With presidential elections in Egypt just days away (May 26-27), former defense minister and Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has already scored a sizable victory among expatriate Egyptians voting from abroad. Sisi won nearly 300,000 such votes, compared to 17,207 for his competitor, according to a report from Al-Masry Al-Youm and translated into English by the Egypt Independent.
Sisi was a key player in the military takeover that ousted the Islamist Egyptian government last year after popular protests called for change. Now it looks like he will take Egypt’s leadership in a more legitimate-looking way—presuming the elections are legitimate, which may not be such a safe presumption.
The US chose not to predict who would win the vote, but spokesperson Jen Psaki did note that just having elections isn’t proof of democracy.
“It’s not just about having an election. There are a number of other steps that we would require Egypt to take,” Psaki was quoted as telling reporters in a State Department press release.
The US suspended elements of its aid to Egypt, including military aid, after the coup and the ensuing crackdown on Islamist opponents last year. But Egypt has proven a complicated case: Despite ongoing concerns about freedom there, the Obama Administration has been prepared to send Egypt military aid to deal with serious counterterrorism battles.
Terrorists in the Egyptian Sinai region have proven a major concern and a capable opponent for the Egyptian military, and violence has reached Egypt’s capital region. Terrorists in Egypt have even fired missiles at Israel in the past.
So the US is caught in a delicate debate about how much to support Egypt’s counterterrorism, while still demanding Egypt improve human rights in the country. This led to a political showdown between the Obama Administration’s plans to resume military aid to Egypt and a Congressman in Obama’s own political party who flatly opposed such steps in light of the state of democracy there.
Psaki noted concerns still exist about “freedom of assembly, expression, press, and association” in Egypt, and they don’t yet know how the next government, led by Sisi or not, would handle those issues.
“We will continue to press these issues and encourage a new government to take these steps, but I’m not going to make a prediction about what steps they will or will not take,” said Psaki. “We have consistently been calling for these steps.”
So it’s about more than just another presidential election in Egypt—it’s about blood and bullets and harmonizing America’s response to terrorism and democracy. Currently, that’s a problem, but a genuinely legitimate election followed by reforms by the next president would go a long way towards solving it.
(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, May 22, 2014)