After Egypt's Sisi wins 97 per cent, eyes on next term

Sisi supporters celebrate in Cairo following the presidential election results.
Sisi supporters celebrate in Cairo following the presidential election results.PHOTO: REUTERS

CAIRO (AFP) - Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will be in a stronger position than ever after winning 97 per cent of valid votes for a second term, but the big question is whether it will be his last.

His next four years are expected to resemble his first term, in pursuing economic reforms, and further slashing wasteful subsidies.

He is also expected not to let up a crackdown on dissent. Sisi often warns that the country is on the brink of collapse and that he will not tolerate anything that threatens his efforts.

Sisi has said he has no ambition to stay after the end of his second term in 2022 - something the current constitution prohibits anyway.

But analysts say that can change.

"All options are open," said Hassan Nafea, political science professor at Cairo University.

Sisi won last week's election against a sole rival who himself is a supporter of the president.

 

Other candidates had withdrawn, been sidelined, or arrested.

Despite Sisi's appeal for a large turnout, only 41 per cent of registered voters cast their ballots, with 7 per cent spoiled ballots.

"Although I don't consider what happened an election, because it had no real competition, what concerns me now is the future," Nafea said.

"The question now is whether he will resort to amending the constitution to cancel the article that stipulates a president may not rule for more than two terms, or whether he will find another military man to take his place, or will he take the democratic choice," Nafea said.

Sisi, a former army chief, had ousted his Islamist predecessor Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

Morsi was the republic's first democratically elected president, and the first leader not from military ranks, but his year in office was divisive and sparked massive protests demanding his resignation.

Since his election, he has imposed tough economic reforms that have been welcomed by foreign investors but sent inflation sky rocketing.

He is also fighting a tenacious Islamic State group insurgency based in Sinai, but although military campaigns have degraded the militants, it is not expected they will be defeated soon.

Mostafa Kamel al-Sayed, a political science professor at Cairo University, said there was a "big chance" Sisi would have the constitution amended.

"His supporters have started discussing this (in media), especially to amend the article" on two presidential terms, he said.

UNLITERAL DECISIONS

The article, drafted after the 2011 uprising that ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak, has been considered one of the main successes of the uprising.

Sisi's second term, al-Sayed said, is expected to see more of his unilateral decision making.

"These are decisions meant to dazzle without achieving anything on the ground nor agreeing with development priorities," he said, referring to mega projects such as a Suez Canal extension and a new administrative capital.

He is also expected to continue cracking down on dissidents, and "restraints on freedoms and organising" will remain, al-Sayed said.

Sisi has proven adept at consolidating power, whether through having a pliant parliament or loyal media that rarely step out of line, said Karim Emile Bitar, a senior fellow at the IRIS think-tank in Paris.

Bitar also pointed to a favourable international atmosphere for Sisi.

The election, "which international observers agree is a charade," came "in an international context suitable to supporting authoritarianism and with a blank cheque from US President Donald Trump".

Trump was among the first leaders to congratulate Sisi after the official results on Monday, with the White House saying in a statement the two leaders "look forward to advancing this partnership and addressing common challenges".