Following the re-election of President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi, both the Egyptian authorities and the EU must guard, once again, against giving a free pass on ‘universal values’ in the name of stability. As Mr. Sisi begins his second term, he can at least claim some success in restoring security in the country. Terrorist attacks in the Nile Valley and Delta, home to the vast majority of Egypt’s nearly 100-million population, have been curbed significantly over the past two years, and the cities certainly feel safer. Most Egyptians are grateful for those improvements, and Mr. Sisi’s popularity, while not as high as it used to be a few years ago, still remains strong.
Having said that, many Egyptians may no longer be ready to give him their full support. The small turnout (just over 40%) and a much higher number of spoiled ballots gave some indication of this ambivalence. And this was a situation in which he had no credible competition. Indeed, the authorities’ overzealous efforts to block candidates who might have lent greater legitimacy to the vote as well as the threat of fines for those who did not vote appear to have backfired.
The restoration of security and order was an understandable and generally popular priority during Mr. Sisi’s first term, given the disorder that followed the 2011 revolution and its aftermath. But without movement toward greater political inclusion, it is unlikely to serve them well in the years ahead. In addition to that, the ever-growing dependence on the President himself, as shown by the growing efforts to do away with the constitutional two-term limit on presidential candidacies, is hardly a recipe for long-term stability.
Despite major efforts on the EU side, counter-terrorism cooperation with the EU institutions remains low, with disagreements over equipment supply, human rights and the deployment of EU expert personnel. Unsurprisingly, it has also been hard to find common ground on support for civil society, although many EU-funded projects continue to operate in the country. Given the respective common interests, there could be scope for improvements in the relationship in the years to come.
Local elections should take place later this year and some argue that these could help revive Egypt’s political life. Yet, there are few signs of any easing up on restrictions, and as with the last two elections, it is likely that the security services will try to make sure that any organized opposition does not see the light of day. On the other hand, the economy is doing better every day. Thanks to an International Monetary Fund (IMF) program, the currency has stabilized, foreign reserves are up, and the introduction of VAT should help public sector finances. Gas production from the giant Zhor field in the eastern Mediterranean has just begun, which means that within a few years, it should be roughly equal to the country’s total demand. Tourism is showing a gradual recovery, although there is a long way to go before it gets back to the pre-revolution levels.
All in all, Egyptians’ expectations for better times during Mr. Sisi’s second term have been rising in recent months and now it’s up to his government to deliver. A major overhaul of the government’s budget priorities will be needed, especially in education and health, which have long been very low on the list of spending priorities. It will be a hard journey, but finally after a long time we can say that the signs are looking promising.
‘Egypt After the Presidential Election’ – Commentary by James Moran – Centre for European Policy Studies.