Protests against Egypt’s presidential election grow as Sisi announces campaign | ET REALITY


Songs in praise of the Egyptian military played and banners emblazoned with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s face waved as a poet took the stage at a government-sponsored rally this week in Marsa Matrouh, a city on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast.

Normally, the poet performs at weddings. This time, he was paying tribute to the president, who just hours earlier had announced with great fanfare that he would run for a third term in December’s presidential election, a vote he is almost certain to win, despite his nosedive. popularity.

After a decade of arresting critics, muzzling the media and quelling protests, el-Sisi has more than a few ways to make up for weak support. In the run-up to the October 14 deadline to qualify for the vote, authorities have used heavy-handed tactics including arresting and beating supporters of his most popular rival before they can present the endorsements he needs to enter. formally to the race. The government has also organized demonstrations across Egypt to bolster el-Sisi’s campaign.

In Marsa Matrouh, however, the scheduled celebration, populated by local officials and what human rights groups say were Egyptians bused in for the occasion, was quickly diverted, according to videos posted on social media and the owner of a local store that saw the demonstration.

The youths began throwing plastic water bottles at the poet on stage, shouting: “Go away, Sisi,” said the shopkeeper, who asked not to be identified because he feared arrest. Some went on stage only to be shooed away by security officers. Videos showed protesters tearing down banners and setting them on fire.

Scattering through the side streets, some young people chanted the name of el-Sisi’s best-known rival, Ahmed el-Tantawy. Others among the crowd of protesters, which the merchant estimated numbered in the hundreds, shouted the famous slogan of Egypt’s 2011 Arab Spring revolution: “The people want the fall of the regime.”

When those words echoed through Egyptian cities in 2011, the country’s president was forced to resign. Egyptians voted in a democratic election, electing an Islamist president, before el-Sisi, a former general backed by the army and buoyed by mass protests, took power in 2013.

Since then it has been all Mr. El-Sisi. In 2014, he rode a wave of adulation to victory with 97 percent of the official vote. In 2018, when all serious challengers were arrested or intimidated into dropping out, he was re-elected with reduced but undiminished support with 97 percent of all votes. In 2019, a constitutional referendum allowed him to remain in power until 2030, giving him the right to run for an extended third term in an election originally expected to take place next year.

But the government announced last week that voting would begin in December, a move that political analysts and diplomats said signaled tensions in el-Sisi’s re-election bid, which is unfolding nearly two years after a crisis that has pushed into the government of Egypt. economy in free fall.

Despite many promises, Egypt shows little sign of making the serious changes that experts say are necessary to fix its economy. El-Sisi is likely to win in December only to preside over a country without money to pay its debts or for basic imports, a situation that analysts say could soon threaten his hold on power.

“These upcoming elections are not the end,” said Maged Mandour, an Egyptian political analyst who wrote a forthcoming article. book on El-Sisi’s time in office, “but it could be the beginning of the end.”

Even pro-government voices have warned that Egypt risks dire consequences and social unrest if conditions do not improve.

Two previous currency devaluations have halved the value of the pound since March 2022, after foreign investors fled Egypt in panic following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, leaving Egypt with few dollars to cover wheat imports. and fuel, increasingly expensive. Inflation has repeatedly reached record levels of more than 30 percent, forcing the rich to scrimp like almost never before, the middle class to move their children to cheaper schools and give up meat, and the poor, in many cases, to skip meals.

Although economists say that Egypt’s underlying economic weaknesses and its huge debt burden are the real causes of the crisis and that external factors were only the trigger, el-Sisi firmly blames the war in Ukraine, among other things. He has also begun to dismiss the pain as trivial compared to the achievements of his tenure.

“I swear to Almighty God, if the price of a nation’s prosperity and progress is that it does not eat or drink, then we do not eat or drink,” he said in announcing his candidacy on Monday.

Egyptians looking for extra money, he suggested in the same speech, could always start donating blood once or twice a week.

Such comments have only darkened the national mood that had already turned against the president, who once enjoyed such worship that Egyptians threw military-themed weddings and decorated everything from chocolate chips to fast food signs with his face.

Even as his star dimmed after an earlier economic crisis in 2016, the repressive machine the president built, in which Egyptians are often arrested for crimes as minor as re-sharing a Facebook post critical of El-Sisi, helped silence any dissent. Today, however, many Egyptians openly complain about him, saying they regret having voted for him before.

Some have flocked to one of his potential rivals, el-Tantawy, a former member of Parliament. He responded to El-Sisi’s statements about going hungry and thirsty on Monday with a publish in Xpreviously Twitter: “Egyptians actually starved to death during his rule because of his administration.”

In an interview earlier this year, el-Tantawy called on authorities to respect Egyptians’ right to choose their own leader. “If the current regime had the popularity it claims to have, what would be the harm in submitting to the vote of the Egyptian people and having that vote protected?” he said.

Asked if he had any hope of success, given the government’s history of using repressive tactics during the electoral process, el-Tantawy said the security services had “very few tricks” once people got over their fear of participate.

But there are signs that it may not go as far as the ballot box. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights claimed last week that at least 73 Tantawy supporters from various Egyptian governorates had been arrestedsome after filling out forms to sign up to volunteer for their campaign, others simply after liking the campaign’s Facebook page.

Candidates have until October 14 to gather enough statements of support from across the country or nominations from members of Parliament to qualify for the election, and two politicians have already done so. But Tantawy’s campaign and opposition politicians have said that when his supporters went to the notary offices to endorse him, they faced countless obstacles.

Some have been beaten or doused with water, said campaign spokeswoman Hania Moheeb. Others have been told the power went out or the computer systems didn’t work, or it was shut down in some other way.

“Egyptians are being deprived of the most basic right to elect their representatives,” said Hamdeen Sabahi, a left-wing politician who ran against el-Sisi in 2014, warning: “If the door to safe change is closed to Egyptians, then it will be led to an explosion.”

Egypt’s National Electoral Authority has called these accusations “baseless and false.”

The Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto has found that el-Tantawy’s phone was attacked with spyware after announcing his presidential candidacy this year. The group said the Egyptian government was likely responsible.

In Marsa Matrouh, where the protest broke out on Monday night, some 400 people were arrested, Egyptian private media outlet Al-Manassa reported. reportedquoting the president of the local bar association.

But the government downplayed the unrest. In a statement, the Interior Ministry said security officers had arrested the rioters after “a fight broke out between some youths” who had been “competing to take photographs” with the poet on stage.

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