Wary Egyptians start preparing for 2018 presidential elections

August 13, 2017
Call for unity. A file picture shows Nasserist figure Hamdeen Sabahi in Cairo. (Reuters)

Cairo- Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has signed into law a bill stipulating the formation of a National Election Commission, set­ting off preparations for next April’s presidential elections.

The commission has a huge task, including preparing the electoral register, deciding the location of polling stations and completing logistical preparations for the elec­tion, said Refaat Komsan, election affairs adviser to Egypt’s prime min­ister.

“We are talking about 60 million eligible voters here,” Komsan said. “So preparing the electoral roll will be a challenging matter, indeed.”

The vote in April marks Egypt’s third presidential election since the revolution against long-standing President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and the second since the ouster of Islamist President Muhammad Morsi in 2012. Sisi won the election in 2014 with nearly 97% of the more than 24 million ballots cast.

The commission must secure finances needed for the electoral process, a cost estimated at tens of millions of dollars. While the judges who will lead the commission must have credibility and be trusted by political forces and parties, political experts said.

Egypt’s five judicial authorities will nominate two of their members each to join the board of the Nation­al Election Commission, an inde­pendent agency that will have an in­dependent budget. The ten judges, who must be less than 54 years old, will not be allowed to maintain their positions in the judiciary.

The next presidential poll comes, experts said, at a time when Egypt will have likely overcome many of the political, economic and security uncertainties that marred the 2014 elections.

“The political, economic and se­curity settings are totally different this time,” said Tarek Fahmy, a po­litical science professor from Cairo University. “In 2014, Egypt was struggling on all fronts.”

Fahmy said the vote in 2014 was overshadowed by Egypt’s flailing economic and massive national se­curity uncertainty, issues that have seen improvement in the past four years.

“These threats have either to­tally disappeared now or are less intense,” Fahmy said. “There is real progress.”

Even if Egypt is not facing as dour an outlook in 2018, that does not mean that economic and security is­sues will not dominate the election season.

Egypt’s foreign currency reserves have reached $36.3 billion, the high­est since 2011, and exports are on the rise, thanks to Cairo’s economic reforms. The same reforms, particu­larly the flotation of the national cur­rency and the significant slashing of fuel, electricity and water subsidies, have resulted in commodity price hikes that angered many Egyptians.

Egypt’s military has progressed in its fight against Islamic State (ISIS) militants. The recent killing of four Egyptian policemen in North Sinai demonstrates that the group has not been defanged, however.

Sisi has not said whether he will seek a second four-year term in of­fice. However, Yasser Rizq, a for­mer editor-in-chief of state-owned Al-Akhbar newspaper who is known to have close ties to the presidency, wrote that he believed Sisi would run in the next elections.

Sisi, when asked in July whether he intended to run, said the most important thing was that Egyptians participate in the elections.

With many political figures and parties, such as the Free Egyptians Party, the largest party in parlia­ment, already announcing support for a Sisi second term, many say the Egyptian president is concerned that nobody will step forward to challenge him in next year’s elec­tions.

“So, why should anybody run in the election against him?” asked Gamal Eid, a human rights advocate and vocal critic of Sisi. “I think no­body will run against him because — apart from the fact that the results of the elections will be known be­forehand — few people will trust the whole electoral process.”

With the elections eight months away, no opposition figure has ex­pressed an intent to run against Sisi.

Nasserist candidate Hamdeen Sa­bahi, who was Sisi’s only challenger in 2014 and secured less than 4% of the vote, has called on Egypt’s left­ists to unite to run against the presi­dent.

However, given current divisions, few say this is possible and, even if it were, this would not constitute a serious electoral challenge to Sisi. Many say there is a strong likelihood that Sisi could stand unopposed.

“If this happens [the absence of multiple candidates in the election], the whole process will turn into a referendum, which will bring us many, many years back,” Rizq said.