Even though he hasn’t officially announced his presidential bid yet, all indications point to the fact that Field Marshal El-Sisi will run for president. Everything that is now happening in Egypt is viewed from only one prism: El-Sisi’s nomination. When the Biblawy cabinet was sacked, observers immediately jumped into the conclusion that the move was aimed at releasing El-Sisi from his job as defense minister so he can announce his candidacy. When it turned out that El-Sisi will remain defense ministers in the new cabinet, observers changed their theory: unable to stop the increasing labor strikes, Biblawy was sacked in the hope that the new Prime Minister will succeed, even if by a small degree, in solving some of the country’s problems – such as labor strikes and power shortages- and eventually smoothen El-Sisi’s passage to the presidential palace.
Just like everything which is going on right now in Egypt, we cannot know for sure why the Biblawy government resigned. We can only speculate. However, when it comes to El-Sisi’s nomination for president, we do have enough evidence and events to indicate that his nomination is the most likely scenario. Now the question is: what will happen if, just like his predecessors, President El-Sisi failed to meet the ever rising expectations of Egyptians? And what will Egypt look like if by some miracle El-Sisi managed to pull the country out of the abyss it is in now?
What can happen if El-Sisi failed?
If El-Sisi failed to save Egypt’s economy and improve the lives of millions who have been suffering during the past three years, the masses could react in two ways. First, they could do what they did best during Mubarak’s 30 years era: do nothing. Second, the masses could start taking to the streets against the same person whom they glorify today. Judging from the past three years, it is hard to believe that Egyptians, especially the young generation, will settle down again. The genie is out of the bottle.
I touched upon that question in a previous post. I argued that if El-Sisi failed to save Egypt’s economy and if the current repression continued, I won’t be surprised if another mass revolt happened. If the current rate of killing and imprisoning young people continued, a new generation of non-Isalmist revolutionaries might rise in the future who, in light of the absence of an alternative opposition, might not mind joining forces with the Muslim Brotherhood to fight the oppressing state. These revolutionaries will be too young to remember the Brotherhood’s betrayal of the revolution in 2011 or their dreadful one year in power. If the economy becomes worse by then, the poor might join these forces and usher in another uprising. However, this time it will not be peaceful. The “violence bar” is already very high now; imagine how higher it could get three or four years from now. Unfortunately, any new uprising will not do the country any good since Egypt cannot withstand another revolution. The state will collapse.
One of the reasons why I don’t want El-Sisi to run is what I mentioned above. Whether we like it or not, the army is the only institution left standing in Egypt which is barely holding the country together. It is the only entity that Egyptians trust. By endorsing El-Sisi’s presidential bid, the army generals acted like members of a civilian political party and have pinned the future popularity of the military institution to El-Sisi’s performance as president. This is a very dangerous gamble, and a very serious mistake that El-Sisi and his colleagues have done.
It seems that Egypt’s patrons in the Gulf also share my viewpoint. A month ago, Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohamed Bin Rashid expressed his hope that El-Sisi does not run for president. “I hope he remains in the military, and that another person [runs] for the presidency,” he said. The editor in chief of Al Sharq Al Sawsat newspaper and the General Manager of Al Arabiya news channel, Abdul Rahman Al Rashid, wrote an op-ed advising El-Sisi not to run for president. It is widely believed that Al Rashid is close to the Saudi royal family.
What can happen if El-Sisi succeeded?
If El-Sisi miraculously managed to save the economy and improved the lives of the masses, he will truely be the next Gamal Abdul Nasser to the masses and an Erdogan – a more despotic version though- to democracy and revolution advocates. Erdogan’s autocracy started to surface when he concluded that the majority will still vote for him because he improved the economy and there is no other viable alternative to his party’s rule. We still have to see whether Erdogan’s conclusion is correct when Turks go to the polls this March and later in June, but it seems that this is what he believes right now.
El-Sisi, an already sole ruler in Egypt, will most likely continue exhibiting every characteristic of a despotic ruler if he succeeded as president. Even if he tried to show goodwill at the onset of his presidency, as Nathan Brown suggests here, he will most likely return back to business as usual especially if the people continued endorsing him as the country’s sole leader who managed to save it.
So yes, Egypt, an Arab Spring nation, will not fare well if El-Sisi failed or if he succeeded. Two things can spare us this fate. First, El-Sisi, whether willingly or not, decided to be different and adopt a more conciliatory and democratic approach. Judging from the past months, this looks unlikely. Second, a third alternative to the military and the Islamists emerged on the long run. This is exactly what Egypt needs, a truly democratic political force that will save us from the military-Islamist seesaw.