As highly anticipated as Egypt’s upcoming presidential elections are, the outcome is already a forgone conclusion. There is no doubt that army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is poised for a landslide victory in the poll. However, the widespread popularity assumed by the near certainty around his electoral prospects has been complicated somewhat by a new survey released by the Pew Research Center. According to the new data, only a narrow majority of Egyptians support the army chief.
The prevalent notion of the army chief’s near-universal popularity has been challenged before. A survey released by the independent Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research (Baseera) last March showed that only 51% of respondents planned to vote for the leader, with 45% remaining undecided. These numbers are echoed in Pew’s research, which similarly found that 54% of Egyptians held a favorable opinion of Sisi, with 45% holding unfavorable opinions. An interesting point here is how these numbers compare to that of ousted president Mohammed Morsi; according to the poll, the level of Sisi’s support is actually comparable to that of Morsi’s in the weeks prior to the military coup which deposed him.
These numbers should serve as a valuable reality check against Egypt’s echo-chamber media which has been unequivocal in its adulation for the military chief. Another significant point here is the surprisingly sustained level of support for the Muslim Brotherhood— with four out of ten respondents maintaining a favorable view of the now-banned Islamist organization — in contrast to the harsh media narrative around the group.
The point here is not to shed doubt on Sisi’s prospects. Again, his victory is well in hand. It is, however, important to question the assumption that his inevitable triumph at the polls is the necessary step towards political stability and economic prosperity that his proponents have trumpeted. Sisi’s election will serve merely to legitimize a system that has already been functioning since the Brotherhood’s ouster.
A realistic assessment of his actual level of popular support somewhat undercuts the argument that only a leader of Sisi’s stature could even begin to get Egypt back on track after years of instability and uncertainty. However, the argument is almost entirely undermined when taking into account the army chief’s concrete plans to achieve this objective — or lack thereof. Not only did Sisi keep his political platform secret for “national security” reasons up until this week, but when he did finally come clean with his “Map of the Future,” it was revealed that his plan is not only about three decades old, it was also even rejected by the Mubarak regime for its high cost. While the latter point might be successfully spun in the media by Sisi’s supporters, the sheer infeasibility of the plan— which includes building cities in the desert — should shed some serious doubt about Sisi’s abilities to envision novel solutions to addressing Egypt’s myriad problems.
All of this, along with levels of public dissatisfaction comparable to pre-revolution levels, should go to show that even as Sisi prepares to ride high in the wake of his certain landslide victory, he should not expect a lengthy honeymoon period — nor this much-heralded return to stability. While it may now seem that the army chief has a lot going for him, Egypt’s insurmountable economic and security obstacles loom ahead. Even with considerable political capital (and assuming he is legitimately serious about reforming Egypt), Sisi will still come to find himself in the wearisome and precarious position of his ousted predecessor — futilely battling the corrupt, uncompromising behemoth of the Egyptian state.