Egypt held its presidential election on May 25, and, as seemed a foregone conclusion, the victor was Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the former commander of the armed forces and the leader of the coup that toppled the Islamist government of President Mohammed Morsi in June 2013. The recently retired military leader won 96.9 percent of the vote in a contest with only one other challenger.

Sisi’s mandate is clear enough, but not nearly as overwhelming as it might appear at first blush. Turnout for the vote was less than 48 percent, and the reasons that a majority of eligible voters failed to participate were not limited to apathy over an election whose outcome was a near certainty.

The legal marginalization of the Islamist political forces that won both the legislative and presidential elections held in 2010–2011 also played a role, and key opposition groups, including some that supported the coup that toppled Morsi’s administration, but have more recently themselves been targeted for repression by the military-backed interim government boycotted the vote.

The days when the Egyptian government could count on repression to contain the wrath of a population are over.

Many Egyptians see Sisi as a figure whose decisive action against Morsi’s government in mid-2013 prevented the country’s slide into civil war and economic chaos. But it is not entirely clear how many of those who voted for Sisi believe that they have accepted less democracy as a price for stability.

Even among those willing to strike such a bargain, there are high expectations that Sisi will deliver, not only in terms of domestic security, but also, and perhaps especially, in the economic arena. It remains to be seen whether the new president can do so, even if he dispenses with the complications inherent in a pluralistic democracy.

In The Spotlight

Since the appointment of Ibrahim Mehlab as prime minister of the interim administration in February, the government has made progress on key reforms, including the first steps toward reducing the bill for energy subsidies. The government has also introduced a new tax on high incomes and a 10 percent tax on capital gains, and issued smart cards as part of a quasi-rationing system for subsidized goods such as food and fuel.

Sisi has reappointed Mehlab as prime minister, and has signaled that he will also retain Finance Minister Hani Kadri Dimian in his Cabinet. That bodes well for near-term continuity with regard to economic policy, but it is unclear how committed the president is to carrying out a reform agenda, and whether he will stay the course if unpopular measures trigger a renewed explosion of urban unrest.

Support from the Gulf monarchies, the good faith displayed by the government’s enlistment of foreign consultants to draw up a reform plan, and the desire of western governments to avoid further instability in Egypt at a time when Iraq’s possible disintegration is already threatening to throw the entire region into chaos will buy Sisi some time if domestic political considerations necessitate a cautious approach.

But the days when the Egyptian government could count on repression to contain the wrath of a population no longer willing to tolerate high unemployment, rampant official corruption, and poor living standards are in the past. Sisi has promised that he can produce both economic prosperity and domestic stability, and if events prove otherwise, there is little reason to expect that he will be able to count on greater loyalty from his former military colleagues than was the case for either Mubarak or Morsi.


The PRS Group
About The Author The PRS Group
The PRS Group is a leading global provider of political and country risk analysis and forecasts, covering 140 countries. Based on proprietary, quantitative risk models, the firm's clientele includes financial institutions, multilateral agencies, and trans-national firms.

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