Presidential elections in Egypt ignite unprecedented dialogue about the nation’s future

In the run-up to Egypt‘s 2024 Presidential Elections, an open and vigorous national debate has sparked around the country’s future. With an impending vote in just a few months, this dialogue is unfolding against a backdrop of a daunting economic crisis and heightened calls for political reform, according to political commentators, activists and politicians.

This dialogue, although under scrutiny from authorities, is displaying a level of tolerance for criticisms of government policies that would have been unthinkable a little over a year ago. The topic of civil liberties has become a contentious issue in Egypt, whether directly associated with the forthcoming elections or seen as a ploy by the authorities to pacify the rising public discontent over soaring prices of essential commodities.

Yet, the motive aside, Egyptians are currently experiencing a level of freedom – albeit carefully managed and under close watch by authorities – not seen in the past decade.

Current President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, who has led Egypt for the past ten years, has yet to announce whether he will run for another term. However, the likelihood is high, and barring any unforeseen circumstances, he is projected to secure a comfortable victory.

Despite the predictable result of these elections, the political stir they are creating is dominating television debates, newspaper columns, and social media platforms, which have been the primary vehicles for expression in Egypt over the last decade.

The public is openly criticising perceived governmental shortcomings, demanding an action plan to tackle the economic crisis, advocating for broader freedoms and requesting President El Sisi to ensure a fair and transparent election.

Political pundits and politicians suggest this surge in political discourse offers El Sisi and his government an opportunity to foster a credible electoral process that would overwrite the memories of the 2018 election – a near one-man race, where President El Sisi faced off against a virtually unknown politician who entered the contest at the eleventh hour to prevent it from being a one-man referendum, a type all too familiar in Egypt’s recent past.

In April last year, El Sisi initiated the shift from a zero-tolerance approach to dissent by calling for a national dialogue. The dialogue, which started in May this year, will produce recommendations for Egypt’s future expected later this year.

El Sisi also ordered the release of hundreds of critics held in pretrial detention over the past year, permitted exiled critics to return home, and tolerated – albeit within bounds – criticism of his economic policies.

However, many more journalists and activists remain incarcerated. Not everyone is prepared to trust the current administration. Khaled Dawoud, the chief spokesperson for the opposition 12-party Civil Democratic Movement, expresses scepticism about the government’s sincerity.

El Sisi has responded to criticism over his handling of the economy by extolling the transformation of Egypt into a modern state during his tenure, with reliable infrastructure, renewable energy usage, and an ambitious drive to uplift the quality of life in rural areas.

Nevertheless, several aspiring candidates, including the only female candidate, veteran politician Gameela Ismail, are waiting for assurances of a fair election.

The presidential hopefuls, some of whom are known supporters of President El Sisi, are keen to avoid a repeat of the 2018 election. Despite this cautious optimism, the upcoming election is predicted to be a tightly controlled affair unlikely to produce any surprises.

The widespread national debate indicates a shift in the Egyptian political landscape. However, its long-term implications and whether it signifies a genuine commitment to political reform remain to be seen.

Image Credit: Graham Carlow / Wikimedia

Tags : Egypt