Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the former general who was First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence in the junta which overthrew Egypt’s elected President Mohamed Morsy in July 2013, has won the country’s latest presidential election, gaining 95 per cent of the vote to defeat his sole rival, Hamdeen Sabahi. Approximately 47 per cent of the 54 million voters turned out, and intimidation as well as gross inequalities in resources and media coverage marred the process; European Union observers said the election did not meet the Egyptian constitutional principles of free association and expression. Public distrust and suspicion may well have found expression in a turnout so low on the two designated polling days that officials ordered a third day’s voting, which the NGO Democracy International (DI) concludes was only one of many “unusual steps” which damaged the credibility of the election. Members of the public said openly that their participation would make no difference, and official attitudes could not have helped; one judge who is also on the election commission has said in print that poverty and low levels of education among the population make democracy unsuitable for Egypt. In any case, the Muslim Brotherhood, which clearly showed that it has the strongest popular support by winning the Constituent Assembly elections in 2011-12 and then the June 2012 presidential election, remains under a ban; it is very likely that Brotherhood supporters boycotted the poll. Meanwhile, many of the organisation’s senior figures are in prison or in exile, and Mr. Morsy is under trial on charges which could lead to the death penalty.
The new President is highly unlikely to make any significant policy changes. The blockade of the Gaza Strip will almost certainly continue, depriving Gazans of essential supplies. Secondly, the relevant global and regional powers can be expected not to criticise Cairo’s main policies or its domestic repression. Despite a current Senate freeze, the United States government wants to continue its $1.5 billion annual aid to Egypt, most of which goes on arms purchases from U.S. firms; for their part, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, all of which are very hostile to the Brotherhood, have donated over $12 billion in recent years. All the countries concerned, including Israel, value stability above democracy in Egypt, mainly because democracy would enable the Egyptian public to call for a fair and just Israel-Palestine settlement and could revive demands for democracy in West Asia. It appears that neither the world’s major powers nor the main regional ones are prepared to allow Egypt’s 84 million people the right to choose their own leaders freely.