When many Egyptians were asked recently by Middle East Briefing who could win presidential elections if they were held tomorrow, Al Sisi or Morsi, assuming the former president was released, the answer consistently came back giving Al Sisi a victory of about 60 percent to 40 percent. But this is already a substantially lower percentage for al Sisi than last July.
But even as a wave of terrorism, violence and over-reaction occur with growing frequency in the capital under his leadership, it still remains that Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi may be the only real option for the next presidency.
It has been a little less than two decades since Egypt’s security agencies were involved in a major fight against terrorists. It is obvious that the cadres who led the violent confrontation against the Jama’a Islamiyah and the Jihad organizations in the first half of the 1990’s are no longer running the show. That is not necessarily a bad thing inasmuch as that older generation of security officers made terrible mistakes at the time. However, the current generation, in an unwarranted loyalty to the culture of some security institutions in Egypt, is making even worse mistakes.
Last Friday the Egyptian capital echoed with the sounds of two big explosions; one of them directly targeted the police directorate in Cairo. A minivan accompanied by a sedan approached the entrance of the building, stopped for few seconds when the driver of the minivan parked his vehicle beside the police directorate entrance and moved quickly to the sedan which fled the scene. A few seconds later the explosion took place.
It seems as though the security forces which were erecting check-points everywhere after the first explosion, forgot to implement tougher security procedures around their own Cairo headquarters. The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) media mouthpieces were quick to accuse the very security forces which were the victims of being the perpetrators. But a terrorist group called “Bait Al Maqdes” (a lesser used name for The Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem) claimed responsibility and discredited the MB’s accusations that were already widely rejected.
The character of the Egyptian security forces has not changed over decades and is not apt to change significantly in the near future as the terrorism is likely to continue. Arguably, some more training and improvements in the security forces’ intelligence gathering capabilities and techniques could help, but the fight is mainly political with genuine social dimensions.
A tour of the streets of Cairo will immediately reveal the decisive dynamics of the situation in Egypt. The “man in the street” offers Defense Minister Al Sisi conditional support. The common complaint is that things have deteriorated enough already, and the country needs a break. That is the most frequent explanation offered for supporting the army. But this support is really contingent on expectations that the military will improve the conditions in the country. And it will also be noticeable that the previous high wave of support for Sisi has subsided with the passage of time.
With the increasing wave of terror currently taking place in Egypt, chances of political reform are quickly fading. The security forces will be less receptive to the idea of self-reform. Civil liberties will be a certain casualty, and chances of another social eruption are growing, particularly with the current economic situation that verges on catastrophic.
Nonetheless, if Al-Sisi becomes the president in the next elections – scheduled to be held in April – he should be provided with all the help he needs to reverse Egypt’s decline to a failed state or its submersion into civil war. Chances of reconciliation with the MBs are almost non-existent in the current context. And when social polarization reaches that level, mistakes are often amplified, and the centre is usually crushed.
General al-Sisi needs to be fully supported. Remarks about violations of standards (as have been voiced about Egypt’s democracy) become less important once compared with the prospect of a failed country as big as Egypt in the heart of a region in perpetual turmoil.