continues to protest Morsi’s removal, which resulted in governmental forces killing 49 people on Saturday the 25th. Concurrently, the radical Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis militia has stepped up attacks in the Sinai, and is likely responsible for shooting down an Egyptian Army helicopter over the weekend.
So how can General Sisi and the situation in Egypt be read? While there is hope in his popular backing that can become legitimized through the democratic process, this measure can only go so far. Unless he can find a way to mitigate the ire of the Muslim Brotherhood and peacefully incorporate them into the political process, his rule will be dependent on the use of force, like former President Mubarak. This blunt measure will gradually undermine the rights and liberties of the Egyptian people and further radicalize the Muslim Brotherhood to use more extreme and violent means.
Alsharif, Asma and Shadia Nasralla. “Egypt calls early presidential election as violence spreads.” Reuters. January 26, 2014. http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/01/26/us-egypt-politics-idUSBREA0P0GR20140126.
BBC. “Profile: Egypt armed forces chief Abdul Fattah al-Sisi.” July 3, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-19256730.
BBC. “Egypt to hold presidential poll before parliamentary vote.” January 26, 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-25904575.