By the Blouin News Politics staff

Egyptian leader replaces ballot box with inbox

by in Middle East.

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi attends the closing session of an African summit meeting in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on June 10, 2015. KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi attends the closing session of an African summit meeting. KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images

With Egypt closing out its third year without a sitting Parliament, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has a unique solution for citizens with concerns usually tackled by a legislative body: Email me, he says.

According to Bloomberg Business, Sisi promises to address all queries about state affairs in his monthly televised speeches to the nation. Left unclear is how many he’ll answer and whether any topic is taboo.

Also unclear, though no longer new, is the question of when exactly Egypt will see its next parliamentary vote. Bloomberg quoted Sisi’s spokesman as saying that the president “is committed to holding elections for the legislature as soon as possible and definitely before the end of the year.”

In the year since he led the military coup that ended Mohammed Morsi’s turbulent presidential term and curbed the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, at least in electoral politics, Sisi has expanded his role to what Bloomberg calls “a one-man legislature.”

He’s not done too bad a job of it, by most accounts. An article on the website of Al-Arabiya, a Saudi-owned pan-Arab TV news station, counts among his successes a growing economy, improvements in security — this despite sectarian violence in neighboring Libya — and a groundbreaking anti-sexual-harassment law.

Most importantly perhaps, Sisi has also extended protection and support to the Coptic Christian minority, burnishing the image of the moderate Muslim reformer — the anti-Morsi — that he so obviously wishes to present to his people and the world.

The negatives noted under Sisi’s rule cannot be ignored, however. A short list of these includes, but is not limited to, the continued repression of the country’s LGBT community, the crackdown on the media, the military’s ever-growing involvement in the economy, and  the growing toll of the “disappeared” — dissenters unhappy with the obliteration of the Muslim Brotherhood who have disquietingly vanished from view.

Even before his election, Sisi had attained near-folk-hero status in a country weary from years of bloody conflict and ever-changing leadership. Since the Arab Spring protests that led to the rise and fall of the Muslim Brotherhood and to Morsi’s conviction and subsequent death sentence for inciting unrest in the 2013 violence that roiled the nation, Sisi has offered a hungry nation a dollop of consistency. As a result, he continues, for the most part, to enjoy much of the goodwill that ushered him into the presidency, as Egyptians, surrounded by the daily chaos that marks today’s Middle East, look back at a year of relative calm.

But the fact that Parliament is still missing from the national picture clouds the image of a leader who claims he was reluctant to run for office and did so only to answer “the demand of a wide range” of his countrymen. This is a country, after all, where citizens have become accustomed to having their voices heard by those in power, as noted in the sequence of events that led to the end of Hosni Mubarak’s three-decade rule in 2011.

To that end, Sisi would do well to back up his spokesman’s statement about the timetable for parliamentary elections and make plans to hold a poll sooner rather than later. His constituents will no doubt tire quickly of the novelty of a government-by-Gmail.