Guest post by Yasmine Mandour, Member of the IAPSS Student Research Committee on Human Rights and Gender Studies
More than three years ago, on 30 June 2013, the first step towards paving the way for al-Sissi’s presidency was made, when millions of Egyptians marched to call out for him to nominate himself, and to end the rule of then-president and Muslim Brotherhood leader, Mohamed Morsi, in what has been regarded as Al-Sissi’s main source of legitimacy. While the call for protests was made on June 30, it was only on July 3 when the military declaration came to force in order to get the Muslim Brotherhood leader out of the political rule once and for all.
To what extent has the current ruler ship of president Al-Sissi deviated from the road to democracy? When embarking into the assessment of this question, it is important to pay attention to the gap that often presents itself between international and local images. For instance, while some views from the international media might be focusing on the high number of detained persons (especially young people), a stray of the local media viewed this from an essentially different perspective, perceiving human rights as an insignificant matter in relation to the bigger question of security and safety in the Egyptian street.
Before Al-Sissi came into power, he laid out a strategy consisting of three elements: parliamentary elections; reform of the constitution; and presidential elections. The three elements were fulfilled in what was portrayed as a promise that was kept. On the institutional level, Egypt has an ongoing parliament (a lower house ‘House of Representatives’ with nearly a 15% percentage of women serving in it), a constitution that guarantees human rights and gender equality, and a president who came by a nation-wide support following an election with a very high turnout. However, the fairly low degree of effectiveness of these institutions, and the extent to which violations of human rights have expanded, suggest a very contradictory ending. From another point of view, the incredible and unprecedented decrease of the Egyptian pound vis-à-vis the dollar, that is sustainably devaluing the real value of Egyptians’ savings, downgrades any political achievements (if any).
These developments have resulted in an extremely polarized situation between two camps. One side sees absolutely no gains after the revolution on 25 January 2011 and the protests on 30 June 2013, while the other views Egypt as being saved from the devils of the Muslim Brotherhood, and on the right track towards progress. Therefore, the question arises whether and how Egypt can survive the dilemma of civil-military relations. The three longest serving presidents in Egypt (Nasser, Al-Saddat, and Mubarak), in addition to president Al-Sissi, all came from military backgrounds. In addition, a large portion of society had become convinced that a leader has to have a military background to be fit for presidency; completely ignoring and ridiculing any relevance of well-known notions of democracy in the context of Egypt.
Can the next president come from outside the military institutions? Despite the fact that it is highly unlikely, even if he/she (optimistically speaking) came from outside the military, democratic institutions would still be serving as pseudo facades designed merely to fit the international standards that do not translate into horizontally decentralized socio-economic and political changes. This condition can be expected to have a continued and substantial impact on both regional and international levels, given Egypt’s position as a fundamental middle power in the MENA region.
Yasmine Mandour is a master’s student in Law and Economics at a joint programme between the University of Hamburg and Cairo University. She holds a BSc degree in Political Science from Cairo University. Her research interests include women rights in MENA, Gender mainstreaming across the Sustainable Development Goals, and Political Economy.