Field Marshal Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi still rides a wave of soaring popularity following his unrelenting support for the toppling of former president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. The kingmaker is widely expected to enter the presidential race largely uncontested. Save a few decorative candidates, such as presidential hopeful Hamdeen Sabahy and former chief of staff Sami Anan, Al-Sisi is sure to cruise through a decisive victory. Soothing rhetoric aside, the reality remains grim on several fronts and the challenges are real. With an undeniable majority of the Egyptian population looking up to him as the man of the hour and the country’s saviour, how much can he actually change should he become president? Among the myriad of challenges ahead the next president, here is a look at three daunting predicaments.
Eliminating terrorism is an important ingredient of economic recovery; the ongoing terrorist attacks are dealing a devastating blow to both tourism and foreign direct investment, which are central to the struggling economy.
In his capacity as defence minister, Al-Sisi has called for nationwide rallies on 26 July of last year to mandate the army and the police to confront terrorism. Six months later, terrorist attacks have been escalating with bombings carried out against police, military and civilian targets. And while major military operations have been launched in the Sinai Peninsula, the lawlessness in that region remains alarming with no near end in sight.
Egyptians have faced every terrorist attack with resolve and determination, often showing deep support for both the army and police; yet, it will not be long before they demand to see real results and start holding the next president accountable for a concrete plan for the eradication of terrorism.
Constant blackouts and fuel shortages in the summer of 2013 have quickly soured the public mood towards President Mohamed Morsi. While, these issues have been partly alleviated by generous fuel assistance from Gulf countries, Egypt remains very much under energy pressures. In a recent analysis of the energy situation, Amr Hussein concludes that Egypt is treading towards another dark summer. Justin Dargin, a Middle East energy expert at the University of Oxford sees that: “The situation is one of duress, of survival”.
The next president will hence find himself embroiled in a delicate formula between rising energy demands, dwindling supplies, foreign commitments and subsidy pressures.
It is no secret that Egypt faces key problems which cannot be handled without the help of the outside world. Furthermore, the gyratory political situation since 25 January has alienated Egypt from several of its traditional allies.
Under President Mohamed Morsi, Egypt has sought to expand its relations with non-traditional allies such as China and Iran. With his recent visit to Russia, El-Sisi signals a possible continuation of this strategy. These moves alongside steadfast alliance with both KSA and the UAE are thought to counter the softness of Western support.
To be realistic, the next president will have to work on restoring relationships with Western governments to pre-25 January levels. Such an undertaking might prove to be more elusive, as progress on human rights and democratic reforms will remain the focal point in making these amends.
Meanwhile, Eric Trager and Gilad Wenig noted that Al-Sisi “will be more durable than his ousted predecessors”, the field marshal’s true challenges may not be about holding on to power. The supernatural status which has been afforded to him by the people is bound to shield him from all such destabilising moves, at least for a while. Whether he can deliver or not remains the question. Cairo-based writer Mia Jankowicz sees that: “The actuality of what Al-Sisi promises seems largely talismanic”. The expectations are rising and should the next president not find quick answers to the humbling issues that Egypt faces, it will not be long before the aura of invincibility wears out in the face of a tough reality check.