Egypt is few steps away from an election whose outcome is supposed to determine the coming leadership of a country that has been on a political roller coaster for three consecutive years. Some argue that there are elements of competition in the upcoming presidential election, considering that there are two candidates who are competing freely to fill the opening. Others argue that the election is a blatant charade where people are hoarded to vote for one particular candidate, the former military leader Al Sisi. This latter view has some credence due to the following.
First, the Egyptian security establishment that includes the armed forces, the police apparatus, and the intelligence agencies are putting their weight behind the candidacy of Al Sisi. These institutions continue to promote the idea that they are summoned by the people to save the country from the chaotic consequences of the democratic transition that was underway, and came to the conclusion that the best way to achieve that is to have one of their own in the top position.
Second, the deep state—or the class of senior executives and bureaucrats in the critical state institutions that consider themselves the custodians of the entire system—does not conceal its bias towards Al Sisi, whose presidency will likely secure its continued control over state affairs. This exclusive caste has come to see state office as their birthright, which would have been threatened by intruders coming under the auspices of a democratic election. Their support to Al Sisi is intended to circumvent any attempt to open the commanding heights to popular access.
Third, the business class, with its tremendous wealth and control of media outlets, is using its ample resources in support of the state candidate, Al Sisi. This is intended to ensure a return to the state of affairs where power and wealth were intertwined in an unholy matrimony. This confluence, of the financial interests and the influential institutions of the state, adds to the fortunes of Al Sisi’s candidacy.
Fourth, the Egyptian judiciary seems to be playing an important role in the political retribution of the opponents to the military interference in political affairs with their fast and sweeping execution and incarceration sentences. The swift trials and the harsh verdicts appear to underscore the judiciary’s energetic support for the current regime’s crackdown on its dissidents. This paves the way for Al Sisi to the presidential palace without obstacles.
Fifth, the media outlets continue to be utilized, with a complete lack of professionalism and impartiality, to persuade the public opinion of the concept of “the candidate of necessity.” The campaign was intended to promote the image of Al Sisi as the powerful person who can safeguard the state institutions from total collapse, as the only hope to get the country out of its current predicament, as the last resort when confronting the looming threats to the cohesion of the state, as the hero that will stand up to the state enemies, and as the only one capable of maintaining stability. These ideas obviously stifle the people’s ability to cast their vote freely between candidates who can be distinguished only by their electoral programs.
Sixth, the wave of jingoism that is sweeping over Egypt is intended to emphasize the idea of the one voice that speaks on behalf of the people for the sake of their future. Any maverick voices are considered unpatriotic. This paves the way not only for the suppression of the opposing views but of eliminating them altogether as an act of treason. Al Sisi is promoted in this chauvinistic climate as the choice of the true patriots.
Seventh, the lack of tolerance for protests, the arbitrary arrests of scores of opponents, and the constraints on the freedoms of expression and assembly come as a part of a wider campaign to demonize the revolutionary wave and the political activists who carried the torch of change. After being hailed as the vanguard of the revolution, they are being accused nowadays as anarchists who threaten the pillars of the state. Al Sisi is presented as the man who can use the iron fist against those who threaten the stability of the country.
Eighth, the state continues to present the Egyptian people with a trade-off between security and freedom, by ominously predicting a breakdown of law and order while emphasizing that civilian governance will lead the country into ruins. This approach is intended to turn the public against the ineluctable bickering that is part of a free political life, so that the people who have been riding the peaks and troughs of the chaotic transition will settle for the stability that Al Sisi can swoop in to impose.
Ninth, the state continues to create a phantom scarecrow where the opponents of the military coup are portrayed as a terrorist force bent on controlling the state within the scheme of a global conspiracy. These accusations are intended to sway the people into flocking to Al Sisi’s chariot, as the candidate is portrayed to be the only one capable of checking the groups of violence in his declared war against terrorism.
Tenth, the state continues to stir patriotic sentiments by its propaganda that Al Sisi is the nationalist who is standing up to foreign interference and who does not surrender to external pressures. Despite its lack of accuracy, this campaign is intended to boost Al Sisi’s odds with those who feel nostalgic to a period when Egypt used to have some independence in decision making.
Eleventh, the media outlets, in a concerted campaign, relentlessly resort to the adoption of fear tactics, fabrications, defamation, and deceitful slander to chastise anyone who might consider running against Al Sisi in this election. This is intended to eliminate competition altogether in his favor.
Finally, the aftermath of the military coup reeks of a restorationist atmosphere as it was accompanied by a resurgence of personnel, policies, and practices that characterized the Mubarak era which was more likely to adopt the form of a democratic process without its true substance. The coming election looks more like one of Mubarak’s referendas and less like a true opportunity for Egyptians to declare their will in the ballot boxes.