As the upcoming Presidential Elections in Egypt loom closer, the question is not who will win, but by how much. Current President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi is the only real candidate in the elections that are being held from 26 to 28 March, basically ensuring his second term of Presidency.
There is just one other contender; Moussa Mostafa Moussa, a pro-Sisi politician who entered the ‘race’ just before the deadline for registration closed. It seems Moussa has been strategically placed as a candidate to ensure that the elections appear genuine. He has failed to campaign, aside from a few posters, and has stated to a state-run news program that he is “not here to challenge the President.” So in other words, the Egyptian people do not really have a choice.
There were two serious contenders for the title, but both were removed soon after Sisi declared his intention to rerun for Office. Khaled Ali, a prominent Egyptian lawyer, withdrew his bid in early January. He said during a conference in Cairo that his supporters had been intimidated and threatened, and that he did not want to partake in the elections as it would assist in the portrayal of the campaign as a genuine election.
The second serious contender was former Military Chief of Staff, Sami Anan, who was arrested three days after the announcement of his intention to run for Presidency. Anan could now be facing the death penalty as he has threatened to release secret military documents that would unveil widespread corruption throughout the government, in the event that he is mistreated whilst in prison.
These heightened crackdowns come amidst an already tense period for Egypt in the years following the coup. Since 2013, there have been increasing levels of repression in the media as well as punitive measures against individuals who speak out and critique the government. At the beginning of March, Sisi declared that anyone critiquing the police or the army are conspiring against the government and performing an act of “treason.” Consequently, the only remaining media outlets are explicitly pro-Sisi. All the others have been accused of “fake news” and shut down. Only last month a British journalist was expelled from Egypt after being threatened with a military trial if she did not leave.
The head of Egypt’s Supreme Media Council was reported saying, “I no longer believe that there’s an independent press.” There have also been further reports of increasing levels of internet censorship across the country. Egypt is the third highest country in the world for imprisoned journalists and six have been arrested already in 2018.
On the ground there have not been many reports of protest. This is likely due to a sustained fear of retaliation in light of the 2013 massacre of unarmed protesters. The global responses have varied. The UN has critiqued the government for promoting a “pervasive climate of intimidation” in the precursor to the elections. The U.S., however, have remained rather quiet on the clear abuse of power President Sisi is administering. Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders, among others, have protested Sisi’s actions and call for the release of detained journalists.
So while the President has accused the media of sprouting “fake news,” it is rather ironic that he simply does not care that this election itself is a farce. The Egyptian people will inevitably be subjected to a second term under Sisi, and there are growing fears that they will also be exposed to increasing restrictions on free speech. It will be unsurprising if we see low numbers to the polling booths, as hope and visions for an Arab Spring-esque future remain out of reach.