In Translation: Sisi's road to presidency for life
As I have written previously, everything points towards Egyptian President Abdelfattah al-Sisi seeking to amend the 2014 constitution to remove term limits, enabling him to remain in the presidency for the rest of his days. The 2014 constitution was written at a moment when Sisi's ascendancy was less than certain; it contains not only limits on presidential terms (the sole major democratic gain of the last decade, arguably) but also constraints on the president's relationship with other major institutions, including the legislative and judiciary, and most importantly the army (since the defense minister, by some readings, cannot be removed for eight years – after the president steps down).
The signs that Sisi would seek amendments have been in the air for a while; even before the recent farcical re-election (the Siselection) there were trial balloons in parliament for initiating a change to the constitution either to extend the term length or remove limits. Whether this will fly is a matter of great uncertainty: Sisi has support among a powerful strata of the establishment, some popular backing, a relentless media machine and, for now, foreign backing. On the other hand, there were also signs (including prior to the recent election) of unease within elements of the Egyptian elite, including the military. And some of Egypt's Western allies, at least, might not object to see him being replaced by a less repressive general who could guarantee their interests while worrying them less about long-term sustainability of the all-repressive, all-the-time Sisi approach.
Hence, securing his presidency for life is no done deal for Sisi. We are just beginning to see regime media stalwarts begin to articulate more sophisticated versions of why it might be necessary to have Sisi remain (by more sophisticated, I mean not just based on emotional paeans of loyalty and Sisicophancy). A few days ago, many noted the piece below by Yasser Rizk – veteran political writer, editor of the venerable al-Akhbar state newspaper (with an interlude at al-Masri al-Youm after he was sacked by Morsi in 2012), and one of the most strident opponent of the Muslim Brotherhood – arguing for the removal of term limits. Rizk was also revealed as Sisi's confidante in leaked tapes in 2013, in which the then minister of defense is heard giving instructions on what talking points should be circulated among intellectuals as he prepared his bid for the presidency.
The pretext given? That Egypt's political scene – repressed to unprecedented degrees under Sisi – has not produce viable alternative leadership. That is, as they say, pretty weak sauce especially considering the fact that several serious presidential contenders were sidelined prior to the election. It seems the pro-Sisi chattering classes have now been given their new talking points – expect this to be repeated ad nauseum over the next few months.
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Anxiety over the future government, and the risk to the June Revolution
Yasser Rizq, al-Akhbar, 12 May 2018
There is an undeniable anxiety about the future governance of our country, even though President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has not yet taken the oath of office for his second term as president, which is scheduled to begin at the start of next month.
There is also a tangible sense that the June Revolution and its gains are under threat, as we approach its fifth anniversary, which falls next month.
The anxiety is legitimate, and the danger is real!
The source of the anxiety is the lack of political forces or party blocs able to produce candidates qualified to assume leading responsibility – forces that enjoy both the support of the people and the endorsement of core and constitutional state institutions.
In one year, you can split the Suez Canal; in four, you can erect a million residential units; in eight, you can build a capital, and in fourteen, a new city.
And yet, you cannot decide to build a political class in the same manner. Nor can you shorten the period of political maturation through directives. Nor can you select leaders on a hunch without a national yardstick, political testing, or executive responsibility.
The source of anxiety is that three years from now is an insufficient amount of time for qualified, visionary political figures to emerge that are youthful and able to assume the functions of the head of state in a manner commensurate with Egypt’s importance and position.
It seems, then, that the political arena for the foreseeable future is dry and barren. While the constitution sets the number of years for a presidential term at four years and bans the president from running for more than two terms, it also prohibits him from returning to the presidency later, even if another president occupies the office for one or two consecutive terms in the interim. This sort of “Putin-Medvedev” scenario is unable to repeat itself in Egypt according to the provisions of the 2014 Constitution, which we say, wholeheartedly, was drafted with the best intentions!
In regards to the constitution, there have been many opinions and suggestions regarding how to amend more than one of its sections. These proposals should be discussed in the media and parliament without the least delay.
The danger to the June Revolution actually lies in two distinct camps:
- The first thinks that the time has come to return to the pre–25 January regime, with all of its deadlock, sterile opinions, and corruption.
- The second imagines that it can circumvent the 30 June Revolution, take aim at its gains and conspire to stay in power under the cover of reconciliation, either in phases, or all at once by 2022.
The danger lies in Gamal Mubarak’s cronies, who are being reintroduced politically and in the media after washing their faces and hands of what they did to the people and country.
It is also lies with Muslim Brotherhood members, who say that their hands are clean of blood, while at the same time their operatives once again penetrate the ranks of the state and its institutions.1
Perhaps we have not yet forgotten the deal made between the two sides in 2005 that granted the Brotherhood 88 seats in the People’s Assembly in exchange for their support in grooming Gamal Mubarak as his father’s successor. Perhaps we have also not forgotten when the Brotherhood aspired for more and the NDP’s Policy Secretariat imagined that it could take seats from the opposition and the Brotherhood in the 2010 People’s Assembly election “free and clear.” This was the straw that broke the Mubarak regime’s back on 25 January and afterwards.
For all we know, perhaps there is someone engineering another deal for 2022, beginning in turn with the next syndical, local, parliamentary, and finally presidential elections. This would result in the Brotherhood filling up the government and Parliament and Gamal Mubarak as the president.
I do not think it a mere innocent coincidence that this image of condolence is being promoted at the same time as the idea of reconciliation between the regime and the Brotherhood.
In spite of the actual circumstances surrounding the event, the image of Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi shaking hands with the brothers Gamal and Alaa Mubarak has already been exploited on Brotherhood websites and Mubarak-friendly social media accounts in order to make it seem as if Field Marshal Tantawi was expressing his apologies for what Gamal Mubarak and his father suffered after the 25 January Revolution during the period that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ (SCAF) governed the country. This, of course, is ironic considering its shameful falsehood.
At the same time, talk of reconciliation has been in in the air at various levels, some of which are directly attributable to the Brotherhood organization, although we have not yet heard a definite, formal response that any dialogue or reconciliation has been denied or ruled out. Perhaps those talks will not be interrupted, but rather renewed and activated instead, especially since the final rulings over several members of the Brotherhood’s leadership (some of whom face execution) have been postponed. This is stoking doubts in public opinion, as well as renewing hopes within the Brotherhood’s ranks that the idea of reconciliation could be pushed through as a springboard for their delusions of returning to power.
Some may say that Gamal Mubarak, like his father and brother, was sentenced to prison in the presidential palaces case, which precludes him from running for any position or from participating in political life until he has been exonerated.
However, it is worth recalling that in a similar situation, when Khairat al-Shater2 wanted an exoneration shortly before the filing deadline to run in the 2012 elections, the doors of the court opened on a Friday and issued him a detailed acquittal. Sometimes the country and its ledgers are really their country and ledgers!
However, the greatest danger comes from those who gravely underestimate their opponents and overestimate their delusions of their own abilities, thereby leading people into danger and peril, such as we saw shortly before the 25 January Revolution, or shortly before the Brotherhood exploited its control of the parliament and the presidency.
The greatest danger consists of a political elite that has the memory of a fish, an intellectual elite that revolves around the movement of history like a beast of burden going around a waterwheel, and a media elite that thinks with its tongue and talks with its nerves.
They are the ones who turn illusion into fact and delusion into reality.
This fact must be made loud and clear to everyone: there is no one to make reconciliation with, and there is nothing on which we have to reconcile.
It is also necessary to enact a law that whoever calls for or applauds reconciliation with the terrorist Brotherhood organization should face the same punishment as the one prescribed for those who are actually guilty of belonging to the organization.
Everyone must be aware that even the National Democratic Party in the heyday of the Policy Secretariat3 was not able to gather more than 5% in any elections during its era. And its remnants have not been any better at mobilizing the masses and getting them to go to the polls in any election following the 30 June Revolution. Rather, during the last presidential elections in particular, there was no one – whether the parliamentary blocs, family heads, or tribal strongholds – who could claim that they were behind the large crowds that gathered to vote in the elections. Rather, it was the person of President al-Sisi and the success and hope that he represents to the voters that motivated citizens to gather in front of the polling centers in such massive numbers.
I think that maybe Gamal Mubarak needs someone to whisper a bit of advice in his ear. That person should tell him to raise his hands in praise and thanksgiving that he was not tried politically for what he did to ruin the country and for his attempt to overthrow the republican system, and that he should remain in his home and not make any media appearances feigning ignorance of his father’s reign.
In my view, the popular reaction to talk of reconciliation and those who are giving it legs – whether out of carelessness or bad intentions – should be the nail in the coffin for these proposals, whose real aim is to launch a counter-revolution against the 30 June Revolution and its regime.
I also consider the mass outcry to the image of condolence between Field Marshal Tantawi and Gamal Mubarak to be the appropriate response to the succession era, articulated by the patriot Tantawi himself. The people have not forgotten his position towards the Gamal Mubarak loyalists during the Nazif government, especially when he said to them, “You all want to sell the country and the military establishment will not allow it.”
As for the anxiety for the future shape of the government at the end of the president’s second term, I am convinced that President al-Sisi shares this feeling as much as public opinion does, if not more.
It should not come as a surprise to anyone that when I asked President al-Sisi about this feeling, he replied, “I am beset by anxiety even now. No one’s life is guaranteed from one minute to the next. All lives are in God’s hands.” I also heard the president say that one of the most important priorities of his new presidency is to train and select several capable people to run in the next elections.
The parliament and its delegates remain an essential part of the constitutional debate. On the one hand, no one wants to insert absolute rule into the constitution. However, at the same time, no one believes that its provisions should act as a sort of guillotine enforcing the popular will.
The people’s awareness remains a solid shield to defend them against the dangers of the counter-revolution, assaults upon the gains of the 30 June Revolution, and the lies and claims broadcast about its national regime.
And behind the people, the military stands alert, protecting the 30 June Revolution, and defending the people’s will against efforts to return to Egypt’s former corruption, exclusion, and monopolization of power.
This is a reference to calls by some exiled members of the Brotherhood for reconciliation and their distancing with the group’s leadership, as well as similar calls from former members in Egypt. ↩
Former Deputy General Guide and strongman of the Brotherhood, now in prison ↩
The Policy Secretariat was a kind of internal think tank in the former ruling party led and created by Gamal Mubarak. ↩