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Egypt's Sisi set to cruise to election victory

21 May 2014, 10:31

Cairo - Having toppled the elected Islamist president and crushed his supporters, ex-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is expected to sweep next week's election to cap the bloodiest period in Egypt's modern history.

Millions who support the now retired field marshal believe he is tough enough to stamp out the unrest unleashed by the army removing Mohammed Morsi in July, while also reviving the economy.

But true democracy, the ideal millions rallied and fought for in the 2011 uprising that overthrew strongman Hosni Mubarak, might have to wait for a couple of decades, Sisi has said.

Instead, he says he will work hard to restore the economy and law and order, a vague message with enough momentum to coast him to easy victory in the 26-27 May poll.

His only rival is Hamdeen Sabbahi, a leftist politician who says he represents the ideals of the 2011 uprising against Mubarak.

With a failing economy, sporadic unrest and militant attacks, many voters in this country of 86 million people will settle for just stability.

At least 1 400 people have been killed since July in street clashes, including hundreds of pro-Morsi protesters on one day in August.

Militants have also killed almost 500 policemen and soldiers.

"The last months have been geared towards this event," said Issandr El Amrani, the North Africa project director for the International Crisis Group, of the election.

After toppling Morsi, a deeply divisive Islamist who alienated many during his sole year in power, Sisi was lionised for months before finally announcing his candidacy in March.

His campaign, such as it is, has been his track record. Sisi has yet to make a public appearance, appearing once by video conference to supporters at a rally.

"He's a fait accompli - this isn't really an open election," El Amrani said.

Security concerns

His aides say he has real security concerns, after two assassination attempts Sisi has referred to obliquely.

Much of his time is spent at a military-owned hotel where he receives delegations of supporters.

Sisi chose choreographed interviews, all but one to friendly Egyptian media, in which he declined to elaborate on his election programme.

"There are timetables for projects," he said of his economic plans in one television interview.

"Did you ever hear of a five-year plan, or a one-year plan, detailed? We don't want to forget about national security."

Such hazy messaging has already drawn some criticism, even in newspapers that support him.

"Sisi has to realise that at some point, the Wizard of Oz's faithful discovered his truth," wrote one columnist for the privately owned Al-Masry al-Youm newspaper.

Sisi has indicated he would not rush though drastic subsidy cuts to food and fuel, which would be likely to spark further unrest. But he has also indicated he would not tolerate protests.

Democratic reform

"What tourist would come to a country where we have demonstrations like this?" he told Egyptian newspaper editors.

"You write in the newspaper, 'No voice is louder than freedom of speech!' What is this?" he asked.

Sisi has also pledged that Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, blacklisted as a terrorist group after the Islamist's ouster, will not exist during his presidency.

With Morsi and much of the Muslim Brotherhood leadership in prison, along with some 15 000 others detained in the crackdown, there seems little hope of compromise.

Pro-democracy activists who spearheaded the anti-Mubarak revolt have also been jailed.

"There is no reason to think that the man who is one of those behind one of the greatest periods of repression in recent Egyptian history is interested in democratic reform," El Amrani said.

Sisi has himself indicated he does not believe the country is yet ready, telling the Egyptian editors it could take "20 to 25 years to achieve true democracy".



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