Sisi announces presidential bid with few expecting upset
Cairo - Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi confirmed he will run for a second term in office, with most analysts expecting him to easily win in the presidential elections scheduled for late March.
“I tell you frankly and transparently that I hope you will allow and accept my candidacy for the president’s post,” Sisi told a cheering crowd after months of refusing to confirm whether he would seek re-election.
The announcement came at the end of a 3-day “Story of a Nation” conference in which Sisi, 63, had presented achievements his administration made over the past four years.
“Building the state takes 16 to 20 years, I am trying to finish it in eight years, God willing,” Sisi said.
Few analysts expect Sisi to lose the election, particularly given the lack of heavyweight opponents. Popular former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq withdrew a presidential bid earlier this month and fierce Sisi critic Muhammad Anwar Sadat — nephew of the late president — said he would not stand, saying he would not “fight a losing battle.”
“It will not be easy for any candidate to compete against Sisi in the elections, regardless of their popularity. Sisi has managed to hold Egypt together in the face of unprecedented political, security and economic challenges,” said Abdel Mohsen Salama, head of Egypt’s Journalists Syndicate.
“Public support for Sisi is clearly manifest in the perseverance of the people as Sisi launched aggressive reforms that caused hardships to millions of people. The people are now patiently waiting to reap the fruits of the reform and they have confidence in him.”
Khaled Ali, a 45-year-old human rights lawyer, said he would run for president to redress the Sisi administration’s “mistakes,” including its dependence on foreign borrowing and failure to improve living conditions for millions of poor citizens.
The former chief of staff of the Egyptian Army, General Sami Anan, 69, has also said he will stand.
Presidential hopefuls need to have either 25,000 powers of attorney from eligible voters or the endorsement of at least 20 legislators to apply to run in the presidential elections at the National Election Commission, the independent body of senior judges that oversees the vote.
The commission has received more than 400,000 powers of attorney from eligible voters, most of them filed for Sisi. Candidates must officially register with the National Elections Commission before the end of the month.
A former army chief, Sisi became president in June 2014 when Egypt was at a crossroads. Tens of thousands of Islamists were demonstrating against the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated President Muhammad Morsi in 2013. Egypt was close to bankruptcy with foreign reserves at $16 billion, their lowest in a decade. The streets were far from secure, battles between the army and a branch of the Islamic State (ISIS) were at their most violent and Egypt’s relations with most of the world were at their worst.
“The situation was so scary on all fronts and it would have taken a great deal of courage and vision for anybody to accept to be president in these conditions,” said political commentator Amar Ali Hassan, “but Sisi showed a great deal of leadership and managed to solve many of the problems at a time of high uncertainty.”
During the “Story of a Nation” conference, Sisi praised the economic achievements of the past four years. Central bank foreign reserves have increased to $37 billion. Egypt’s balance of trade deficit is $20 billion less; imports are $16 billion less.
The monthly inflation rate is 25%, down from 35% and there are expectations the rate will be 13% by the end of 2018. The budget deficit is down to 10.9%, from 16.7%.
The unemployment rate is 11.4%, down from 13.4%. Approximately 3.5 million Egyptians work in Sisi-initiated development projects, including a new administrative capital between Cairo and Suez.
Security remains a major challenge. ISIS and al-Qaeda franchises operate in Egyptian territory and the Sinai Peninsula remains a quagmire for Egyptian police and soldiers.
Even though Sisi’s economic reforms caused short-term hardships, particularly to Egypt’s poor and middle class, those groups remain some of the president’s strongest supporters.
Some reforms, including the flotation of the national currency and the slashing of electricity, fuel and water subsidies, directly affected living conditions after commodity prices rose to unprecedented levels.
“The rise in the commodity prices made it almost impossible for some people to put food on the table for their children,” said Rashad Abdo, an economics professor at Helwan University. “The reforms were, however, indispensable, or the economy would have derailed.”
Despite this, Sisi enjoys popular support at home, with many pointing to Sisi’s foreign policy and hopes of restoring Egypt’s position as a regional power.
“Sisi’s unrelenting work to reunify the Arabs, strengthen his country’s influence in the African continent and hammer out balanced ties with the United States, Russia, China and Europe shows that this man wants to return his country to a position of leadership,” said Tarek Fahmy, a political science professor at Cairo University. “A stronger economy, growing internal stability and support by Arab allies can actually help him do this.”