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Egypt: Election or selection?

KHADIJA GHANEM
CAIRO
Published
Egypt: Election or selection?

Egyptians are heading to the polls this week to choose their next president following one of the greatest periods of instability in the country's history

The country is still reeling from the worst mass of unlawful killings in modern Egyptian history following the dispersing of a 'pro-democracy' sit-in last August that was preceded by a coup that ousted the elected president Mohammed Morsi.

Several but not all parties in Egypt have announced that they will boycott the vote protesting the coup; and only two candidates are competing in the election, namely former army chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi who led the coup against the democratically elected Morsi and leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi, a former presidential candidate in the 2012 presidential elections who received 4 million votes and came in the third place after Morsi and ex-candidate Ahmed Shafik.

The election is the second step, after the 2014 constitution, in Egypt's transitional roadmap, which was imposed by the army following last summer's ouster of Morsi. "The aim of this election is mainly to legitimize Sisi and the coup regime" said Emad Shahin, the Political Science professor at the American University in Cairo. "The election is taking place amid harsh rejection nationally and internationally of the coup regime, this is an attempt to fix the situation," Shahin added.

Results of the elections are expected on June 5 and it is expected that former defence minister al-Sisi will win comfortably. In the ballots already cast abroad, Sisi won the backing of 296,628 (94.5 percent) expats in 124 countries during the voting on May 15-19. Only 17,207 votes of the total 318,033 cast went to Sisi's sole rival Sabbahi. "Competition is one of the main ingredients for any election, but we can't see that today, even the equation between the only two candidates running is not balanced looking at the budget of both campaigns and how the media presents Sisi by giving him extra credit," Shahin said.

A new Pew poll has found widespread pessimism among Egyptians regarding the trajectory of the country and its institutions. The poll, released on Thursday by the Washington-based Research Center , also found that 43 percent opposed the army's overthrow of the elected president last July, a move for which the military claimed national backing. Just over half of the country approved of the former army chief, according to the poll. "Al-Sisi represents the polarization in Egypt, to many people he is the leader of a coup that killed hundreds; he will be symbol of blood to many Egyptians," Shahinn stated.

Meanwhile, major Western monitoring groups decided not to observe the vote. The U.S. Carter Centre that observed Egypt's parliamentary and presidential elections in 2012, which brought Morsi to power, said it will not take part. In a statement issued on Friday, the Carter Center warned that "Egypt's political transition has stalled and stands on the precipice of total reversal," and said Morsi's overthrow deepened the political unrest in the country.

The European Union says it will monitor the poll across the country. The Arab League is also expected to send 100 monitors, and the African Union will also send a mission despite having suspended Egypt from membership last year.

Sisi, who campaigns under the slogan "Long live Egypt!" claimed that if he wins the Muslim Brotherhood is "finished" as a political force. Like Sisi, the other candidate Hamdeen Sabahi says he will not re-legalize Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, which was banned as a terrorist group since the coup.

The authorities have launched an all-out crackdown on Morsi's supporters and the members of his Brotherhood with hundreds dead, thousands arrested and hundreds sentenced to death after speedy trials. Dozens of liberal youth activists have also been jailed for violating a law banning all but police-sanctioned protests.

Nearly a year after the coup and the unprecedented street protests that followed it, Egypt's political instability have taken a heavy toll on tourism and economy. According to reports, the country is suffering from its worst economic crisis since the great depression. A drastic fall in both foreign investment and tourism revenues heightened amid persistent security challenges. Also, a 70 percent drop in foreign exchange reserves and a 4 percent drop in growth has been recorded in 2013. This led to a sudden increase in food prices, unemployment rates as well as a shortage of fuel and cooking gas, pushing the country closer to the brink.

Al-Sisi, who is expected to win, has set out an ambitious plan to develop agriculture, housing, education, impoverished areas and employment. The plan however, is vague on how the massive funds required would be raised despite the Gulf states' support. "If we talk about the scenario that Sisi wins, the Egyptian equation will not change, polarization will be a symptom of the Egyptian society and the economic crisis will not be fixed soon because he is part of a corrupted system that will get rid of him if he tried to interfere with its business. Eventually Sisi will attract the public's rage and the poor suffering majority of Egypt" Shahin said when asked about the expected future of Egypt.

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