The outcome of the presidential election in Egypt has been known for a long time. The carefully constructed plan by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi worked wonderfully and all potential candidates have either resigned after being intimidated or are imprisoned. Only one politician, who previously supported the President, was chosen as another candidate to preserve the illusion of a fair competition. Thus, hardly surprisingly, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi won.
Mr. Sisi has led Egypt since July 2013 when he seized power over the country and was officially elected to the office in May 2014. His regime is known to be even worse than the reign of his predecessor, President Hosni Mubarak. People are being imprisoned almost on a daily basis and basic human rights, such as the right to publicly express one’s opinion, are considered a major crime.
Since Mr. Sisi became president, European leaders have already accepted him as a kind of necessary evil. Many European officials would admit in private that they don’t see him as an exemplary head of state and that his leadership might bring Egypt to an even worse situation than it is now. This fear that this outspoken criticism would somehow jeopardize the relationship between Egypt and the EU gives Cairo the confidence that it’s an indispensable partner for Brussels and that Mr. Sisi can maintain his authoritarian rule in the same way as he has done so far.
Yet, cooperation and endorsement are two very different things. Egypt does business with the EU on its own accord and it needs the EU as much as the EU needs Egypt. More than anything else, this election offers the European leaders an opportunity to adopt a critical stance and show that they don’t see the current situation in the North African country through the same rose-tinted glasses as its president.
Most Egyptian analysts agree that President Sisi holds the power over his country in a tight grip. He still has a large supporter base as he is seen as someone who stands between Egypt and chaos, but some of his most recent actions show that the President is not feeling as sure of himself as he did before. In the last couple of months, Mr. Sisi removed a number of high-profile figures who showed any marks of dissatisfaction, from the army and the intelligence. Even if these people are easily removed, the paranoia of being overthrown by someone from your own ranks is surely chilling.
Some stood up against him even as his opponents in the election and even if these individuals were far from being liberals, this shows that Mr. Sisi’s repression has gone too far and that there are some figures that won’t tolerate it any longer. There might also be another imminent threat, which for now is just a widespread speculation that Mr. Sisi may try to amend Egypt’s constitution to allow him to serve more than two terms. This means that he could prolong his reign of terror for many years to come.
Simply put, European leaders should not just idly stand around. Even if there are areas of mutual interest in which they want to work with Egypt, they should also not accept Mr. Sisi as a legitimate leader. European leaders already treat the election as a charade, so the quicker they publicly express their opinions, the quicker there might be some real and tangible changes happening in Egypt.
‘Europe and the Egyptian Election: Do Not Congratulate’ – Commentary by Anthony Dworkin – European Council on Foreign Relations / ECFR.
(The Commentary can be downloaded here)