This week, Egyptian voters are going to the polls, either to vote to reelect President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi or to vote for the other guy.
Noting that most significant presidential contenders were either arrested, or were intimidated out of running, many media organizations have argued that Egypt’s elections this week are a farce.
Although there accounts disputing those claims, it is true that government bodies placed obstacles to running before several candidates. So it is hard to argue that this week’s election is an open one.
But there is a deeper issue at stake in Egypt than popular elections.
That issue is whether Egypt – a country with 90 million citizens – will become a threat to itself and to the world, or whether Egypt will somehow beat the odds, and survive by liberalizing. Sisi is betting on survival through liberalization. If he fails, no amount of open and free and unfettered elections will save Egypt from destruction.
Seven years ago, the same bipartisan elite in Washington that is attacking this week’s elections united in support for overthrowing a longtime U.S. ally, then-Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, because he wasn’t democratic enough to satisfy that elite’s members on both sides of the partisan divide.
Mubarak was an unapologetic authoritarian who ruled Egypt for 29 years. But he was also the anchor of America’s alliance structure in the Sunni Arab world.
When photogenic protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square staged what the credulous Western media reported as the Facebook Revolution, the elites gushed with excitement. Mubarak’s long service as a U.S. ally made no difference in Washington. Neoliberals in the Obama administration joined together with neoconservatives from the George W. Bush administration to support his overthrow. The fact that the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood engineered the protests and was the only faction in Egypt with the power to replace Mubarak didn’t bother the wise men and women of Washington.
Blinded by their complementary neoconservative and neoliberal world views, they believed, as then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Congress, that the Muslim Brotherhood was a “largely secular” organization. They believed this, despite the fact that nearly every Sunni Islamic terror group in the world is Muslim Brotherhood spin-off. They believed this. despite the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood’s motto, since its founding in the 1920s, was “Allah is our goal; the Prophet is our leader; the Koran is our law; Jihad is our way; Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.”
Abandoned by the U.S., Mubarak was forced to resign after 18 days of protest. He and his sons were then carted off to prison.
Within a year of Mubarak’s overthrow, Egypt held its first open parliamentary elections between late 2011 until early 2012. The Muslim Brotherhood bloc won 45 percent of the vote. The Salafist party won 25 percent.
So when Egyptians were given the freedom to choose their representatives, 70 percent of them voted for Islamic totalitarians who support global jihad and the institution of an Islamic caliphate to rule the world.
In the presidential elections that followed, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohamed Morsi from the Freedom and Justice Party, won nearly 52 percent of the vote.
Much to the amazement of Washington’s wise men and women, after assuming power, Morsi and his parliamentary supporters did not govern as liberals or moderates. The representatives of Islamic totalitarian parties and movement governed as Islamic totalitarians.
Morsi pushed a constitution through the parliament that would have transformed Egypt into an Islamic theocracy. He turned a blind eye to the massive escalation in violence against Coptic Christians and church properties. He assumed dictatorial powers that, among other things, placed his presidency and all of his actions as president above judicial review.
So, far from delivering Egypt into a new era of political freedom, Egypt’s popularly elected president and popularly elected parliament used their power to trample all vestiges of liberalism and democratic order, including the separation of powers and freedom of religion in Egypt.
So much for democracy.
The people of Egypt rose up against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood by the millions. Sisi, then defense minister, rose to power as the leader of a military coup that overthrew Morsi and his Islamist regime in July 2013.
Today, as the Saudis bankroll his government, Sisi has introduced market reforms into Egypt’s economy. He has committed to transforming the education system into one that provides students with marketable skills, rather than one that focuses on rote learning.
He has taken on Egypt’s Islamic religious authorities and called for a reformation of Islam while waging war against the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic terror groups, from Hamas to ISIS.
None of Sisi’s battles are easily won. The Islamic clerics are testing his will and powerrelative to theirs, while slowing down the reform process he instigated in 2015. There is no silver bullet to solve the Egyptian economy’s fundamental failings. And the Islamists, who won 70 percent of the popular vote in 2012, will not simply disappear because they are being repressed. In the Sinai, they continue to fight a brutal and bloody war against Sisi’s regime.
Then there are the Coptic Christians. The Copts comprise around ten percent of Egypt’s population. They suffered government-sponsored persecution under the Morsi regime. And as a consequence, they were among the most outspoken supporters of the military coup tht brought Sisi to power.
Unfortunately, despite the Copts high hopes that the Sisi presidency would protect their rights as Christians and as Egyptian citizens, Sisi has been unable to end the popular persecution of Copts by their Muslim neighbors. Over the past year, despite Sisi’s willingness to stand with the Copts, persecution of the community at local levels has increased. And many Copts are questioning Sisi’s willingness and ability to take the necessary steps to protect them.
On the other hand, if Sisi stays the course, and continues to enjoy the support of the Saudis, the US, Israel, Europe, and others, he may survive long enough to make significant changes in Egyptian society. Unlike President Barack Obama, who supported Morsi even as millions of Egyptians took to the streets throughout Egypt to overthrow him, President Donald Trump has been outspoken in his support for Sisi.
If it is to happen, Sisi’s success in rescuing and transforming Egypt won’t be pretty. Coaxing and pushing Egypt into the 21st century culturally, educationally, and economically cannot be done without pushing the scales in favor of certain forces and against others.
But the world has a stake in Sisi’s success.
If Sisi succeeds, the Islamic world will never be the same. And the world will be safer.
If Sisi fails, then barring an unforeseen miracle, Egypt, with its 90 million people, will fall apart. Tens of millions will starve to death. The Arab world’s most powerful military force will fall into uncertain hands. The Islamists will have no shortage of scapegoats to blame.
The implications of such a catastrophe for the region and the world are unimaginable.
Sisi’s many critics snort that his one opponent, Moussa Mostafa Moussa, is actually a Sisi supporter. But maybe the critics should stop sticking their noses up at democratically-challenged Sisi and ask Moussa why he supports Sisi. Maybe he supports him because he believes that Sisi is Egypt’s last chance for survival.