The TINA (There Is No Alternative) factor in electoral politics isn’t uniquely Indian, after all. Seven years after the Arab Spring, the spring of 2018 has verily reinforced the legacy of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.
It is the way history has worked in the Arab world generally ever since the starry-eyed upheavals of 2011. The re-election of President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, arguably no less repressive than Mubarak, was a settled fact long before the first vote was cast ~ a testament to the monolithic leadership in a beleaguered country, where the person at the helm brooks no opposition, political or Islamist.
By that sinister yardstick, Mubarak and Sisi are on the same wavelength. Five other candidates were jailed, if not taken out of contention. Rights organisations have denounced the contest as farcical, couched in the warning that Egypt is plagued by the worst human rights crisis in decades.
Small wonder that Sisi’s recent claim that he wished he faced more challengers has been greeted by his detractors ~ tongue firmly in cheek ~ as an expression of a hitherto undiscovered sense of humour.
More accurately, he has in recent years been ruthless in the suppression of dissent, notably the overthrow by the military of Mohamed Morsi, the elected President who represented the Muslim Brotherhood.
Morsi is now in jail and hundreds of his supporters have been done to death. Thus was the spirit of the Arab Spring, indeed the cry for democracy in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, muffled with calculated malevolence.
The legacy of one dictator has been replaced by another, and the cakewalk victory of Sisi in last week’s three-day election reaffirms that democracy has been relegated to the footnotes of Egyptian history, as indeed it has in Libya and Syria. The army overthrew Morsi, the elected Muslim Brotherhood president, and massacred hundreds of his supporters.
The new order has proved more repressive than even Mubarak’s hated regime, that was forced out by Arab Spring protests after three decades. That permitted a certain level of discussion because it believed it safer to let people vent frustrations; if Sisi’s first stint as President is any indication, he appears to be convinced that it is dangerous to tolerate any opposition.
There are reportedly tens of thousands of political prisoners; in parallel there has been a sharp rise in executions. A growing media crackdown has led to journalists being detained or jailed; on the eve of the elections, a British reporter was arrested and expelled.
Given the drift of developments, it is an open question whether the former Field-Marshal’s tenure will extend beyond the two-term limit, as stipulated in the Constitution.
Though Cairo is a long way from Beijing, the China model, as choreographed by Xi Jinping, could well be tempting to emulate. Sisi’s supporters have shrilled for the extension of the four-year term, if not a total withdrawal. Is Egypt on the “turn”, however dictatorial? Sisi rules by breaking rules.