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Rocky road ahead for Egypt’s president-elect Sisi

LiveMint logoLiveMint 04-06-2014 Jay Deshmukh

Cairo: Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who romped home in Egypt’s presidential election after crushing Islamists, faces a tough task to restore stability and revive a battered economy amid fears of a return to autocracy.

On Tuesday, the electoral commission declared Sisi won 96.91% of the vote with a turnout of 47.5%, nearly a year after he toppled the country’s first freely elected leader, Islamist Mohamed Morsi.

The crushing victory over leftist leader Hamdeen Sabbahi had never been in doubt, with many lauding the retired field marshal as a hero for ending Morsi’s year of divisive rule 11 months ago.

But global rights watchdogs, international leaders and experts have warned that real challenges now face Sisi as he inherits a deeply polarised country.

The US said it looks forward to working with Sisi but expressed concerns about the “restrictive political environment” in which last week’s vote took place.

The election was boycotted by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and youth groups of the 2011 popular uprising, after both were targeted in a withering crackdown on dissent.

The White House urged Egypt’s new president “to govern with accountability and transparency, ensure justice for every individual,” and demonstrate his commitment to protecting “the universal rights of all Egyptians.”

It was only in April that Washington partially lifted its annual aid to Egypt worth around $1.5 billion, which it had frozen after the military deposed Morsi.

Tough Decisions Needed

In the run-up to the vote, rights groups highlighted “gross human rights violations” that have taken place since Morsi’s ouster in July 2013, with more than 1,400 people killed in a government crackdown targeting the Brotherhood and over 15,000 jailed.

The authorities have also sentenced hundreds of Morsi supporters to death after speedy trials which UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon expressed “alarm” over.

Some of the youth leaders who spearheaded the 2011 revolt against longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak have also been jailed for taking part in unauthorised protests.

Analysts say it will be tough for the authorities to restore stability amid the prevailing polarisation across Egypt.

“The Brotherhood and the revolutionaries consider him (Sisi) as an enemy,” said Ahmed Abd Rabou, political science professor at Cairo University, indicating that there was little hope of dialogue with youth movements.

“He has a military background. He is not a man of negotiation. He is a man of orders that must be obeyed.”

On Tuesday, Sisi attempted to ease concerns as he echoed the slogans of the 2011 uprising, urging Egyptians to work for “bread, freedom, human dignity, social justice”.

More than three years of political unrest has left Egypt’s economy in a shambles.

“Sisi will have to take tough decisions... such as subsidy cuts, but the military has no tradition of taking such decisions,” said James Dorsey of the Singapore-based S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

‘Money Into Black Hole’

Egypt’s foreign exchange reserves have halved since 2011 to $17 billion in April, despite receiving almost $13 billion in Gulf aid since Morsi’s ouster, while external debt has risen to $45 billion as of December.

Revenues from the tourism sector, which employs more than four million people, slipped to $5.8 billion in 2013 from $12.5 billion in 2010.

Foreign direct investment (FDI), which before Mubarak’s overthrow stood at $12 billion, have since fallen to about $2 billion annually.

Sisi has called for “strengthening the role of the state” to implement projects that would kick-start the fledgling economy propped up by Gulf funds.

“Sisi has acknowledged the economic challenges but has been careful not to give any detail about how he would meet them, suggesting that he doesn’t have answers,” Yezid Sayigh, senior associate at Carnegie Middle East Center told AFP.

“So for the immediate future he will seek more Gulf aid and investment as his main strategy, while maintaining a repressive approach to security and dissent at home.”

On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, who opposes the Muslim Brotherhood, called for a donors’ conference to aid Egypt’s economy as he congratulated Sisi on his “historic” victory.

“The Saudis and the UAE (United Arab Emirates) want this government to remain in power. But if the government does not turn around the economy, they would be pouring money into a black hole,” said Dorsey. AFP

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