25 April marked the 33rd annual Sinai Liberation day in Egypt, celebrating the return of the peninsula to the Egyptians in 1982. During a ceremony, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi saluted the residents of the region, and the sacrifices of the armed forces in the Sinai Peninsula. He announced the government’s new plans for development in Sinai, including the development of new cities, in particular, New Rafah and New Ismailia. Finally, the president expressed hope that these projects would create jobs for youths in the region.
Despite the positive message delivered by Sisi, the story in Sinai has been a troubled one in recent years. Since 2013, armed forces have struggled to maintain security in the region. Attacks against security forces in North Sinai have spiked to almost daily levels since the ouster of Islamist former President Mohamed Morsi in 2013. Egypt’s army, heavily reinforced in the region, has regularly declared arrests, confiscation, and deaths of militants in an effort to quell the operations in the region. In November, the most notorious militant group in the region, Ansar Beit al Maqdis, declared allegiance to Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
The new cities planned by the Egyptian government are the result of forced relocation of residents who live on the border with Gaza. A week earlier, Egypt’s Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab issued a ordering the isolation and evacuation of more areas surrounding Rafah in North Sinai. This expands the current buffer zone that was implemented by Egyptian security forces on the border with Gaza. Initially the evacuation was to clear all homes within 500 metres of the border, for fear that homes in the immediate vicinity would be used to cover underground tunnels which could smuggle individuals or contraband into the country. Hundreds of tunnels have bene flooded and destroyed. Currently, the border clearance is expanded to a one-kilometre-wide and 14-kilometre-long buffer zone on the eastern border of North Sinai as part of its fight against militants in the peninsula. The announcements of the buffer zone in recent months have caused the evacuation of hundreds of people, and the demolition of hundreds of houses. Mahlab’s announcement included a promise that evacuees would receive alternative housing and reparations, and a warning that state would confiscate the property of anyone who resisted the evacuation. The evacuations, with little notice, have raised the ire of local residents and caused human rights organisations to speak out against Sisi’s policies.
Meanwhile, on Saturday Egypt extended a state of emergency imposed on parts of northern Sinai. The initial state of emergency was put in place late last year after Islamist militants stepped up attacks in the peninsula bordering Israel, Gaza and the Suez Canal. In October, 33 security personnel were killed in an attack at a checkpoint in northern Sinai, one of the largest attacks to occur in the region. The attack was claimed by Ansar Beit al Maqdis, who seeks to topple Sisi’s government, but largely focuses their attacks on police and security forces in North Sinai. The state of emergency was extended for another three months in January. The current extension is to last for three months, and will impact Rafah, al-Arish, Sheik Zuweid and surrounding areas. It also extends a night-time curfew in place in the same areas.
In the midst of a growing battle against militants in Sinai and throughout the country, last month the US announced that it would lift the ban of the supply of military equipment to Egypt. The ban was put in place when Morsi was overthrown in 2011. The White House said it would release the equipment and “modernise” the way it provided military aid to Egypt, including a greater focus on counterterrorism, border security, maritime security and Sinai security. President Obama directed the release of 12 Lockheed Martin F-16 aircraft, 20 Boeing Harpoon missiles, and up to 125 M1A1 Abrams tank kits made by General Dynamics. With an influx of weapons, the mass relocation of residents, and intensified battles against militants in the region, Egypt hopes to see a second liberation in Sinai.
27 April – In a press conference on Sunday, Egypt’s Presidential Election Commission (PEC) has announced that the final contenders for Egypt’s presidential election are Hamdeen Sabahi and Abdel-Fattah El Sisi. The documents of both candidates meet the eligibility requirements set by the commission.
The PEC also revealed details of the presidential election process, and has announced approvals for six international election monitoring organisations, as well as 79 domestic ones. A total of 116 Egyptian-based organisations applied to monitor the process. The PEC may allow the eliminated domestic organisations to participate by granting them “guest status”, the same status granted to the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) and the National Council for Women.
Forty four international media institutions applied to cover the elections. Thirty six were granted approval, along with 13 out of 18 satellite channels.
The two candidates have until 4 May to select their voting symbols; however both have already selected and are pending approval from the PEC. Election symbols are placed on ballots so that those in the population who are illiterate can associate the symbol with the candidate. El-Sisi, who was given priority in choosing his symbol because he submitted his papers first, plans to use a star. The star, long used by Arabs as a guide, is intended to suggest that Sisi will “lead the country to the right path.” Sabahi has requested the eagle, the symbol of Egypt’s national flag, and the symbol he was granted during his 2012 candidacy.
Election campaigning will run from 3 May until midnight on 23 May. A committee of representatives from the ministries of endowment, media, education, the police’s general investigation department, and the Egyptian Anti-Corruption Agency will monitor for violations of the no-campaigning policy after 23 May.
For Egyptian expats, voting will occur from 15 to 18 May. The PEC has announced that pre-registration is cancelled; any Egyptian who is outside of Egypt on the days of the election can vote at Egyptian embassies. There are 144 embassies and consulates in 124 countries that will serve as polling stations; however these do not include Libya, Syria, or Somalia, due to security concerns. Expatriates in those regions are encouraged to travel to nearby countries where polling stations are located.
Domestically, elections will begin on 26 May at 9 am, and end at 9 pm on the first day. On 27 May, polling stations will open at 9am and will not close until the last person standing casts his/her ballot.
The presidential elections are part of a three-step transitional roadmap adopted by the army upon Morsi’s ouster in July of 2013.
Shortly after the PECs announcement, the National Alliance to Support Legitimacy, a group led by the Muslim Brotherhood movement, announced that they will boycott the election, calling it “a comic play”. In the statement made on their website and their Facebook page, they described the vote as “a farce” meant to appoint “the coup orchestrator” president, and that they would not recognise election monitoring conducted by “Western supporters of the coup.”
The group, which boycotted the referendum for the Egyptian constitution in January, believe that the existing government body have “committed crimes that exceed those committed by the Zionist Gang in Palestine.” On Saturday, supporters of the group held protests against El-Sisi, who authorised the removal of Morsi last year and has risen to popularity, expected to be the winner of the elections. Sisi has urged all Egyptians to vote in unprecedented numbers.
Egypt’s Minister of Defence Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has told Egyptian state media that that he cannot “ignore the demands of the majority” for him to run as a candidate in the upcoming presidential election. The statement is not an official declaration; however it is the clearest indication made by Sisi, who has consciously avoided answering questions regarding his intention to run for president.
Last week, speculation on Sisi’s decision wavered following his decision to remain in the Egyptian Cabinet after the Prime Minister and other cabinet members unexpectedly resigned from office. His decision to remain as Defence Minister suggested that he would not run for office, despite gaining blessings from the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) in January. However, Sisi told the media that “official procedures” for his candidacy could be expected in the coming days. Sources close to Sisi have said that he will step down from his dual roles as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and Defence Minister before his official announcement. The new laws regulating the presidential election are to be approved by Interim President Adly Mansour within the next two weeks
Within Egypt, Sisi’s popularity has sky-rocketed since he famously removed former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi’s from office. In Cairo and across Egypt, posters of the Commander-in-Chief are prominent and growing. Several members of media, politicians, and businessmen have their support for Sisi’s candidacy, believing him to be able to restore the nation’s security and revive the economy. However, members of the Muslim Brotherhood, who remain loyal to former president Morsi, oppose the candidacy. Similarly, a portion of the Egyptian population feels strongly that the military is too heavily involved in politics, and putting Sisi into office will negate the revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Mubarak was the third in a succession of dictators hailing from a military background.
Internationally, Sisi has been equally divisive. His popularity has gained momentum among some governments, but is met with caution by others. Since the removal of Morsi, Egypt has appeared to distance itself from its once close relationship with the United States, and has moved back toward the relationship it had with Russia prior to 1979. In February, Sisi visited Moscow to sign a new cooperation and arms deal with the Kremlin. During the two-day session, Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly told Sisi, “I know that you have taken the decision to run for President. It’s a very responsible decision. I wish you luck, both from myself personally and from the Russian people.” This statement was met with unease in Washington. Marie Harf, spokeswoman for the US State Department, said, “Of course we don’t endorse a candidate and don’t think it’s, quite frankly, up to the United States or to Mr Putin to decide who should govern Egypt. It’s up to the Egyptian people to decide.” Once again, Egypt finds itself in a position between two major nations, a critical situation in awakening of the previously dormant Cold War.
When Sisi makes his announcement, he will be the third to announce his candidacy. Hamdeen Sabbahi, the founder of the Popular Current Party, threw his hat into the ring in February, claiming to run in order to “protect the revolution.” His decision caused a split amongst the Tamarod movement, which was the group that organised the mass protests resulting in Morsi’s departure. Membership has been divided between those supporting Sisi, and those supporting Sabbahi, who came in third during the 2012 elections.
In October 2013, Lieutenant General Sami Anan declared his intentions to run for office. In the Mubarak era, Anan was the Deputy Chairman of SCAF, and the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces. Until his announcement, he had remained out of the public spotlight. The move baffled Egyptians, including members of the Egyptian military. Some military analysts believe that Anan’s announcement served to test Egyptians’ reaction to the possibility of a military figure as president. Others believe Anan is expressing his own desires. Many political and military figures have reacted negatively to Anan’s intentions. The Egyptian armed forces went as far as to issue a statement warning Egyptians to not be confused by Anan’s efforts. The military spokesman urged the media not to publish Anan’s statements.
Sisi therefore faces two comparatively weaker opponents, and emerges as a tide of support swells around his candidacy. It is expected that the elections, which are expected before the end of Aprile, will see Sisi win by a large margin.
In a move that shocked the nation, this morning Egypt’s military-backed government tendered its resignation to the republic.
In a televised address, Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi confirmed that the government has resigned. He gave no definitive reason for the decision. An unnamed source has revealed that the decision came after a 15-minute cabinet meeting, which included Defence Minister and Army Chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Sisi is widely expected to run for president in the upcoming elections. One official source said, “This was done as a step that was needed ahead of Sisi’s announcement that he will run for president.”
Sisi has skyrocketed in the political sphere since his role in removing former president Mohamed Morsi from office. Shortly after the removal, he unveiled a political roadmap which included a transition from an interim government to a new administration comprised of elected officials. Sisi has been a popular but divisive figure as supporters of the Morsi government have actively protested against the interim government and the army, leading to weekly (sometimes daily) clashes with pro-government citizens and security forces.
The decision also came as a series of strikes continue across several industries, including public transport workers and garbage collectors. Further, the nation has been suffering a great shortage of cooking gas. Prime minister El-Beblawi has been perceived by Egyptian media as indecisive and unable to provide a remedy for the Egypt’s failing economy. Beblawi has also been criticised for his inability to prevent or control escalating terror attacks within Egypt, attacks which have been blamed on the Muslim Brotherhood and extremist supporters of Morsi. Beblawi has acknowledged these poor conditions, but maintains that Egypt is in a better place now than during the Morsi regime.
While it remains unofficial, it is expected that Housing Minister Ibrahim Mehleb will succeed Beblawi.