Monday,24 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1180, (16-22 January 2014)
Monday,24 September, 2018
Issue 1180, (16-22 January 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Candidate in waiting

Ahmed Eleiba writes on the steps that will precede the official nomination of the defence minister as a presidential candidate

Al-Ahram Weekly

Minister of Defence General Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s nomination as a presidential candidate is a matter of time. Its scheduling entails three main steps: the referendum on the constitution, which has just ended; the agreement of the Armed Forces General Command, which has a definitive say in presenting Al-Sisi as a candidate and a second popular mandate, this time to serve as president.

Addressing an audience of army officers and some civilian figures during one of the seminars that are periodically held in the Galaa Theatre, General Al-Sisi said: “I will not turn my back to the people”. To this he appended words to the effect that he would also need the army’s approval. This is the strongest sign that he has given so far that if the people ask him to run for president he will heed their call.

The seminar was held shortly before the constitutional referendum making it inevitable that he would draw an implicit link between the “army and the people’s mandate” and the success of the referendum process. Approval of the constitution is most likely to be followed by an immediate drive to secure a popular mandate. Petitions have already been organised for this purpose and according to their organisers four million corroborated signatures in support of Al-Sisi’s nomination have been collected. In one telling detail the organisers of the different campaigns are currently coordinating over how to unveil the results on 25 January. The third anniversary of the revolution looks as though it will be the occasion for the de facto “people’s nomination” of Al-Sisi for president.

A senior military source told Al-Ahram Weekly that Al-Sisi’s nomination has been the subject of intense discussion in all quarters of the Armed Forces. In view of the political challenges facing Egypt and the role of the Armed Forces in events since 30 June the military’s General Command decided to support Al-Sisi in the nomination process.

Al-Sisi’s remarks during the seminar in the Galaa Theatre were “a clever framing of the idea of the nomination as more of a call to duty than an honour” says General Alaa Ezzeddin, director of the Centre for Military Studies.

“Given the foreign challenges that accompanied and followed the 30 June Revolution Al-Sisi is aware of the threats posed by an array of regional and international alliances that will work to open battle fronts against Egypt with the aim of damaging the country and its army and that will claim everything that followed from the overthrow of the dismissed president [Morsi] was prearranged. In this context a ‘mandate’ signifies that the people have rallied around a leader who did not take advantage of the military establishment or the capacities of military command to build a bridge to power, and who did not even seek a personal reward for the sacrifices and services that he had performed, services which, had they failed, would have brought grave consequences, as we all know.”

“The mandate was required from the military establishment first as it will be tantamount to a commission to a military commander who will be promoted from the post of commander-general to supreme commander of the Armed Forces which, in turn, requires a person with the stature, character and capacities of Al-Sisi following the damage done to that office under Mohamed Morsi. The Armed Forces, in giving this mandate, is not so much rewarding an individual whose roots and affiliation represent this establishment and who has performed his duties excellently. Rather, it is more in the nature of an assignment, with regard to which this institution has its own mechanisms and considerations concerning the tasks, challenges and sacrifices that it will have to shoulder in the forthcoming phase on the domestic and foreign fronts as a consequence of taking this decision.”

General Hossam Kheirallah, former first deputy director of the General Intelligence Service (GIS), does not question that Al-Sisi will bow to popular demands. “It is impossible to think otherwise. God is determining who will rule Egypt and all the ramifications of destiny point to Al-Sisi.’

Kheirallah, who took part in the “By the command of the people” campaign to urge Al-Sisi to nominate himself, says Al-Sisi’s nomination raises many issues. “The first is that this will take a huge burden off the shoulders of other candidates who had played a national role and were contemplating assuming this burden. At the same time it will obstruct the path to candidates who are acting to promote their own interests and those of the people propelling them into the arena.”

Major problems are certain to arise when Al-Sisi makes his nomination official. It will present an opportunity for his adversaries at home — the Muslim Brotherhood in particular — to repeat their claims of “coup” and allegations that the 30 June Revolution was a “conspiracy” masterminded by the military. The “nomination proves the coup and conspiracy” card will reap its greatest returns abroad, in the EU and the US in particular. We can anticipate concerted attacks against Egypt by the Muslim Brothers who will play the role of victims and who will receive support — open or secret — from international players as well as huge amounts of funding to create media platforms and political entities to wage the assault. Preparations for such actions have been underway for some time in regional capitals, specifically Doha and Ankara and, according to a high-level political source residing in the UK, they will most likely be spearheaded from London.

Many Egyptian political players argue that Al-Sisi’s nomination may trigger problems at home but what is most important is how these challenges are handled. Several political party sources say it is essential to address hopes and aspirations for change and improve the dire conditions that the Egyptian people have experienced since the 25 January Revolution.

As political analyst Ibrahim Nawar puts it, what is needed is the long-awaited translation of the revolution’s calls for freedom and social justice into reality. It will also be important to dispel any fears about the return of the Mubarak regime, members of which have appeared on various private media outlets recently in a manner that makes it seem as though everything had been planned in advance, and also worries over the return of the police state. It is important, says Nawar, to ensure political parties can perform their functions unhampered by security agencies or other forms of intervention. Al-Sisi will need a clear and comprehensive programme that addresses all these issues, Nawar says, “so as to guarantee that those who exited from the political door will not be able to return through the window and reproduce slogans such as ‘down with military rule’ or the like at a time when the country cannot sustain such adventurism”.

There will of course be other challenges. There is the question of other possible presidential candidates who are unlikely to pose much competition to Al-Sisi but who will be keen to register, through their candidacy, opposing positions. Among those expected to field themselves from an Islamist background are former presidential candidates Selim Al-Awwa and Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh. Former Muslim Brotherhood lawyer Mokhtar Nouh says Muslim Brothers from the group’s second and third tiers are keen to see Abul-Fotouh, who left the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood leadership three years ago, resume a leading role in the organisation. Abul-Fotouh himself has said he is studying the possibility of standing. According to some political analysts, there are those within Muslim Brotherhood circles who favour Sami Anan, a former member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, as a candidate.

There is also the problem of selecting a campaign team, and of ensuring its members are acceptable to the public.

And then there are the problems that will be encountered abroad. The US has made no secret of its objection to the nomination of a military figure.

One Egyptian politician who served in a senior position in the UN told the Weekly: “The Muslim Brotherhood, the US and the EU are determined to undermine the forthcoming political processes in Egypt. After Al-Sisi’s nominations Egypt will come under pressure to bring the Muslim Brothers back into the political arena as a partner, not out of any love for the Muslim Brothers but in order to serve the aims of the American policy agenda.” This source predicts that this battle will continue for some time, probably beyond the term of the current administration in Washington.

He believes the immanent battle will necessitate a regional alliance in support of Egypt. Consisting primarily of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait, it would back Egypt in the face of an opposing regional alliance consisting of such countries as Qatar, Iran and Turkey. Perhaps it is in this context that we should consider the remarks by Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashed Al-Maktoum, prime minister and vice president of the UAE and constitutional monarch of Dubai, in a BBC interview in which he said that he hoped that Minister of Defence Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi would not nominate himself for the presidency.

“I hope he remains with the army and that another person is nominated,” he said in answer to the presenter’s question on Sheikh Maktoum’s opinion of Al-Sisi’s plans. Significantly, the UAE prime minister’s office then issued a statement saying that the government of the UAE “respects the will of the Egyptian people and supports its political choices”. The statement added: “His Highness’s advice was that General Al-Sisi should not nominate himself for president in a military capacity but rather in a civilian capacity if he is to respond to popular demands, which is a personal decision that concerns General Al-Sisi.”

Clearly, there is a strong momentum propelling Al-Sisi towards declaring his candidacy given his service to the nation so far and widespread hopes he can follow through on this in the future. It is just as clear that the Al-Sisi nomination is a thorny issue and that he and the army are acutely aware of its many domestic and international ramifications. Ultimately, the Egyptian people will determine what happens.

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