El-Sisi: The Challenge Of Keeping Opposites In The Same Boat

The first appearance of Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, the prime presidential runner, is expected to happen any time starting 2 May when the official nomination period is finalised by the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC), say sources of the presidential campaign of the former chief of the army.

This is almost the only thing that otherwise contrasting sources from within the campaign seem to agree on. Everything else seems to be subject to disagreement, debate, or discussion, depending on who is talking.

First appearance

A key subject of debate is the “first appearance” of El-Sisi as a presidential runner addressing the nation in pursuit of votes.

Since his last appearance, in uniform, to announce his decision to quit the military (it was never known whether he actually resigned or just retired), El-Sisi has been very much in action behind closed doors. He has met with a few foreign visitors and some individuals and groups from across the political spectrum. Some of these meetings provided an opportunity for photos in the press and some went unreported or reported without photos.

El-Sisi, however, made no appearance — not even in a eight-minute commercial that was not  produced by his official campaign to show support for his nomination. Nor did he appear in a two-minute video that was issued by the campaign to wish Egyptians well on Sinai Liberation Day (25 April).

With footage from the history of war and peace talks to regain Sinai from the Israeli occupation of 1967 and background songs of the retrieval secured on 25 April 1981, El-Sisi’s voice is heard in less than five seconds “Wishing all Egyptians a happy anniversary on Sinai Liberation Day.”

The reason why the man did not appear in the Sinai Day video, according to one quarter within the campaign, is that “the man himself is determined to strictly observe the regulations that do not allow presidential candidates to start rallying before 2 May; he opted for a very subdued style of marking the day.”

Another quarter in the same campaign argues that it was “the mistake of those who worked on the video and who confused rallying and campaigning with a show to wish the nation well on the occasion of the liberation of Sinai.”

And as much as El-Sisi’s appearance, or lack thereof, in the Sinai video was subject to debate within the campaign, those who worked on the video also debated extensively whether or not the footage of former President Hosni Mubarak pulling the Egyptian flag up in Sinai upon the full liberation should have been included in the video.

Some suggested that it would be almost silly not to include the footage given that it is history and this particular event took place when Mubarak was at the very onset of his presidency, and when he was still liked by a fair segment of society.

Others argued against this on the basis that the “anti-El-Sisi” campaign is based essentially on the argument that the current presidential candidate was the head of military intelligence under Mubarak (videos of El-Sisi openly and generously praising Mubarak are widely shared through social media) and that he is set to reassemble the Mubarak regime that was challenged but never fully defeated by the January 25 Revolution.

The fact that the official presidential campaign of El-Sisi has attracted many of hardcore Mubarak regime faces is seen as supporting the view of this camp.

The “disagreement” on this video is nothing, however, compared to the “extensive debate” over El-Sisi’s first appearance as a presidential candidate away from the military uniform.

Some have been arguing that the time has come for the man to be seen firsthand, particularly by the press who are accredited to cover the presidential campaign after lengthy security check-ups.

“We overhear these journalists comparing how things go with the campaign and how they used to go with the presidential candidates the last time (in 2012) when they had a full access to the runners , including former state officials like Amr Moussa and Ahmed Shafiq. We realise the serious security hazards in view of the fact that the life of El-Sisi is at serious risk, but we also think that if the journalists who cover his campaign do not get to see him, at least with the launch of the campaign, it would reflect very negatively on his public image and even might deny him an otherwise sure victory,” said one.

However, in the view of another group, also within the official campaign, an appearance before the press might be more harmful because it would entail the inevitable interference on the side of the media team to check on who is going to ask questions and what questions they would be asking.

This group is worried of what they qualify as “the willingness of some to misinterpret everything the man says and to quote it out of context.” They argue that reading out a statement on the airtime that would be allowed “equitably” to El-Sisi and the other presidential runner Hamdeen Sabahi would be a better idea.

A compromise is being offered by yet a third camp within the camp to get El-Sisi to read out a statement before the accredited press corps without taking questions.

There are also the currently in recording stage campaign commercials that would be put on air upon the start of the official campaign period, with some suggesting that the security concerns are well known and that the “man is well known” and he addressed the nation repeatedly during the past few months at times of serious crisis and “it is not that he would be presenting himself to the public because it was the public who called on him to run for president.”

“It will be decided within the next couple of days how things will go, but for sure he is making his first appearance as a presidential runner probably on 3 May, Saturday,” said one campaign source.

The programme and the symbol

Closely associated to the debate over the first appearance of the prime presidential candidate is the debate on his electoral programme.

The programme is still in the works, according to the accounts of all those who spoke to Ahram Online. Why is it taking so long and when will it be out and how detailed will it be are matters that have no clear answers.

The most common narrative on the delay has to do with the very defining, and clearly problematic, theme of El-Sisi’s presidential campaign: the tough political mix and match that the former chief of the military is trying to reach.

El-Sisi has been offered alternatives for an electoral platform.

The key one, which most sources agree is to his liking, was put together by the “advisory group” that is headed by former presidential runner Amr Moussa, who had himself gone only two years ago through an extensive process to compose a programme and who had, along with El-Sisi, gone through an extended process of consultations to work out what could be a vision “to get Egypt back on its feet” in the wake of a tough and on-going transition following the ouster of Mubarak in February 2011.

Another platform was assembled by a group of keen supporters who volunteered ideas and projects, while some former and current military figures pulled their efforts together also to offer ideas.

“The trouble is that some of the ideas that have been offered on a voluntarily basis are good in principle but unrealistic for many reasons that have either to do with priorities or with the situation on the ground. On the other hand, some of the ideas that have been offered on the side of the military, in particular, seem to be more like independent projects that could be worked on but that do not qualify, even if assembled, as offering a vision. A presidential candidate has to be offering a vision and not a set of projects,” said a source on the so-called “advisory board.”

According to the same source, “clashes on the programme” have also been prompted by the lack of ideological compatibility between those who “are sensitive to matters like social justice and poverty — two things that El-Sisi himself is always underlining” — and those who want to fully reinvoke the liberal economic school of thought that marked the last few years of Mubarak’s rule.

At the end of the day, and following considerable disagreements that at times reached the point of confrontations, and even harsh accusations, El-Sisi seems to have adopted a vision to have a very tight platform that he would offer to the public that would have all the key ideas but without going into details. Along with this, he would have several “working files” that amount to being an itemised bill of the general electoral vision.

Disagreement — or as some suggest “discussion” — was present until Saturday night with regards to the electoral symbol. Some had suggested a lion, given that El-Sisi’s trademark quality in the eyes of his supporters is courage, and given that some of these keen supporters had already printed out posters with El-Sisi standing with a lion at his feet, in a metaphorical expression of “the great courage he showed when he stood up to the Muslim Brotherhood.”

But this symbol has been criticised by some in the campaign as “highly inconvenient” and given to unfavourable sexual connotations in Egyptian public culture when linked to the lioness.

Of those who disapprove of the “lion” some have suggested the “sun” as alternative. There again was “firm disagreement” of those who are already feeling uncomfortable with the strong presence of Amr Moussa and some of his campaign members in El-Sisi’s “advisory board” and “official campaign alike.”

Those opposing the “sun” for fear of having El-Sisi “falling straight in the shadow of Amr Moussa” have been proposing the horse or the star. The horse is mostly discarded given that it was the symbol of Strong Egypt leader Abdel-Moneim Aboul-Fotouh. And the star is being criticised for “being lesser than the sun.”

However, in a Saturday interview with Amr Adeeb on the privately owned TV channel CBC, Mohamed Abu Shuqqa, the campaign’s legal advisor, announced that the campaign had settled for the star.

Rehearsal for the future

In the reading of some working inside the campaign advisory board, the many disagreements — at times reaching the point of open fights — that El-Sisi, who is otherwise used to the strict discipline of the military, had to go through during the past few weeks are a rehearsal of the tasks of a president who is coming to power against the backdrop of unmistakable political confusion and with many fighting political camps that each seek to have the upper hand in deciding the next phase of the country’s political life.

“He surely expected issues of the sort, but I think he was hoping for a smoother pre-campaigning period. He is apprehensive about more consequential matters related to how to deal with political Islam, how to regain international support and how to face the serious economic challenges,” said a campaign member who attended consecutive meetings with El-Sisi.

“Now I think he knows that in addition to his adversaries and to the daunting challenges, he would also have to worry over disagreements within the quarters of his closest supporters, which is a tough job,” he added.

Source : Ahram online

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