Will General Al-Sisi Run for President?

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Middle East Policy Council

Egyptian media and social networks are abuzz with speculation about the political future of the country’s de facto ruler, General Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. Al-Sisi himself has so far declined to comment on whether he will eventually run for president, but with the Muslim Brotherhood banned, most believe Al-Sisi would win in a landslide.  Whether it is advisable for Al-Sisi to run at all, however, is another matter. Some believe that his candidacy would be a setback for the image of the military and a nail in the coffin of political reform, especially in the aftermath of the coup that ousted Mr. Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood. No matter who is next to run the government, the current polarization and the poor economic performance in Egypt will provide challenges that seem almost insurmountable. Whether Al-Sisi would be up to the task remains to be seen.

Writing about the ‘public mood in Egypt,’ Asharq Alawsat’s Ali Ibrahim believes that the public’s current obsession with the question of who the country’s next president will be indicates a hunger for a stabilizing and strong figure: “This is evidenced by the fact that while the road map, which was set after June 30, includes the implementation of a series of important steps, including putting the new—or amended—constitution to referendum, as well as holding parliamentary and presidential elections, everybody is preoccupied with talking about just who Egypt’s next president will be. The new reality that has even obtained international recognition is that Defense Minister Field Marshal Abdel Fattah El-Sisi enjoys massive popularity in the Egyptian street as a result of the role he played following June 30. According to the information on the ground, nobody will be able to compete with Sisi if he decides to run for president.”

Al-Sisi’s status as the early frontrunner has drawn the attention of ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who, according to a report on Al-Masry Al-Youm, sees Al-Sisi as the only person in Egypt fit for president: “Farid al-Deeb, lawyer for former President Hosni Mubarak, said the ex-president described Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as ‘Egypt’s hope.’ Deeb told Sada al-Balad satellite channel on Thursday that Mubarak believes that only Sisi is currently fit for the former position of president Mubarak. Sisi’s refusal to run for president will change under popular pressure, Deeb cited Mubarak as saying.”

Ariel Ben Solomon, commenting in the Israeli daily Jerusalem Post, cites several potential candidates’ reluctance to enter into the presidential race as a clear indication of the general’s star power: “Shafiq, a former air force commander who came second in last year’s presidential election, said he would not run if Sisi stood in the next election. This comment may help explain why there are no declared candidates just months before the election, as other politicians could be waiting to see whether Sisi is going to run before announcing their own intentions….In separate comments, former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, who also ran in last year’s election, said Sisi would win by a landslide. Egyptians had become ‘angry and afraid of anarchy and terrorism’ and wanted a decisive leader, he said.”

Not everyone is convinced that the Defense Minister should run for president. For example, despite growing calls for Al-Sisi to run, Al Ahram’s Amany Maged notes that “the calls for Al-Sisi as president are not yet overwhelming. Intellectuals and journalists from across the political spectrum have come out against the idea. Some argue it would confirm that what happened on 3 July was a ‘coup’ while others hold it flies in the face of the demands of the revolution for democracy and a civil state. Some have remarked that the posters that feature Al-Sisi alongside Nasser are misguided and do an injustice to the latter. They argue that when Nasser first came to power he formed a cabinet that included a number of Muslim Brotherhood members. Many critics point out that it is just as wrong to mix politics with the military as it is to mix politics with religion.”

Wael Nawara, in an article for Al Monitor, also argues that Sisi should not run for president, but for a different set of reasons: “The Egyptian army has proven that governing the country is not on its agenda. At moments of severe state weakness, the army could have seized power without resistance, and be welcomed by the people….In my opinion, there is no military commander, regardless of his popularity, who can change this doctrine within the Egyptian army. The army operates as an institution with traditions, which no single member can compromise….The message I wish to deliver to Sisi is: ‘Complete your favor, and don’t yield to pressures demanding that you run for president. For Egypt needs restoring faith and confidence, more than it needs any president.’”

There may be other reasons why Al-Sisi might want to think twice before stepping into the ring. Mona Salem believes that Egypt’s ongoing security challenges, especially the long-term threat posed by a wounded Muslim Brotherhood, will make the job of the next president almost impossible: “there are fears that an Islamist insurgency may be emerging in response to the army’s ruthless crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood over the past several weeks. And secondly, the army is dealing with growing lawlessness in the Sinai Peninsula that has seen repeated deadly attacks on police and military installations….Abdullah al-Sennawi, an editorialist at independent Al-Shoruk daily, said: ‘He stands or not, in both the cases we are faced with a problem… forces such as the Muslim Brotherhood would make it difficult for the future president.’”

Then, as Philip Whitfield argues in an article for the Daily News Egypt, there is the question of the economy, as well as the fate of the men who have previously occupied the much coveted presidential seat: “Who’d be in the president’s shoes? Adly schleps in the shadows. Morsi shuffles round prison in his. Mubarak hobbles in hospital pumps. Sadat died with his on. Nasser wore his out on socialism’s slippery slope. Who’s got the courage to give the old ways a kicking? The economist Felix Inmonti says rent-funded Egypt puts the source of wealth beyond the state’s control. What does he mean by that? The Suez Canal, tourists, Egyptians abroad and foreigners prop up the state. That’s what did it for Mubarak and Morsi. It’s downing the current lot. Mubarak Mark II bears all the hallmarks.”

Click here to read previous installments of Middle East In Focus

Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.


  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Scroll to Top