Saturday,21 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1178, (2 - 8 January 2014)
Saturday,21 October, 2017
Issue 1178, (2 - 8 January 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Re-reading the roadmap

The post-July political dispensation needs tweaking if 2014 is to bring a more stable Egypt, writes Gamal Essam El-Din

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Al-Ahram Weekly

As the new year begins many will be hoping for greater political stability as Egypt moves towards full democratic rule.

As 2013 drew to a close a consensus emerged over necessary changes to the post-30 June political roadmap. A series of meetings with public figures and representatives of political forces held by interim President Adli Mansour saw the vast majority of participants in favour of presidential elections being held ahead of parliamentary polls. Mansour subsequently stressed that there are no constitutional setbacks to holding presidential elections first since Article 230 of the recently-amended constitution gives the interim president a free hand to juggle electoral timetabling.

But who will stand?

Several political factions have announced their support for Minister of Defence Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. On 29 December the Wafd Party said it would back a presidential bid by Al-Sisi.

“The decision does not mean the party wants a return to military rule,” said Wafd Chairman Al-Sayed Al-Badawi. “There is a big difference between a president with a military background in power and a military state in which the majority of officials — including even the chairmen of government-owned press organisations — are drawn from the army.”

Popular Current head Hamdeen Sabahi, who came third in the 2012 presidential elections, trailing Mohamed Morsi and his old guard rival Ahmed Shafik, has said he is ready to run for president but a final decision will be conditional on whether Al-Sisi offers himself as a candidate or not.

Amr Moussa, chairman of the 50-member committee which drafted Egypt’s new constitution, also joined the chorus urging Al-Sisi to run.

Shafik, who left for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) after being defeated by Morsi, was cleared of corruption charges on 19 December, paving the way for him to return to Egypt. But Mubarak’s last prime minister is unlikely to stand against Al-Sisi. Interim President Mansour has also ruled himself out of any race, saying that it is his intention to resume his position as chairman of the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) as soon as possible.

Al-Sisi has yet to make his own intentions clear. In an interview last November he said that “being president of Egypt is an enormous burden.” When the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Siyasa insisted he was the right man for the job and should “positively respond to the appeals of millions of ordinary Egyptians who want him to be president”, Al-Sisi raised the spectre of foreign disapproval.

“What about foreign powers?” he asked. “Will they feel good about this and does this mean that I will be the man shouldering the huge burden of finding solutions to Egypt’s problems?”

In a meeting with senior generals on 25 November Al-Sisi stressed “the army has no desire for power and only wants the post-30 June roadmap to be completely implemented, and a president who has the support of all Egyptians elected.”

Al-Ahram political analyst Emad Gad warns that those calling for presidential elections first must ensure that the elections are as competitive as possible since “if no one fields candidates against Al-Sisi then we are back to a Mubarak-style presidential ballot.”  

“Whether Al-Sisi decides to run or not political factions must join the fray by fielding candidates and seriously jockeying for power.”

“While Egypt is clearly in need of a forceful president capable of restoring stability and Al-Sisi looks like the man for this moment,” adds Gad, “his nomination will trigger criticism from some foreign powers and allow Muslim Brotherhood officials to push their narrative that he led a coup against Morsi to end the January Revolution and return Egypt to military rule.”

In an interview with Atlantic magazine in September US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel disclosed that he had urged Al-Sisi to follow the example of George Washington “America’s first president who preferred to scrap power at the end of his rule to lay the foundation for a peaceful rotation of power”. The magazine said Hagel had asked Al-Sisi, “Do you want to be like George Washington or you want to be another Hosni Mubarak?”

Former Tagammu Party Chairman Refaat Al-Said points out that “El-Sisi is not obliged to follow the example of George Washington.”

“Most ordinary Egyptians who support Al-Sisi want him to be another Gamal Abdel-Nasser, not only in terms of eradicating the Muslim Brotherhood but in restoring Egypt’s leading Arab role and achieving internal stability.”

If presidential elections are to be held first then the national referendum on the new constitution must deliver a yes vote on 14 and 15 January.

“If there is a massive turnout and an overwhelming yes vote for the new national charter then not only will the Muslim Brotherhood be finished but the foundations for a new civilian legitimacy will be in place,” says Al-Said.

He remains fearful that the Muslim Brotherhood, sensing the end, will incite its jihadist allies to instigate terrorist attacks to intimidate voters.

“Putting an end to this violence,” argues Al-Said, “is one of the major challenges facing Egypt in 2014, a year that will see the trials of leading Brotherhood officials, Morsi among them.”

Political Islam specialist Abdel-Rehim Ali told the private CBC channel this week that “Egypt could see a new wave of terrorism in 2014 though it is unlikely to change the course of events.”

“The security forces and Interior Ministry have already collected a wealth of information about the Muslim Brotherhood, its sources of funding and grass-root support. The crackdown will continue in 2014 and the Brotherhood’s structures will be completely disrupted. The government’s decision to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation obliges the next president and parliament to continue dismantling the group rather than opening any window for reconciliation.”

Morsi’s trial, says Ali, will reverberate internationally.

“Morsi’s courtroom appearances will put already-strained Egyptian-American relations to a new test. Let’s not forget that among the charges is that Morsi spied for the CIA and other intelligence agencies.”

“2014 will not see any positive developments in Egyptian-American relations,” predicts Al-Said. “It is not only Morsi’s trial that will stand in the way of any improvement, there is also growing popular demand for Egypt to reinforce its relations with Russia and China in a bid to strike a balance with the West. In addition, dramatic developments against Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a staunch ally of the Brotherhood, will further isolate the group and strip it of a major source of support.

And what of the economy?

Al-Ahram political analyst Ahmed Al-Sayed Al-Naggar believes a smooth implementation of the political roadmap is necessary to boost economic performance .

“Aid from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait may have kept Egypt afloat in 2013 but the funding will not continue forever.”

Al-Naggar warns that with a budget deficit of 13.7 per cent of GDP in 2013 and public debts ballooning to almost 94 per cent of GDP addressing subsidies on fuel and electricity has become imperative.

“There must be a national dialogue on these pressing issues. The next president and parliament must work together to seek ways to promote social justice and avoid any surge in popular discontent.”

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