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In Egypt, fear, poverty and money lead to endorsements of Sisi

October 18, 2023 at 8:57 am

Banners of the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi hang El Korba Square in Heliopolis neighborhood during his supporters’ rally as they wait for his candidacy announcement in the presidential elections on October 2, 2023 in Cairo, Egypt. [Islam Safwat/Getty Images]

You may be surprised if I told you that opponents of the current Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi have endorsed his candidacy in the presidential elections scheduled for December, in an effort on his part to win a third term lasting until 2030.

It is also interesting that more than a million have registered their support for Al-Sisi. These individuals are from already marginalised sectors that were greatly harmed by the Egyptian president’s policies, which devastated the local currency and burdened the country with an external debt of nearly $165 billion, according to government data.

For any presidential candidate to have their papers accepted, they must obtain public backing from 25,000 citizens who have the right to vote in at least 15 governorates, with a minimum of 1,000 supporters from each governorate, or be endorsed by 20 members of the House of Representatives (Parliament).

Fear rooms

Within the corridors of National Security (internal intelligence service), the process of gaining backing for Al- Sisi was engineered by forcing opponents who were subject to precautionary measures to register their support for the Egyptian president against their will.

“Precautionary measures” force those who have been released in pending cases or those who have previously been arrested to sign a form proving their attendance at police stations located in their areas of residence either daily or weekly, or to spend a night in the police station’s cells. These measures are often carried out in Egypt without a judicial ruling.

The security apparatus (affiliated with the Ministry of Interior) played a major role in Al-Sisi obtaining 424 recommendations out of the 596 members of Parliament, in addition to 1,130,105 members of the public registering their support, including about 740,000 women.

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A political activist told Middle East Monitor that he and other members of the Muslim Brotherhood were forced to fill in applications supporting the Egyptian president’s candidacy in the upcoming elections out of fear of arrest or the fabrication of charges against them. The activist, who asked not to be named, said that the National Security has stationed a representative at the notary office tasked with notarising support forms to make sure they endorse Al-Sisi.

Meanwhile, the National Security coordinated with members of the Nation’s Future Party and major businessmen and merchants, to collect identity cards from citizens at random, and then to obtain endorsement applications on their behalf without requiring them to be present in person at the notarisation offices.

Within government institutions, universities and schools, the identity cards of employees and teachers were publicly collected, under the pretext of showing their support for Al-Sisi and participating in celebrations and demonstrations in support of the current president.

A teacher spoke to Middle East Monitor, on the condition of anonymity, saying that the school principal explicitly threatened her that those who refrain from filling out the endorsement form will have their name added to the National Security list and may be fired from their job, which prompted her to fill out the form against her will.

The same situation was confirmed by a nurse at a government hospital in the Badr Centre in Beheira Governorate, who said that the hospital employees were taken in two cars to fill out the endorsement forms for Al-Sisi, noting that she had received a warning from her manager at work about the repercussions of failing to fill out an endorsement form backing the current president.

According to an Egyptian political expert, who requested anonymity, the “fear endorsements” were imposed specifically on government employees since this group is easy to control and has always given in out of fear of losing the financial and professional benefits they receive.

A man speaks on a phone atop an election campaign bus for Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Giza on October 2, 2023 [KHALED DESOUKI/AFP via Getty Images]

A man speaks on a phone atop an election campaign bus for Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Giza on October 2, 2023 [KHALED DESOUKI/AFP via Getty Images]

Boxes of goods

While the stick was being waved, the “carrot” was offered to thousands of women benefitting from the Dignity and Solidarity Fund (a government fund that provides financial assistance to poor families), and they were driven to gather in front of the notarisation offices and fill out endorsement forms to give momentum to the rise in Al-Sisi’s popularity.

To attract the marginalised and the simple citizens, “boxes of goods” that include food products and boxes of sweets for the “Mawlid” (the celebration of the birth of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)) were given as a reward to those who endorse the Egyptian president.

Many charities belonging to businessmen close to the authorities also offered the carrot, led by MP Mohamed Abou El-Enein’s foundation. This is a clear political exploitation of the circumstances of about 60 per cent of the country’s population who are either poor or prone to being so, according to World Bank estimates.

Political analyst Mohamed El-Sharqawi interpreted what happened as an attempt to create momentum around the electoral process, and to use the “vote-buying” tactic to collect the largest number of endorsements and promote this as evidence of the rise in Al-Sisi’s popularity and the Egyptians’ desire of him.

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The system is down

Along with the carrot and stick strategy, notarisation offices have been hanging signs saying, “The system is down” (the electronic system documenting data) in order to stop supporters of opposition candidate Ahmed Tantawi from obtaining endorsements, which they succeeded in doing, prompting him to withdraw from the presidential race.

Last Friday, the 44-year-old former parliamentarian announced that he had collected only about half the number of endorsements required to run for the presidency of Egypt (more than 14,000), despite more than 20,000 volunteers joining his election campaign

A well-informed source at the Real Estate Registration Authority stressed that the priority for submitting endorsements was given to Al-Sisi’s supporters, according to reports by the independent Mada Masr website.

On the other hand, government employees deliberately slowed the pace of work when Tantawi’s supporters arrived, sometimes citing a glitch in the computers, that the internet was down, or the electricity cut off, and they keep those present on waiting lists for many hours until work hours had come to an end, forcing them to leave without submitting their paperwork.

Journalist Anwar Al-Hawari relayed his personal experience in a post on Facebook: “For three days I was unable to submit an electoral endorsement. Bureaucracy is being used under political orders against the most basic civil rights and freedoms.”

Tantawi was also subjected to a campaign of criticism launched by satellite channels and newspapers close to the security services, accusing him of being a member of the officially banned Muslim Brotherhood. His wife was also attacked because she wears the niqab, while all state and private channels refused to host him in a televised interview to present his positions and opinions. This prompted him to resort to social media sites and TikTok to reveal the harassment he was being subjected to.

Later, in an attempt to confront the “system is down” trap, Tantawi called on his supporter to fill endorsement applications by hand, but the security services quickly prevented this by arresting a number of his supporters under the pretext of “forging endorsements”, raising the total number of detained supporters to 104 people, according to a statement issued by him.


Electoral theatre

The endorsement crisis was not limited to Tantawi’s supporters, as the head of the Constitution Party, who later withdrew from the race, Gameela Ismail, spoke about the harassment she was subjected to in the form of preventing her supporters from entering notary offices and being beaten and insulted by thugs stationed at the doors of the offices.

Citizens and activists documented their testimonies in videos posted on social media, in which they reveal their suffering in front of the notary offices, and that they were subjected to threats and harassment by thugs and security officers dressed in civilian clothes, which made the prominent journalist close to the authorities Amr Adeeb, say during his programme “The Story” on the MBC Misr channel: “There is something preventing citizens from submitting endorsements for their presidential candidate.”

The carrot-and-stick and system is down plan have succeeded in engineering the electoral stage in Egypt, with the closing of the candidacy window last Saturday, leaving the current president to compete with three of his supporters, namely the heads of the Wafd Party, Abdel-Sanad Yamama, the Republican People’s Party, Hazem Omar, and the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, Farid Zahran.

The three competitors are supporters of the 3 July 2013 coup that overthrew the late President Mohamed Morsi and paved the way for the then minister of defence to assume power, and one of them, Hazem Omar, is a member of the Egyptian Senate appointed by Al-Sisi.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.