x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

El Sisi must be a president for all Egyptians

Now that Abdel Fattah El Sisi has announced his presidency bid, he will need to change to unite the nation after three tempestuous and divisive years.

To the surprise of nobody, Field Marshal Abdel Fattah El Sisi has announced he will quit as Egypt’s defence minister so he can run for the presidency. There is much to commend his candidacy, not least that he alone seems to command the broad support of the people and will be able to provide what Egypt desperately needs: security and stability.

However, rebuilding the economy – a big enough challenge on its own – is just one of the profound tests he will face if, as expected, he becomes president. The country must bounce back to prosperity and do so in a way that all hard-working and entrepreneurial Egyptians stand to benefit from, rather than just the nation’s elite.

He must also reunite Egypt after three tempestuous years in which one of the Arab world’s most entrenched autocrats was overthrown and a replacement elected but then removed from office within a year. This might prove the biggest challenge of all, especially since Field Marshal El Sisi led the military takeover of power from Mohammed Morsi and the crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood supporters. More than 500 of them were sentenced to death this week after trials criticised as neither free nor fair. Hundreds more defendants face a similar fate.

There is no sensible path available for Egypt other than national re­conciliation. For this to succeed – and the alternative is too awful to contemplate – Field Marshal El Sisi must be a president for all Egyptians, and this is intrinsically linked to the prospects for economic recovery.

There remains a need for vigilance about the Brotherhood, an organisation whose allegiance is not to Egypt but to an external agenda. But Field Marshal El Sisi must seek to woo as many as possible of those who were swayed by Mr Morsi’s message about restoring Egypt to democratic rule with economic stability and personal rights.

Egypt needs a strong figure at the helm at this critical moment, but all involved must accept that this moment will be a transitional one, providing stability and the foundations for a sustained recovery.

If Field Marshal El Sisi can achieve that, the enormous cost of the revolution, and the heavy burdens it has placed upon the Egyptian people, will have been repaid.