The result of the Egyptian presidential election is a forgone conclusion; it was the style that was supposed to count.
The disappointing voter turnout and the underhanded methods to increase it have former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi beginning his reign with a whimper, not a bang.
However, this lackluster showing may fade from view as events dictate Sisi’s popularity going forward. If he is able to achieve positive results domestically and can leverage financial aid from supporters in the Gulf, the West, and Russia, it may be enough to allow him to remain in power for many years.
This of course, is if the Islamist insurgency does not kill him first.
Shadi Hamid, author of a new book, Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East, and a fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy, told the The Jerusalem Post that the low turnout should not be surprising, “considering the predetermined result and the lack of any meaningful competition.”
Some in the government have been surprised by the low turnout, “leading to a kind of panic,” said Hamid.
“The dissonance here is striking: claiming that Sisi has overwhelming popular support, when the polling queues tell a rather different story,” he explained. “This is not the kind of dissonance any autocratic order wants to deal with, and it raises serious questions about the general tendency to overstate Sisi’s support from day one.
“There is no real place for the ‘citizen’ in Sisi’s Egypt, except as an instrument of the Egyptian state,” he added.
Asked what he sees happening next, Hamid responded that the Muslim Brotherhood will claim victory and that its boycott succeeded. The group will continue playing the role of spoiler, rendering the country “ungovernable in the hope that the lack of stability and security will undermine Sisi’s base of support.”
It is difficult to have any kind of stability when a large sector of the population is being excluded “and has no stake in the process and nothing to lose,” concluded Hamid.
Samuel Tadros, a research fellow at the Hudson Institutes’s Center for Religious Freedom, told the Post that Sisi “raised the bar tremendously when he talked about 40 million voters participating,” and that “such talk was unrealistic and has further raised expectations.
“In these two days, unrealistic expectations have met reality,” and “this is likely to be a continuous feature of a Sisi presidency,” he said.
Tadros believes that Sisi is ill equipped to run the country and that his tendency to be overly optimistic could lead to more disappointment down the road.
Sisi’s vote total will far exceed that of Mohamed Morsi from two years ago, predicted Tadros, adding that the election will essentially formalize Sisi’s regime, which has already been ruling the country for a year.
Tadros sees little chance for a compromise political solution between the Muslim Brotherhood and Sisi after the election, since “too much blood has been spilled and the two parties’ positions remain as far apart as ever.
“The challenges facing the new regime in Egypt will continue to grow; from terrorism in the Sinai and beyond, the beginnings of a low-level insurgency in the cities, a catastrophic economic situation and political polarization,” he said.
Another factor Tadros raises is that the Brotherhood and other Islamists continue to incite against Coptic Christians as in previous elections. “Brotherhood Facebook pages have claimed that 48 percent of voters in this election are Copts, an absurd claim,” he said. “Attacks on Copts are likely to continue in the future.”
Prof. Abdallah Schleifer, a Cairo-based columnist for the Al-Arabiya News website, told the Post said that in addition to the organized boycott by Islamist forces, “the turnout has been low because the weather is so bad; temperatures ranging around 40° C and above.”
This election demonstrates the unprecedented fragmentation of Egyptian society, said Prof. Yoram Meital, chairman of the Chaim Herzog Center for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
"Large sectors of the population hold a new political consciousness and are determined to fight against the return of an authoritarian regime," he said.
The bottom line, adds Meital, is that the new regime will not be able to restore stability to the country.
Israel’s interest lies in Sisi’s ability to bring stability and economic improvement to Egypt, the most important Arab state, Prof. Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, told the Post.