REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
Ever since Egyptian army chief General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi removed President Mohamed Morsi from power, there have been calls for him to run for president. In the months following what some have called a “coup d’etat,” al-Sisi has emerged as something of an opposition hero. Posters of his face adorns the windows of cafes, stores, government buildings, and homes. Across the bottom of some posters is a slogan, “He is the one we can trust.”
But is he?
If al-Sisi runs for president, it will be hard to deny that he is just another military strongman. For the last three months, al-Sisi has said in interview after interview that he does not want to run for president. In a statement made this past August, al-Sisi declared that it is a greater honor to “protect the people’s will” than it is to rule Egypt. The people’s will demands a lasting democracy. If al-Sisi runs, he will destroy that possibility.
Let’s not be coy here. Regardless of the fact that the current interim president is Adly Mansour, everyone is well aware who calls the shots. Al-Sisi is in charge and, if he is elected next year, you can be sure that you will see a full return to a Mubarakesque authoritarian government. Hints of that have already started to show up, from the recent release of Hosni Mubarak (who, according to the Egypt Independent, has called al-Sisi, “Egypt’s hope”) to the “emergency law” that suspends the right to trial.
Shadi Hamid, an expert and researcher at Brookings Doha Center, told the Wall Street Journal that the new identity in the government is “Egyptian chauvinism bordering on neo-facism” and resembles Mubarak’s former regime.
The narrative here is starting to shape up. Public campaigns such as the “Complete Your Favor” petition, which started a little over two weeks ago and hopes to gain 30 million signatures, are gathering steam. Al-Sisi will repeatedly say that he has no desire to run for president. The idea seems to be that the “will of the people” will become so overwhelming, between the petitions and the calls from the media, that al-Sisi will have “no choice” but to run.
"Presidency in Egypt is a commission …if Sisi doesn't take the job when asked by the people, he will be putting himself in confrontation with the Egyptian people." ” Khaled Al Adawi, a writer for Al Wafd newspaper and one of the founders of the Complete Your Favor campaign, told the Wall street Journal.
The last president in Egypt to follow this script was Gamal Abdel-Nasser. His presidency was simultaneously marked by huge popularity and set a precedent for human rights violations in Egypt.
Don’t go thinking the comparison is unwarranted either. Mohammed Fathy, a columnist in the newspaper Al-Watan has already dubbed him “Nasser 2013,” according to the Associated Press.
If al-Sisi becomes president, he will encounter “cries against ‘military rule’” from Egyptians, calls of “We told you so” from foreign governments and, ultimately, confirmation that what occurred on July 3rd was coup, says Amany Maged at Al-Ahram Weekly .
On the other hand, if al-Sisi were to step aside as he has promised, it might show not only that the 2011 revolution wasn’t in vain, but that what happened on July 3 was warranted. According to Wael Nawarra, writing for Al-Monitor, al-Sisi’s decision to not run would “restore confidence in state institutions and break this vicious cycle of skepticism” that has plagued Egypt’s political system since 2011.
No matter the effectiveness of al-Sisi’s rule, it would dissolve the notion once and for all that the military does not rule Egypt. Military rule is all Egypt has known since 1952. The people declared in 2011 that they were ready for that to end. If al-Sisi runs, it would show once and for all that the democracy experiment in Egypt is over. Back to the status quo.
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