Former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is set to win the presidential elections in Egypt this week, almost a year after Egypt’s military reasserted formal control following widespread revolts against Mohamed Morsi.
While a popular uprising preceded the military’s intervention last June, the counter-revolutionary crackdown that followed over the past nine months has soured many Egyptians against the current order. So why is Sisi going to be Egypt’s next president, and why would the same Egyptians who ousted Hosni Mubarak now clamor for another authoritarian military man to take power, rather than support a more inclusive democratic process? Is the clock being turned back?
Few observers outside Egypt understand the reason for Sisi’s popularity, which is based largely on the desire for security. Many Egyptians feel that the country has become chaotic: if forced to choose between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military, they prefer the military. While both are authoritarian organizations, the military has more experience, national loyalty, and respect for Egypt as a country, rather than part of a wider pan-Islamic region. Its view of Islam is more mainstream.
Many Egyptians also see the military as better-equipped to improve the country’s struggling economy. It controls as much as 40 percent of the Egyptian economy, through military-run factories, food production factories and land ownership. Currently, the country depends on aid from Gulf nations, while crucial sectors like tourism are suffering. Reserves are quickly running out. Yet the problem, according to some observers, is that this perception of the military’s economic might is a mirage, and that the army actually has a long history of economic mismanagement.
The violence in neighboring Syria and Libya that turned into armed Islamist insurgencies has also had an impact on voters. Because these countries have suffered from armed revolutions against military regimes, many Egyptians believe that the present order is far better than the scenarios that have played out next door. They would prefer the state to offer some semblance of order and unity — even if it is a mirage.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which, following the ouster of Mubarak, was seen as an appealing alternative, is a less attractive option for a number of reasons. It has threatened a moderate version of Islam that is valued by Egyptians. And when the group assumed power in June 2012, it was unable to address Egypt’s deep structural problems — ranging from endemic corruption, to chronic unemployment, to deep religious divisions — choosing instead to stack the country’s institutions with its members and strike deals with the military. At the same time, the Muslim Brotherhood was stymied by the “deep state” — Mubarak’s old regime and its allies in business, the media and the military — at every turn.
Egyptians who suffer from the country’s brutish internal security services — and are routinely arrested for protesting, reporting the news, supporting Sisi’s political opponents or appearing “Islamist” — favor neither side. For these citizens — who include jailed journalists, and victims of torture in police custody — life resembles the days of Mubarak, if not worse. They have largely boycotted the elections and dismissed them as a farce.
Yet for pro-Sisi Egyptians, a vote for their candidate is a vote against chaos — until, one hopes, forward-thinking revolutionary groups, together with allies in civil society, can offer an alternative.
About the Writer:
Sarah Eltantawi is incoming Assistant Professor of Comparative Religion at Evergreen State College, and currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Forum Transregionale at the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin. She is currently writing her second book, about the political theology of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.