Monday,23 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1244, (30 April - 6 May 2015)
Monday,23 July, 2018
Issue 1244, (30 April - 6 May 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Al-Sisi: A year on

The debate over Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s first year in office has begun early. Gamal Essam El-Din reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

“When Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi swept the polls last year many hoped his landslide victory would be quickly followed parliamentary elections and a real transition to democracy,” says Al-Ahram political analyst Hassan Abu Taleb. “Not only have those hopes been dashed, a majority of Egyptians now doubt the poll will be held any time soon.”

The committee in charge of amending the electoral constituencies law — a necessary step before parliamentary elections can be held — said on Monday that it has finished its work.  

“A semi-final draft has been concluded setting the total number of MPs at 596. Of those, 448 seats will be reserved for independent candidates, 120 for those standing on party tickets and 28 for presidential appointees,” said Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Ibrahim Al-Heneidi.

The phrase semi-final is enough for most commentators not to hold their breath.

The draft would be referred to the State Council’s Department of Fatwas and Legislation for any necessary revisions. “We hope the final draft will not face any new challenges. We have done our best to increase the balance among governorates in terms of voter numbers,” said Al-Heneidi.

In a speech marking Labour Day, delivered on Monday, Al-Sisi said “parliamentary elections can be held only after the holy month of Ramadan” which this year ends in mid-July.   

“It is very important that Egypt has a parliament capable of legislating and effectively supervising the government, but the problem is that parliamentary elections cannot be held during the holy month of Ramadan.”

“We had hoped the polls would be held last March but they were delayed due to lawsuits contesting the constitutionality of election laws,” said Al-Sisi.

Al-Sisi and Al-Heneidi’s statements sparked critical reactions from opposition parties and the private media.

Political analyst and Socialist Popular Current Party leader Abdel-Ghaffar Shukr remarked that Al-Sisi had asked the drafting committee in early March to finish its work within a month. “The committee took two months and Al-Sisi is saying there will be no poll anytime soon.”

“This deliberate waste of time is bad for Al-Sisi’s image and leaves many wondering about the president’s political agenda.”

Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat, chairman of the Reform and Development Party, told Al-Ahram Weekly that “Al-Sisi’s words mean that the polls would be delayed for at least two more months.”

“But even if everything goes well and no lawsuits are filed against the amendments I don’t expect polls to be held before September or October.”

Sadat agrees that “the delay to parliamentary polls looks premeditated and raises serious doubts about Al-Sisi’s political intentions.”

Shukr believes the battle against the Muslim Brotherhood has overwhelmed Al-Sisi’s agenda during his first year in office.

“The war which erupted after Mohamed Morsi’s removal from office turned ferocious under Al-Sisi and has consumed most of his energy,” says Shukr. “While most politicians endorse the regime’s anti-Brotherhood stand they had hoped a powerful parliament would be sitting by now to refute Brotherhood claims that Al-Sisi is an autocratic ruler seeking to turn the clock back to the days of Mubarak.”

The failure to elect Egypt’s long overdue parliament is not the only reason opposition and local media are criticising Al-Sisi.

A spate of tragic accidents and continuing terror attacks have left some questioning whether the regime has an effective strategy in place to deal with either.

On Sunday night two electricity pylons in the Beheira governorate were hit by blasts, injuring six people and cutting power supplies. The attack followed a similar incident on 13 April when electricity pylons in Cairo’s Media City were targeted, causing many private television channels off air.

Also on Sunday a Cairo underground train was derailed, causing millions of pounds in damage, and a bridge near the Delta city of Mansoura collapsed.

Last week Sharqiya governorate saw several hundreds hospitalised after drinking contaminated water, and on 21 April a barge carrying 500 tons of phospahate sank in the Nile close to Qena in Upper Egypt.

“This flurry of accidents is nothing new,” says Abu Taleb. “They were a feature of the Mubarak regime and even before that. No president can be expected to put to right decades of neglect in just one year.”

Shukr is less sanguine. “The war against the Muslim Brotherhood has come at the expense of the government working to improve the daily life of most Egyptians,” he says “Most of the country’s chronic problems have their roots in the Mubarak era but the fact is the government of Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb has not come up with any effective strategy to address them. And the reason for this is that Egypt lacks a powerful parliament capable of holding government and officials to account.”

Many in media and political circles also complain that Al-Sisi’s year in office has seen no improvement in Egypt’s human rights record, even after interior minister Mohamed Ibrahim was removed after local and international media highlighted human rights violations during his term of office.

Ibrahim’s replacement, Magdi Abdel-Ghaffar, insisted respect of human rights would be on top of his priorities, yet the random detention of citizens and police brutality remain rampant. There have also been disturbing reports from Sinai, with some claiming that widespread human rights violations in the peninsula are alienating many Bedouins who might otherwise support the security forces in their battle with terrorist groups.

“Nobody can be sure about what is going on in Sinai,” counters Abu Taleb. “What we do know is that Sinai has become a magnet for jihadists who infiltrate the peninsula from porous borders via Gaza or who arrive from Libya having sworn loyalty to the Islamic State. They have killed dozens of army and policemen. The only approach to terrorist groups like these is one of zero tolerance.”

Ahram political analyst and Nasserist Party official Ahmed Al-Gammal accuses “most liberal and socialist forces of arbitrariness in judging Al-Sisi’s performance in one year.”

“The socialists want Al-Sisi to sever relations with the US and Israel, rid Egypt of wealthy businessmen and nationalise factories,” says Al-Gammal. “Because Al-Sisi will not toe their line leftist factions resort to calling him another Mubarak, an autocrat who is standing against the revolutionary tide.”

“Liberals want Al-Sisi to adopt extreme liberal policies, see off the Mubarak regime remnants and reconcile with the Muslim Brotherhood. Because he refuses this agenda as well they are also rushing to call him a new Mubarak.”

Osama Al-Ghazali Harb, chairman of the Free Egyptians Party, agrees that “the opposition and private media’s judgment of Al-Sisi is arbitrary.”

“It is based on ideology rather than on real politick,” says Harb.

 “Any objective analysis of Al-Sisi’s first year would conclude that he has done a brilliant job. There has been a marked improvement in relations with the US, a highly successful economic conference has been held in Sharm El-Sheikh, a deafening blow dealt to terrorism, the revival of mega development projects and a new approach is being adopted to address Egypt’s concerns over Ethiopia’s Nile Renaissance dam.”  

Harb deplores that political parties, “rather than using the poll delay to canvas for support in streets are instead resorting to conspiracy theories that put all the blame on others.”

In his speech on Monday Al-Sisi said policy in his first year as president has focused on helping Egypt stand on its feet after four years of political and economic upheaval. “Remember, when I came to office I said give me two years to get Egypt back on its feet and become a state of strong institutions. Please be patient and give the government enough time to show results.”

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