Egypt has been in a state of unrest for the last three years. It had previously been ruled with an iron fist under Hosni Mubarak for 30 years until 2011 when protesters stormed Tahrir Square and demanded his ouster. Following Mubarak’s exit from office, Egypt held its first democratic presidential elections. While the candidates did not represent the majority of the Egyptian people (one was a holdover from the Mubarak administration and the other was a member of the potentially menacing Muslim Brotherhood) and many felt they were left with little or no options, Mohamed Morsi – the Muslim Brotherhood candidate – won.
Morsi lasted just over a year in office after he virtually declared himself above the law and above the newly drafted constitution. Protestors took to Tahrir Square once more and the military intervened. The military then forced Morsi out of office drawing a fine line between a coup and a democratic ouster.
The military has been ruling Egypt ever since Morsi’s ouster in the summer of 2013 but this week, the military resigned spurring future presidential elections later this spring. The nation has been through a lot including brutal and mortal military crackdowns of protestors and sectarian conflicts between Muslim Morsi supporters and democratic sympathizers. Out of the ashes of all this turmoil, Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has risen as a star among the Egyptian people. Sisi led the military “coup” against Morsi and has become a popular figure among the Egyptian public. He is also thought to be the most popular candidate for the presidency.
The current Egyptian government has been under fire for its poor handling of the economy and continued violence. TIME’s Middle East Bureau Chief, Aryn Baker reported the announcement of the dissolved cabinet “could not come fast enough.” She went on to comment, “Already the streets of Cairo are draped in banners celebrating Field Marshal Abdul Fattah al-Sisi…In Egypt, it’s not a question of if al-Sisi will declare his intention to run, but when.” However, Sisi has not officially declared himself yet.
While many are optimistic of a Sisi presidency, there is still reason to believe the same problems, which have plagued the largest Arab nation in the world, will persist. According to an industry expert, Sisi “will be an empowered leader with much political capital” but “lacks a real political ideology. He is likely to depend heavily on experienced advisers.” Egyptians are hopeful rule of law will prevail under Sisi, however, in a region where democracy has been absent from government for decades, usurpation of power (as seen with Morsi) is not out of the realm of possibility especially with an inexperienced politician.
In a recent article in Foreign Relations, the authors, Eric Trager and Gilad Wenig, outline why a Sisi run government would be less susceptible to mass protests demonstrated in the last three years. Sisi is very friendly with the judicial and police forces who see him “as a bulwark against the Brotherhood and a first line of defense against any Brotherhood-led quest for post-coup vengeance.” Also, the military and intelligence agencies in Egypt view Sisi as one of their own and would be less likely to support a revolt against his regime. Sisi has built a coalition of many powerful friends within Egypt making him a potentially dangerous figure. Additionally, Trager and Wenig pointed out, “The director of the Military Intelligence Service (MIS), Mahmoud Hegazy, is not only Sisi’s former military academy classmate and infantry colleague, but Hegazy’s daughter is married to Sisi’s son. Additionally, the director of Egypt’s powerful General Intelligence Service, Mohamed Farid el-Tohamy, reportedly served as Sisi’s mentor during Sisi’s tenure at MIS.”
Sisi is also making friends abroad has even pitted cold war rivals against each other for arms supplies. Sisi has met with Russian officials to broker a potential arms deal. In the wake of the military “coup,” which forced Morsi from office, the United States cut military aid back to Egypt as part of a stipulation that if Egypt ousted their leader via coup, aid would cease. There was much jostling between US lawmakers, President Obama, and Egyptian officials over whether or not Morsi’s ouster was a coup given the diplomatic consequences. The United States has enjoyed friendly relations with Egypt in a highly volatile region and would do well to not lose this military relationship, which is why a potential Russian arms deal is a major US concern. Sisi merely maintains he is trying to do what is best for Egypt.
Since Sisi has yet to announce any presidential plans, all is speculation. However likely it is that Sisi may run, the United States is keen to maintain friendly relations with a new Egyptian administration. The people of Egypt have been hopeful for a constitution and a truly democratic society. Sisi may be the answer but he is not a sure thing. Sisi has the public support but he also holds much influence among power players in Egypt and is building relationships with major world powers. Egyptians already learned through the last (and first) election cycle to be careful what you wish for. Hopefully, they will not make that mistake again.