Presidential election in Egypt: what is at stake for an election without suspense?
Starting this Sunday and for three days, Egyptians are called to the polls to elect their president. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is guaranteed to be re-elected in the first round with an overwhelming majority. But for the outgoing president, the stakes lie elsewhere.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi speaks at a press conference in Cairo, Egypt, October 25, 2023. © AP/Christophe Ena
By: RFI Follow
The main issue is voter turnout. Will we do better than the 40% of 2018? To avoid absenteeism, all means are good. The carrot with vouchers distributed to voters in disadvantaged neighborhoods and villages. The buses of the administration and the public that take the employees to the polling station. There is also the stick with the threat of a fine. These schemes have been used by all regimes for 70 years. There is also nothing new with the calls for a boycott.
Read alsoPresidential election in Egypt: "A formality for President al-Sisi"
The participation of Ahmad al-Tantawi, an unexpected young opponent, could have added some spice to the process. But that wouldn't have changed the outcome, as would the three other official candidates belonging to the approved opposition, reports our correspondent in Cairo, Alexandre Buccianti.
As President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi votes for a new six-year term, many Egyptians are unhappy with their daily lives. A discontent that is cautiously expressed on social networks. No one wants to end up in prison like thousands of people convicted of "spreading false information" or "association with a terrorist organization," the Muslim Brotherhood.
We are still living through the worst of decades in terms of human rights violations in Egypt, in terms of the number of political prisoners, in terms of enforced disappearances that continue, in terms of censored freedom of expression, arrests of journalists, blocking of news websites...
Mohamed Lotfy, Director of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms
The main cause of discontent is skyrocketing prices. Onions and potatoes have quadrupled in price, housewives complain. There are also shortages such as sugar, which cannot be found at even double the price. Many of the drugs have also disappeared. Going to the dentist can be very painful due to the lack of anesthetics. There are also the systematic power cuts which, with a few exceptions, hit towns and villages on a daily basis, not to mention Internet outages. But most Egyptians, burned by the 2011 revolution, still prefer to endure rather than risk chaos.
An economy in free fall
There is therefore little enthusiasm for this election while the challenges are immense. The main challenge is economic. The Egyptian pound has lost 50% of its value against the dollar. A dollar that is worth almost double the official rate on the black market. As a result, inflation is almost at 40%. This makes the daily lives of pensioners difficult and untenable for the third of Egyptians who live below the poverty line. At the same time, the private sector continues to shrink and public subsidies are disappearing one after the other.
Read alsoWhy the Egyptian economy is in a critical state
At the same time, the reforms demanded by creditors have been slow in coming. After years of generosity, Gulf countries want a return on their investment or are threatening to pull out. As for the International Monetary Fund, after approving a new loan of three billion dollars, the institution is waiting to be able to carry out its missions in this country, one of the most exposed in the world to the risk of default. As a result, only the first tranche of the loan has so far been disbursed, with the next one suspended since March.
And then, remittances from Egyptians working abroad have melted away. They are often vital to the survival of families. But also for the Egyptian state, which derives taxes from it. However, this money no longer flows through official channels. Workers prefer to go through the black market.
Guarantor of regional stability in the midst of the Israel-Hamas war
In the midst of the Israel-Hamas war, the challenge for Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is also to reposition Egypt, a country bordering Gaza, as a key player in a conflict that has completely overshadowed the stakes of this presidential election. The outgoing president can boast of playing a central role in this conflict. This included the usual role of mediator between Israel and Hamas, which this time led to the release of Israeli hostages and the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza.
However, the Egyptian president has not opened the doors of his territory to the Palestinians. Anxious not to condone a forced displacement of Gazans to Egypt, but also to preserve internal balances. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi does not want an influx of refugees that would weigh on the Egyptian population, in the midst of an economic crisis. He also fears the arrival on his soil of elements of Hamas, traditionally affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, which he has been fighting since he seized power a decade ago. In North Sinai, the Egyptian president claims to have gotten rid of jihadist and terrorist groups. He now poses as the guarantor of regional stability, at the cost of an uncompromising security policy in his country.
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