With no serious challenger in the race, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi won a second four-year term last week, winning 21,835,387 votes or 97.08 percent of the total, according to official figures. The State Department said it looked forward to working with Sisi to advance the United States’ strategic partnership with Egypt, yet noted the importance of “encouraging respect for and protection of basic rights and freedoms.”
By the time Egyptians went to the polls, Sisi’s only challenger was Mousa Mostafa Mousa, leader of the small pro-government party Al-Ghad, who had previously supported Sisi’s bid for a second term. Mousa, who chose to run at the last minute after all significant challengers had withdrawn, received 2.92 percent of the valid votes cast, or 656,534 in total. The result was similar to the 2014 election, in which Sisi’s sole challenger came in third, with fewer votes than the number of spoiled ballots. In this election, there were 1,762,231 spoiled ballots, or 7.27 percent of the total. This is the highest proportion of spoiled votes on record, suggesting that voters deliberately defaced their ballots as a means of protest.
In the months leading up to the vote, a campaign of detention and intimidation forced credible challengers out of the race. In early January, Ahmed Shafik, a former prime minister seen as the most serious challenger to Sisi, withdrew from the race, explaining he would not be “the ideal person to lead the state’s affairs during the coming period.” Shafik, who narrowly lost the 2012 election with 48 percent of the vote, denied that the government had kidnapped him prior to his withdrawal, an allegation made by his family.
Later in January, authorities arrested former military chief of staff Gen. Sami Anan for violating military rules by publically announcing his intention to run for president. Previously, a military court sentenced Col. Ahmed Konsowa to six years in prison in December after announcing plans to run.
The harsh treatment of challengers led to criticism at home and abroad. Last month, opposition politicians called for a boycott of the presidential election, which they deemed a “farce.” Sen. John McCain denounced “the growing number of presidential candidates forced to withdraw, citing a repressive climate and fear of further retribution.” Despite such concerns, President Trump congratulated Sisi on his victory and reaffirmed the U.S. “strategic partnership” with Egypt, omitting the concern for basic rights articulated by the State Department.
The president was right to affirm Egypt’s role as a strategic partner in light of shared commitments to fighting terrorism, yet Trump should consistently urge Sisi to protect human rights for all Egyptians and let citizens exercise their democratic rights in a constitutional framework. These are not only core values and rights, but they are critical to stability and prosperity in the Arab world’s most populous nation. The U.S. should also insist on the importance of respecting term limits, in light of plans for a constitutional amendment to extend Sisi’s rule beyond the current eight years now permitted.
Romany Shaker is an Arabic-language research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @RomanySh.
Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.