When the polls closed last Wednesday after three days of voting in Egypt’s presidential election there was no doubt who the winner would be. Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi had systematically removed all major opponents to his reelection bid by arrest and intimidation. He faced only one minor opponent to at least give some appearance that the election was democratic. His opponent, Moussa Mustafa Moussa, garnered only 3 percent of the preliminary voting results. Al-Ahram, a state newspaper, reported that only a mere 42 percent of the electorate voted in the election. As the Washington Post put it, the Arab Spring revolution is clearly dead.
Sisi had looked to this election to give him some sort of democratic legitimacy after coming to power in a coup in 2013. His one previous election in 2014 also saw participation so low that the government had to extend the election by several days so Egyptians could be bribed and bused in to polling stations. Those elections saw just slightly better turnout results with 47 percent of the electorate participating.
Without a legitimate electoral victory, there are signs that Sisi’s regime could be fracturing. The Egyptian military plays kingmaker often in Egyptian politics. They produced two challengers to Sisi’s reelection bid this time around, both of whom Sisi pushed out of the running. The first, former prime minister and air force commander Ahmed Shafiq, Sisi forced from contention by detaining him for weeks and applying severe pressure to his family. The second candidate from the military, Sami Anan, was put in military detention and his running mate was attacked by thugs and then put into prison. Both Shafiq and Anan had criticized Sisi for his dictatorial tendencies and his economic failures (inflation has been incredibly high in Egypt since the revolution).
Shafiq and Anan likely would not have made any attempts to run for office if they did not feel they had reasonable support from within the military. It can be deduced from the fact Sisi forced both men from running for president by brutish means that the relationship between his government and the military is strained at best. While the friction could be serious, it does not automatically mean that the military will force Sisi from office. For the moment, it is only a sign that the relationship is in a rough patch that could later be overcome. But with the election results having such marginal voter turnout, Sisi’s hold on power is being called into question.
Meanwhile, the United States has been mostly silent throughout all this. The exception would be Senators Bob Menendez and Marco Rubio who declare their support for the rights of the Egyptian people, but otherwise did nothing to pressure Sisi to change his ways. As Steven Cook, author of False Dawn: Protest, Democracy, and Violence in the New Middle East, points out in his latest article in Foreign Policy, it appears the United States and Egypt are returning to their traditional roles where Washington looks the other way while it pursues great power politics vis a vis Russia. For all the hope the Arab Spring gave for a new kind of Egypt, things appear to be staying much the same.