CAIRO, Egypt–The Egypt Electoral Commission announced that the country’s 2014 presidential elections are set for May 26 and 27 of this year. Long awaited by the Egyptian constituency, many Egyptians have expressed their hopes for the new government, and its role in alleviating poverty for 85 million citizens.
The Arab Spring in 2011 brought the end of former president Hosni Mubarak’s three-decade reign, but it did not lead to the future many Egyptians had envisioned. Since the Arab Spring, Egyptians have faced constant political strife, numerous terrorist attacks, political instability and economic weakness. The tourism industry, a foundation of the Egyptian economy, suffers tremendously, contributing to high unemployment.
In 2012, the Arab Spring gave way to the first freely elected president of Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi. However, opposition to the controversial Muslim Brotherhood was resilient and Morsi was ousted from office in July 2013 on charges including inciting deadly violence.
Supported by a large number of protestors, former army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi led the physical overthrow of the Morsi regime. Perhaps not coincidentally, he is the frontrunner and projected winner in the upcoming presidential election.
Resigning from his position as Commander-in-Chief and Minister of Defense, Sisi officially announced his intentions to run for the presidency on Wednesday, March 26. Sisi considers himself the representative of the people’s will, and the army as the guardian of the people’s will and wellbeing.
Sisi has one opponent in the May elections: Hamdeen Sabbahi, a leftist politician who took third in the 2012 election polls, following Morsi and former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq.
Former PM Shafiq has declared he will not run again in the upcoming elections, even though he was close to winning in 2012. He has publicly stated that he believes the elections will be fixed to favor the military-man, Sisi, and that the elections will be a travesty.
“It’s nonsense that the armed forces support a candidate for presidency. It’s unprecedented… I have taken myself out of this loop because the election is going to be a farce… They will fix everything for him… This is going to be a comedy show,” Shafiq stated.
In contrast to Shafiq’s protests, many Egyptians view Sisi as a powerful man with the skills necessary to bring stability back to Egypt. Unsurprisingly, the Muslim Brotherhood, which has recently been declared a terrorist organization, holds a deep disdain for the former military leader. The backlash from the ousting of Morsi could lead to retaliation and more political turmoil if Sisi takes office.
The announcement for elections coincides with the detainment of approximately 529 Muslim Brotherhood followers, some of whom have been sentenced to death. Morsi, facing criminal charges of espionage, terrorism and inciting violence, is housed in a detention facility while waiting a trial that could find him subject to capital punishment.
Since the removal of Morsi from office in July 2013, violent attacks by protesters have killed about 496 people. Now more than ever, Egypt is in need of a government that can handle the opposing forces and promote a peaceful society. The new president will need to redirect government focus towards the rebuilding of the Egyptian economy in order to lift people out of poverty and bring back stability.
Sisi recognizes the challenges ahead, and has stated, “We must be truthful with ourselves. Our country faces great challenges. Our economy is weak. There are millions of youths who suffer from unemployment in Egypt.”
TIME Magazine has noted that the support for Sisi by the vast majority of Egyptians may be misguided, as much of the economic failure can actually been attributed to military spending. Thus, the people of Egypt may be putting their hope in the hands of the institution that has been increasing poverty rates. Some outsiders are also of the opinion that the economic disaster that has evolved in Egypt may be over Sisi’s head.
The U.S. has not favored one candidate over the other in the Egyptian elections, but White House National Security Council spokeswoman, Bernadette Meehan, released a statement, claiming, “As the election process moves forward we urge the Egyptian authorities to ensure that the elections are free, fair, and transparent; that all candidates are able to campaign freely, without fear of harassment or intimidation; and that the views of all the Egyptian people are full represented.”
Hopefully Shafiq’s concerns on the fairness of the upcoming elections will be proven wrong, and the people of Egypt will be well informed during campaigns in order to pick the best potential leader for Egypt.
If Sisi wins as he is projected to do so, the coming months will be telling for the future of the country. There will be a lot riding on Sisi, as he will be expected to alter the route of the economy, and peacefully reject acts of opposition. Optimistically, these elections could be the start of productive change in Egypt that will help those who are still suffering.