President Sisi accused of cracking down on political opponents ahead of April elections
Prospective Egyptian presidential candidates officially have been put on notice—run for office at your own risk.
Colonel Ahmed Konsowa became the third person to announce his candidacy to be targeted by the government, with a military court sentencing him to six years in prison on charges of “violating the requirements of military order and exploiti[ng] the uniform [for] non-natural use.”
Konsowa previously posted a video across social media platforms confirming his intention to run for president in elections scheduled for April next year. Others to throw their hat into the ring include Lieutenant General Ahmed Shafiq, who lost to Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi in the run-off vote in 2012, and Khaled Ali, who was also on the ballot that year.
A day before Konsowa was sentenced, Egypt’s Attorney-General referred to the Emergency Supreme State Security Prosecution Office a lawsuit accusing Shafiq of manipulating public opinion from abroad; broadcasting inflammatory statements on hostile channels; and driving a wedge between the Egyptian and Emirati people.
As regards the latter charge, Shafiq settled in Abu Dhabi following his loss to Morsi; however, last month, he was deported from the UAE after revealing plans to run against current Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Prior to his expulsion, a video of Shafiq was broadcast on Al-Jazeera in which he stated that “UAE authorities [had] detained him and that he faced obstacles [to] moving freely.” While he expressed a desire to tour various Egyptian communities abroad, Abu Dhabi instead forced him to return directly to Cairo.
For his part, Khaled Ali was the first to announce his candidacy—and also the first to come under fire. A prominent human rights lawyer, he was sentenced to three months in prison on charges of “public indecency” based on a photograph of him celebrating a court victory that successfully reversed a controversial government decision to hand over control of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.
Ali was released on bail pending appeal, but would be barred from appearing on the April ballot if the conviction is upheld.
The head of Amnesty International’s North Africa Campaigns, Najia Bounaim, said the “politically motivated” legal process “illustrates the government’s ruthless determination to crush dissent to consolidate its power.”
Essam Abdullah, a Washington-based Egyptian researcher and political analyst, explained to The Media Line that ever since the military coup in 1952 sequential Egyptian leaders have disregarded traditional democratic norms which call for the orderly transition of power. “The Egyptian president not only must come from the military establishment but also has to be supported by the Military Council,” he expounded. “The proof is that despite the army affiliations of both Shafiq and Konsowa, they do not have the support of this supreme body.”
Abdullah contends that this accounts for the Egyptian army’s failure to fully back Shafiq in his 2012 presidential bid. “Neither Shafiq nor Konsowa are people the military can trust or rely on to serve its interests. Therefore, the upcoming elections cannot be described as real. Sisi is already the winner.” He further predicted that the current Egyptian leader would remain in power “not only for two terms as the Egyptian constitution states, but potentially longer. God only knows.”
According to Constitution Party (Al-Dostour) leader Ahmed Salem, Sisi is clamping down on rivals over fear his popularity has sunk since assuming office in mid-2014. “The president has been unable to meet his electoral promises to improve Egypt’s social and economic conditions,” Salem told The Media Line. “To the contrary, the situation has worsened dramatically, which has burdened Egyptians who are now seeking alternatives.”
Then there is the deterioration in security caused by the deadly insurgency being waged by the Islamic State’s Sinai affiliate. Sisi has faced domestic criticism for his inability to neutralize the terrorist group, especially in the wake of last month’s attack on a Sufi mosque in the Peninsula that killed more than 300 people.
Mohammed Abdul Aziz, Editor of the Fikra Forum at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, believes there is one more major reason for the regime’s targeting of political opponents. “Sisi is afraid that he and other members of his government will be held accountable for many of the crimes committed under his rule, such as unlawful killings and the mass arrest of rivals,” he stressed to The Media Line.
As such, according to Abdul Aziz, Sisi may be trying to hold onto power literally for dear life.
Ironically, despite the crackdown on potential presidential candidates, Sisi himself has yet to publicly confirm he will contest the elections. Given the current political climate, then, it is difficult to forecast whether the Egyptian military will continue to rule over the long-term or if it will at some point opt to hand over power to the people.
This ongoing instability also raises the specter of another cataclysmic revolution, the likes of which shocked Egypt twice during the Arab Spring.