The first four-year term of Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi will come to an end in the first half of 2018. According to the 2014 Constitution, he is entitled to a second and last term. So far, he has not announced, officially, whether he would run for a second term, but the odds are that he will.
The chairman of the newly-established National Elections Committee said last week that the commission would officially announce, soon, the timetable and the rules pertaining to the next presidential election.
People are eager to see whether the next election campaign will be a multi-candidate event or if potential candidates would prefer not to enter the presidential race, like, for instance, former general Ahmed Shafik, who had said, initially, that he would nominate himself, but later on changed his mind and preferred not to compete. The only candidate that will surely run is an Egyptian lawyer by the name Khaled Aly, who enjoys the support of the Egyptian left and those who oppose the policies of the present government, in particular, when it comes to the economic sector, human rights, and public liberties.
Another candidate is a former member of parliament, Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat who was impeached by parliament on grounds that he had leaked the draft of the law on non-governmental organisations to some foreign countries through their embassies in Cairo. He denied the charge.
Many hope the next presidential elections will be free and fair and conducted according to recognised international standards. Egyptians also hope it will provide the Egyptian people with a chance to hear and debate the various programmes of various credible candidates that reflect the political plurality that has become the hallmark of Egyptian society in the post-25 January Egypt. On the other hand, they expect the coming election campaign to prove that the country has finally grasped the lessons of its recent past. Some people are doubtful and believe that it will not be much different from the election campaigns of pre-25 January. I hope they will be proven wrong. Similarly, and after four years of economic and financial deprivations and sacrifices, they would like to hear different ideas and programmes as to the way forward in the economy and in governance.
The situation in Egypt in 2018 is quite different from the one that was prevailing in the country in 2013 and 2014 that catapulted President Al-Sisi to power. The economic reform programme that his government has been carrying out in his first term has exacted a very heavy price in terms of the popularity of the president and the government. It would not be a surprise if the turnout in the next presidential election is low. If this proves true, it would, most likely, make it very difficult for the next Egyptian government to keep implementing its various reform programmes.
Unlike the previous elections, Egyptians want to hear from various candidates, including the incumbent, concrete programmes that would cover all sectors of the economy and provide practical solutions to the economic problems facing the country. It would be a non-starter to keep talking about maintaining the course, a course that has ceased to be popular and credible. The Egyptian people are looking for alternative policies that would put an end to economic programmes that have failed to meet their expectations, and their own objectives, for that matter. The course of the past four years calls for changes that would reconcile people’s expectations and hopes and the need for reform. Reform should not be limited to the economy and public finance, but also to governance. The way the government is currently conducting its fight against terrorism has come into question.
Egyptians would like to see a new government in place after the next presidential election that would lead Egypt on the road of economic prosperity and public liberties, and in the meantime, a successful fight against terrorism. They no longer believe that is a zero-sum game, either public liberties and respect for human rights or fighting terrorism. They rightly believe that enhancing good governance would help in the fight against terrorism. That is what they would expect from their next government. In addition, they aspire to more freedom of speech and a more open political space, where political parties and non-governmental organisations play a greater role in politics and public life. In sum, a more plural political system according to accepted democratic norms.
In other words, old policies and approaches, if continued without introducing much-needed changes, would be counterproductive, politically. Egyptians want to see a well-thought-out programme for transforming Egypt into a modern state. Old clichés will not do. Regardless of who the next president of Egypt will be, what Egyptians hope for is a transformative president, able, capable, and willing to create a modern state.
Hussein Haridy is former assistant to the foreign minister