Egypt's El Sisi promises diversity and modernity as he launches quest for third term

'Turn out to vote even if you don't choose me,' he tells Egyptians

Boats in support of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, who received a standing ovation when he declared his intention to run for office again. Reuters
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Egypt's President Abdel Fattah El Sisi has confirmed he will be seeking another six years in office in elections scheduled for December, saying a third term would "continue the dream” for Egyptians.

Describing the country's achievements during his nine years in office as a “historic epic”, Mr El Sisi promised that if elected he would revive Egypt's largely stagnant political life and rebuild the nation of 105 million people by focusing on “modernity and democracy”.

“As I have in the past answered the call of Egyptians, here I am today answering their call once again,” he said.

The 68-year-old former army general was first elected in 2014, the year after he, as defence minister, led the military's ousting of president Mohamed Morsi, whose year in office had proved divisive.

On Monday, Mr El Sisi said: “I have decided to nominate myself for you so we can continue the dream in a new presidential term that I promise will be a continuation of our joint endeavour for the sake of Egypt and its people.

“I will continue to work, work and work; and may God aid us,” he declared in a televised, 16-minute address at a conference hall filled with members of his government and hundreds of cheering supporters who frequently interrupted him with rounds of applause.

He received a standing ovation when he declared his intention to run.

“Let us address ourselves to God and say, 'God, if there's someone else who deserves it [the presidency], then please aid him. God, support me if I am the more deserving.'”

Mr El Sisi's announcement came at the end of a three-day forum called A Nation's Story, held in the new, $60 billion New Administrative Capital he has had built in the desert east of Cairo.

As he sat in the first row with senior officials and scores of supporters behind, government ministers took turns reviewing the achievements and challenges of Mr El Sisi's years in office, painting a picture of hard work, sacrifice, courage and self denial.

In the hours ahead of his announcement on Monday night, thousands of Mr El Sisi's supporters were assembled at main squares in a string of cities, including Cairo. They waved flags and cheered as they watched the President deliver his address on giant screens.

Mr El Sisi's decision to run in the election was widely expected and, barring unforeseen events, he is considered to be virtually guaranteed to win given that, as the incumbent, he has unfettered access to state resources including the media and the bureaucracy.

Many Egyptians also feel an aversion towards change after the years of turmoil that followed a 2011 uprising, which forced long-serving autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak to step down.

They have also grown accustomed since the ousting of the monarchy 70 years ago to leaders from a military background, with many believing they provide a safe pair of hands in a region often in turmoil.

Should he win the election, Mr El Sisi will have served 16 years in office when his third term ends.

“I sincerely call on Egyptians to make this election the new beginning of an energetic political life that boasts diversity,” he said in his address. “I will be very happy to see a high turnout even if you don't elect me. I want you to show the world that we have a will. The will of the people, not the ruler's."

“At the end, it's God who chooses and I, by God, will be content with his choice.”

The December election will be held at a time when Egypt is struggling with a crushing economic crisis that Mr El Sisi has consistently blamed on the coronavirus pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war.

His critics, however, maintain that overspending and excessive borrowing – foreign debt stands at more than $160 billion – were major contributing factors.

The Egyptian pound has lost half its value since March last year, while record inflation and a foreign currency crunch have suppressed imports and hurt industries reliant on imported materials.

Millions have been pushed into poverty.

Raising eyebrows among many, Mr El Sisi on Saturday urged Egyptians to make do with less, saying it was better if they went hungry and thirsty if that meant building the nation and achieving prosperity.

Mr El Sisi's potential chief challenger in the December vote is Ahmed Tantawy, an outspoken former MP and one of the President's harshest critics. He claims that hundreds of his supporters and members of his campaign have been arrested in recent weeks.

Mr Tantawy has also been complaining that suspected pro-government thugs and plainclothes policemen have been preventing his supporters from securing the certificates that he needs to run from state offices.

Aspiring presidential candidates must secure at least 25,000 statements of support from 17 of the country's 27 provinces to be able to enter the race, or alternatively, the written support of 20 sitting MPs.

“As an Egyptian citizen before being President, I am very happy to see this multitude of candidates who are taking the initiative to take responsibility,” Mr El Sisi said of his potential rivals.

“They have my respect and appreciation.”

Mr El Sisi's challenger in the 2018 election was an obscure politician known to be a strong supporter of the President. He entered the race at the last minute and said nothing negative about his rival throughout his brief campaign.

A year later, a parliament packed with Mr El Sisi's supporters proposed amendments to the constitution that extended presidential terms from four to six years but kept a two-term cap for a sitting president.

A clause tailor-made for Mr El Sisi excluded the four years he served from 2014 to 2018 from the two-term cap, thus allowing him to run for a third term. The amendments were ratified in a nationwide referendum in 2019

Mr El Sisi has overseen a large-scale crackdown on his critics, with thousands of supporters of Mr Morsi imprisoned, alongside secular, pro-democracy activists. Authorities have also taken control of the media and blocked hundreds of independent online news sites.

However, he has eased some restrictions on freedom of expression in the past 18 months and released hundreds of critics from pretrial detention. But the opposition insists those measures are cosmetic and that arrests never stopped.

“Mr President, I am requesting in the name of the people that you give us the chance to talk,” said Amr Adeeb, the host of one of the most popular TV talk shows in Egypt. “Mr President, if you want a good media, then leave us alone to do our job. We must be able to listen to each other in the next six years.”

Updated: October 03, 2023, 11:16 AM