On 8 June, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi completed half of his first presidential term, and there are only two years left before he faces a new presidential election. I do not think the coming election will be similar in its circumstances and consequences to the former election that led Al-Sisi to Itihadiya Palace two years ago, obtaining 23 million votes.
In the 2014 elections, Egyptians were looking for a “saviour”, not just a new head of the executive authority. However, the upcoming 2018 elections will be different, and the considerations that must be made will be different, too. This situation will be reflected on the nature of the electoral competition, and the level of support for candidates will differ whether Al-Sisi was one of those candidates or not.
The president himself and his supporters on one side and the president’s opponents on the other need more than ever to evaluate objectively the previous period, away from political tendency and ideologies. They need to answer fundamental questions related to the performance of the president and his government and honestly examine the worth of what has been achieved during the past two years.
Actually, the general evaluation of the last period will not be helpful or fair at all. The evaluation should focus on the different aspects of the Al-Sisi’s reign. It is obvious that the president’s performance regarding economic issues, public services, and infrastructure will differ from his performance in foreign and political files as well as human rights and freedoms.
We should not also lose sight of the nature of the political, regional, economic, and social contexts in which Al-Sisi took over the presidency. By the way, these contexts were not necessarily “challenges”, but they also included clear “opportunities” for the president. This article does not attempt to evaluate the first two years of the rule of Al-Sisi, but it tries to analyse those contexts which accompanied that period.
Al-Sisi came to power under highly complicated political circumstances following two popular revolutions which toppled two presidents. The first president had been in control of all power resources and both internal and external issues. The second was a member of the most organised and active group on the ground with regional engagement that boosted its strength. Al-Sisi did not have political support; however, the state apparatuses were supporting him. In addition, the major regional powers were not so tolerant of the results of the second Egyptian revolution that occurred 30 June 2013, which showed Al-Sisi as the most prominent figure. He was dealing with a people who became “aware” of the value of anger and revolution and were willing to break the barrier of fear of the power. Vocabulary such as “down with the regime” and “leave” became very popular to the extent that they were sometimes brought to detract from the prestige of the state which makes the hands of those in power tremble and hesitant to make decision.
There is also the threat of “terrorism” which still represents a major challenge for political stability, security, and development. The state found itself forced to confront terrorism through a long-term, unconventional war which claimed the lives of thousands of police and military as well as innocent civilians. Despite the remarkable success of that war, the danger still exists and is capable of negatively affecting the Egyptian economy, as seen in the example of the Russian aeroplane crash incident, from which Egyptian tourism is still suffering from its negative effects. Terrorism still receives hidden support from groups and countries and enjoys a political cover provided by political currents which “confound issues”.
On the economic and social level, Al-Sisi came to power during very difficult economic conditions. The country faced high popular demands, unemployment rate at its highest, widespread corruption, a state budget burdened with internal and external debt, an education system completely separated from the real needs of the market, dilapidated infrastructure and public services, and limited and weak foreign investments.
Nevertheless, on the political and regional side, Al-Sisi had good opportunities. He enjoyed literally sweeping popular consensus in the street and the absence of a parliament, which has shared power with the president for more than a year and a half. In addition, the infinite support provided by the Arab Gulf states has relieved the effects of the halt of some European and American countries’ aid. This Arab support contributed to changing the attitudes of some of the important international powers regarding the Egyptian revolution on 30 June 2013 as well as meeting the economic demands of Egyptians, reducing the state budget deficit, increasing the foreign reserves, and providing the needs of energy and commodities.
These are the beginnings of Al-Sisi’s rule and the contexts—positive and negative—that must be taken into account when addressing the performance and usefulness of his achievements and his government during the past two years. I think the intellectuals and think-tanks are invited over the coming weeks to make this necessary assessment objectively, taking into account these contexts.
Walaa Gad El-Karim is a researcher, writer and Middle East consultant, and the Director of Partners for Transparency.