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March 29, 2018 8:50 pm

Egypt Expert: Sisi’s Reelection Should Not Be Treated as an Election in the First Place

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

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A woman walks past a billboard showing a picture of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi during a sandstorm in Cairo, March 28, 2018. Photo: Reuters/ Amr Abdallah Dalsh.

“It’s a mistake to treat them as elections in the first place,” an Egypt expert told The Algemeiner regarding this week’s reelection of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Sisi, running essentially unopposed, won over 90% of the vote in Wednesday’s elections, with an estimated turnout of roughly 40%. Sisi was hoping for a larger turnout in order to shore up his rule, which is still viewed with suspicion in many countries.

Sisi, said Samuel Tadros of the Hudson Institute to The Algemeiner, is driven by two motives. The first is “his disdain for politics. This is the first Egyptian ruler to come directly from the barracks to the presidency. He doesn’t have any political experience. So he has a natural disdain for that from his military background. And everything that has happened in Egypt since [the 2011 revolution], with politicians fighting all the time, each looking for his own interest and not the country’s interest has reinforced that in Sisi’s mind. … He is not disdainful of democracy, he is disdainful of the very idea of politics.”

The second motive relates to Sisi’s sense that many consider his government illegitimate. Sisi seized power from the democratically-elected Islamist Mohamed Morsi in 2014, something many in the West regard with distaste.

“The West’s rejection of the coup, calling it a coup, all of that, has made the sentiment that he needs Western recognition,” said Tadros. “In a sense he’s made this election into ‘I’m doing this for the West, to recognize me as a legitimate president.’”

These two factors have resulted in “this fiasco that we have, where there isn’t freedom, there isn’t real competition, at the same time he wants and urges people to vote because he wants the number [of voters] to appear big.”

Journalist David Reaboi, who was in Egypt to observe the voting, tweeted, “Here’s what we didn’t see: people being bused to polls; voters being coerced; people protesting the #EgyptElection. As a matter of fact, we remarked about how most of the voters were walking in alone or with very small family groups.”

As to how the West ought to react to Sisi’s victory, Tadros commented, “There are two reactions in the West, both I think are mistaken. One is that of condemnation — that Sisi is a dictator, we have to condemn these elections, we have to fight for human rights, democracy, and all these things.

“The other is that no, we need to back Sisi, and thus treat the election as somehow a serious thing.”

In fact, said Tadros, “It’s a mistake to treat them as elections in the first place. He shouldn’t get the congratulations call, neither a condemnation. … He should simply be ignored. It’s not an election; it’s a birthday party. He was having a birthday and he invited his friends over. That’s how we should treat it.”

However, asked whether Sisi does have a measure of genuine popularity, Tadros replied, “Definitely. I think Egyptian politics are very simple: There are Islamists, there is the state, and there is everyone else – the non-Islamists. … For those non-Islamists … they look around them in the region, and they don’t like what they see. A common phrase when you ask them about how things are is ‘at least we’re not Syria and Iraq.’ … ‘At least we’re doing better than these countries that are now failed states basically.'”

Caught between Islamism and the state, Tadros stated, ordinary Egyptians see Sisi as “the only alternative available for them.”

Reaboi echoed this impression, tweeting, “From the last week, it’s plain to me that there is far more hatred for Sisi and support for the Muslim Brotherhood within the NGO and journalist community abroad than in Egypt.”

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