Egypt's Sisi seeks third term amid 'national discontent' with his record

Egypt's Sisi seeks third term amid 'national discontent' with his record
Sisi's announcement came a few hours after arguably his most formidable challenger on the scene so far, Ahmed Tantwi, blasted his remarks during the conference over the weekend that he viewed as "an intimidation" of the Egyptian citizens. 
5 min read
Egypt - Cairo
03 October, 2023
Sisi pinned the past decade's political and socioeconomic failures on the aftermath of 25 January Revolution and overpopulation. [Getty]

Egyptian general-turned-president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced on Monday evening, 2 October, that he would be seeking a third term in the forthcoming December elections, amid a national mood of discontent with his decade-long tenure since he seized power in a military coup, with the Egyptian economy in tatters and the state of freedoms in shambles.

Many Egyptians have also cast doubt on the election's fairness, with the authorities cracking down on rival candidates and deploying the state's assets to support the incumbent president.

Sisi faces widespread criticism over his controversial policies, socioeconomic mismanagement, and the worst human rights record witnessed in the country in decades.

In a public speech marking the conclusion of a three-day economic conference, Sisi insisted he was meeting the demands of Egyptians.

"I have promised you for ten years that I don't initiate [candidacy] unless asked by the Egyptians, whom I sincerely call on to make these elections a genuine start for a vibrant political life that embraces diversity, variety and differences, without transgression or harm," he said during the event held in the New Administrative Capital on the outskirts of Cairo.

The announcement came a few hours after his most credible challenger so far, Ahmed Tantwi, slammed several controversial remarks Sisi made during the conference over the weekend, which Tantawi described as "a taunt" against the Egyptian people.  

In a statement on his official social media accounts, Tantawi denounced what he described as "the president's inappropriate remarks, depicting Egypt as a futile state that can be abolished by a group of people in despair or outlaws…[thugs]."

During the conference entitled Hekayet Watan (The Story of Homeland), Sisi bizarrely said it would cost him only one billion Egyptian pounds (about $US 323,000) to destroy the country if he wanted.

"I will give a box [of groceries]…a strip of [the highly addictive drug], Tramadol… [and] 1000 EGP to 100,000 impoverished people and assign them to cause a state [of chaos]," Sisi told the attendees during a seemingly improvised speech. 

"What if I give each one of them 100 EGP only? Then I can commission 100,000 [thugs] every week for ten weeks…to abolish a country of a population of…about 105 for...what some people spend on a party [anyways]," he added.

Like the case with most public events, Sisi blamed political and socioeconomic failures witnessed over the past decade on the aftermath of the 25 January Revolution and 'overpopulation', calling on Egyptians "to endure" poverty.

The video segment in question was later removed from almost all official social media accounts of Egyptian TV channels and local newspapers. But it was too late as activists downloaded it and shared it on several platforms.

"Sisi must have realised that his rival candidate [Tantawi] is feeding on the president's growing unpopularity, which eventually leads voter vengeance," a Cairo-based prominent professor of political sociology told The New Arab, asking not to be named.

"Sisi's popularity in 2023 is entirely different from any other time. Even politically inactive Egyptians are complaining of the deteriorating conditions in the country," the professor said, adding that "regionally, Sisi has been given the cold shoulder from Saudi Arabia, his most influential benefactor, though other countries like the UAE and Russia still back him,

Sisi's controversial comments outraged anti-regime and public figures; most of them currently live in self-exile outside the Arab nation.

"If the price of progress, creation and development is hunger and deprivation, o' beware Egyptians, never say we better eat," Sisi said. 

Anti-regime renowned Egyptian and internationally-recognised actor Khaled Abul-Naga, currently living in the US, decried Sisi's comments in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. 

"Have we ever exposed Egypt to a risk? Do you consider progress a risk, reform a risk, creation a risk… development a risk?" He rhetorically asked.

"Don't simply encapsulate our nation's case [in a few words] …and expose us to the world [this way]…hang in there and turn the tough conditions we are going through into a gift," Sisi argued.

The Egyptian constitution stipulates that presidential candidates must secure endorsements from either 20 MPs or 25,000 registered voters in at least 15 provinces, with a minimum of 1,000 endorsements from each province. Citizens can apply for candidacy set to open from Thursday, 5 October, till 14 October 2023.

The country has been facing one of its most severe economic crises in modern history, with inflation hitting a record of nearly 37 per cent and rising prices of essential commodities that turned ordinary products into a luxury for most low and middle-income brackets.

Egypt is the world's largest wheat importer, and its current economic problems have been blamed on external factors such as the Russian war on Ukraine, which severely impacted global supplies of foodstuff and other essential commodities.

However, severe economic mismanagement and corruption have also played a significant role in Egypt's current predicament, with the Egyptian military controlling large sectors of the economy and the state investing millions of dollars in "white elephant" projects - such as the New Administrative Capital - which many economists say will provide no actual return in the short term.

Thousands of politician prisoners languish behind bars, with most independent media blocked or dissolved.