Egypt's El Sisi yet to announce third-term bid, but campaign blitz is in full swing

Officials familiar with the president's re-election plans speak of effort to get the vote out

President Abdel Fattah El Sisi. Egypt's election machinery has started rolling towards 2024 polls and the incumbent is favourite to win another term. EPA
Powered by automated translation

Abdel Fattah El Sisi, Egypt's President of nine years, has yet to announce whether he will seek a third term in office, but the 68-year-old former army general's re-election campaign appears to be in full swing.

In a series of highly publicised appearances in recent days, he has sought to reassure Egyptians about his leadership, defended his handling of the economy and cited national unity and strong faith as the path to a better future.

Mr El Sisi is likely to declare his candidacy in early October, officials familiar with the campaign's strategy said.

The announcement could come on the 50th anniversary of the 1973 Middle East war, when Egyptian troops stormed Israel's fortified lines on the east bank of the Suez Canal – an attack that has found its place in Egypt's history books as a victory that avenged the nation's defeat in 1967.

The state of the economy and voter apathy are among the main challenges facing Mr El Sisi as he seeks to convince voters to give him six more years in leadership of the most populous Arab state.

Mr El Sisi's victory is almost a certainty, with none of his likely rivals enjoying much grassroots support or have the resources to run an effective campaign. In contrast, the incumbent has traditionally benefitted from the state's significant resources and friendly media.

In 2019, an amendment was made to the constitution that extended presidential terms by two years to six and disregarded the four-year term he served between 2014 and 2018. The clause that sets two terms as the maximum remained unchanged.

Mr El Sisi wants a respectable turnout that would give him a clear mandate to try to overhaul the economy and deliver on promises of prosperity made early on in his time in power, according to the officials.

“What the regime is most worried about is turnout. There is a widespread state of apathy among Egyptians as well as disgruntlement and loss of faith in the government over the economy,” Ammar Ali Hassan, an author, sociologist and commentator, told The National.

“The legitimacy of the regime will be questioned if the polling stations are empty,”

It is why the president and his campaign aides are expected to launch a campaign blitz ahead of the vote, which is expected in early 2024.

The campaign, the officials said, will include near-daily public appearances, calls to popular night-time talk shows and promotional videos played on giant screens on main streets in Cairo and in sports clubs and offices of pro-government parties in rural Egypt.

The videos will focus on Mr El Sisi's achievements, mostly the building of new cities – including a new capital in the desert east of Cairo – new roads, high-tech power stations and water desalination plants, as well as the reclamation of desert land to produce food.

Pamphlets on the president's achievements will be printed and widely distributed by volunteers, said the officials. Women from pro-government parties will be canvassing votes door-to-door across the nation, taking advantage of the access they enjoy in a mainly Muslim and conservative nation.

Already, giant billboards across Cairo, the Nile-side Egyptian capital of more than 20 million people, depict a pensive president looking over an imaginary horizon. Behind him is an image of the under-construction, $4.5 billion Cairo monorail.

“Together, we will build a modern Egypt,” declares the writing on the board.

The president made a rare visit last week to an isolated north-western region on the Mediterranean, where he served as a junior army officer. During the visit, he met local dignitaries and reassured them of a fair share of development funds.

On Saturday, he cycled at dawn to the military academy in the eastern Cairo suburb of Heliopolis, where he met new government employees in training before taking up their posts.

“We are determined, with the help of God, to find permanent solutions to the economic crisis through a very ambitious plan,” said the president.

The Egyptian economy, he said, would continue to suffer as long as the nation's import bill remains heavy. Only hard work and exports could bring about a breakthrough.

Several potential candidates have already said they would run against Mr El Sisi. Others have hinted they would but were waiting for the government to announce guarantees of a fair vote.

Those who have declared include four politicians, three of whom are supporters of the president, something that raises the possibility of a partial repeat of the 2018 vote.

Mr El Sisi's sole challenger – Moussa Mustafa Moussa – had no qualms about stating his unconditional support and admiration for the president during his campaign in 2018. Mr El Sisi thanked him then for his “classy” performance after sweeping to a clear victory with 97.08 per cent of the vote.

Since April last year, the president has allowed a measure of freedom not seen since he burst on to the scene in 2013 after the military, which he led at the time, ousted Mohammed Morsi, an Islamist elected president the previous year. He has also ordered the release from jail of more than 1,000 government critics, including prominent activists, and approved a “national dialogue” to chart the country's future.

Some critics in exile were allowed to return home and authorities restored access to some of the scores of independent online news sites that had been blocked.

But the opposition, while welcoming the releases, have complained of continuing arrests and said that freeing jailed critics and allowing a measure of freedom do not amount to genuine political reform.

Daily power cuts – made necessary by a shortage of fuel for power stations – have delivered a significant dent to the president's talk of a qualitative leap in services and the quality of life under his leadership.

The power cuts, lasting up to two hours a day, coincided with one of the hottest summers in record, with temperatures daily hovering around 40°C in July.

But the president remains confident and unperturbed.

“Let me tell you something: Over the last eight years we have worked in every corner of Egypt. There is not a single place in Egypt that has not been touched by the hand of development,” he told dignitaries in the coastal region of Matrouh, north-west of Cairo.

“We are in the middle of a crisis, granted. But it is one of many challenges we have come across,” he said.

Updated: August 22, 2023, 11:37 AM