Egypt’s presidential election on March 26-28 will effectively be a theatrical performance, staged by the regime to contrive a popular mandate for strongman President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s second term. Sisi, who as defense minister led the 2013 coup against the Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, has forced out every credible electoral contender—including two prominent challengers from the military establishment, Ahmed Shafiq and Sami Anan—using threats and even imprisonment. Moussa Mustafa Moussa, who entered the race at the last moment to play Sisi’s token opponent, is an obscure politician and an avowed supporter of the president who is thought to have long-standing ties to the Egyptian security services.
What is more, the vote is being held against the backdrop of a vast crackdown under Sisi. Tens of thousands of people are in prison on politicized or fabricated charges. Civil society organizations are hounded by the police, and the regime has been buying up privately held media organizations and punishing those outlets that dare to diverge from the state’s Orwellian narrative. With the security services unleashed, the incidence of torture has increased dramatically and, in a frightening tactic new to Egypt, hundreds have “disappeared” from the streets or their homes. A state of emergency has further eroded Egyptians’ meager rights. Any balloting held under such brutally repressive circumstances reveals very little about Sisi’s standing with the Egyptian public.
THE MILITARY AS KINGMAKER
Nevertheless, the way in which Sisi has managed the election, ratcheting up repression and angrily and ruthlessly quashing military-linked candidates, demonstrates that his hold on power depends in large part on the military’s loyalty, or at least its acquiescence. The fact that challengers even emerged from the military establishment in the first place suggests that such support has declined, a trend that has rattled Sisi.
The armed forces remain Egypt’s most powerful institution, and Sisi became president in 2014 with their strong backing. But he must be acutely aware that the military could turn against him. After all, the
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