26.12.2023 Author: Viktor Mikhin

Egypt: New President, Old Problems

Egypt: New President, Old Problems

The head of the National Elections Authority (NEA), Judge Hazem Badawy, announced that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi was re-elected to a new six-year term with 89.6 percent of the vote in a landslide election victory. He said turnout was 66.8 percent of more than 67.3 million registered voters and President El-Sisi received 39,702,451 valid votes. The runner-up, Hazem Omar, received 1,986,352 votes, representing 4.5 percent of the valid ballots recorded by the authority. Farid Zahran finished third with 1,776,952 or 4 percent of the votes. Abdel-Sanad Yamama came fourth with 822,606 votes, or 1.9 percent, Badawy said.

World leaders, foreign embassies, local parties and syndicates congratulated Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi for winning his third presidential term after the National Elections Authority (NEA) declared his landslide victory in the mid-December 2023 elections. Russian President Vladimir Putin was among the first to congratulate Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi on his reelection victory. “Dear Mr. President, my dear friend, please accept my heartfelt congratulations on your re-election as president. Your convincing victory in the elections was a clear indication of the widespread recognition of your achievements in solving the urgent socio-economic and foreign policy challenges facing Egypt. It is difficult to overestimate your personal contribution to building and strengthening the Russian-Egyptian strategic partnership. I would like to confirm our readiness to continue constructive joint work on the further development of the entire range of bilateral ties, as well as the interaction in international affairs, including within the framework of BRICS,” says the message sent to the newly re-elected Egyptian President.

These elections witnessed the highest voter turnout in the history of Egypt, and with good reason. Well-known Political Science Professor at Cairo University, Neveen Masaad, agrees that the high voter turnout in the elections can be explained by Egyptians’ awareness of national security threats. “These threats primarily stem from events in Gaza and the unstable regional situation in neighboring countries such as Libya and Sudan,” Professor Neveen Masaad told Ahram Online. She said the increased awareness has prompted people to rally behind their president and express their confidence in Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s ability to effectively manage Egypt’s national security program.

Likewise, Senior Policy Advisor and Egyptian Senator, Abdel-Moneim Said, attributes the significant turnout in the 2024 presidential elections to the unfolding developments in Gaza. “These events affected all sectors of Egyptian society, triggering Egyptians memories of the Arab Spring,” said Abdel-Moneim Said. Events in Gaza, coupled with the regional threats facing Egypt, have provoked a strong desire among Egyptians to unite behind their president in the face of potential dangers, he added. He said concerns include the forced resettlement of Palestinians in Egypt and Yemen’s Houthi actions creating significant risks in the Red Sea. These risks include threats to the Suez Canal and Egyptian cities in the Sinai, such as Dahab and Nuweiba, Said said. Consequently, the sense of insecurity among Egyptians underscored the critical importance of supporting the president and casting their votes, he added.

The newly elected president will face many challenges and the need to demonstrate strong will when making a huge number of complex and difficult decisions in both foreign and domestic policy. Of course, the war in Gaza, with its threats of instability and regional upheaval, has put Egypt’s domestic issues on the back burner. “It is our moral duty to maintain the stability and success that we all strive for,” said voter Ihab Abdel-Jelil, 50, at a polling station. A song by popular singer Hakim was playing in the background: “Keep walking and we will follow you…with you we live safe.”

However, election observers agree that domestic issues will once again come to the fore, no matter how much the public is concerned about the unrest that takes place in neighbouring countries. “The Egyptian pound’s sharp fall and soaring inflation rate are the most pressing issues facing the new president,” says Mohamed Shadi, an economic expert at the Al Habtoor Research Center in Cairo. Inflation, which stood at 36.4 percent in November, is weighing heavily on Egyptians, and chronic foreign currency shortages threaten to disrupt imports of basic goods. The Egyptian pound has lost nearly 50 percent of its value against the dollar and public debt has soared, reaching $164.73 billion at the end of June.

It is evident that the decisions the President makes in the coming months will have a profound impact on the entire society. “The President faces an important decision whether to devalue the pound again or try other means to combat the black market,” Shadi said. The President is facing an unenviable choice: make tough reforms or take the risk and plunge the country into further economic turmoil. Finding the right balance between economic discipline and social responsibility will be a crucial test for the newly elected president.

But how will this be achieved in practice? Despite the fact that newly elected President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi is a clear favorite of Egyptian society and a strong leader, he unfortunately did not propose an election program with detailed measures. According to Mahmoud Fawzi, the head of Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s presidential campaign, the program he proposed was a façade and a promise to “continue what we began.” According to Fawzi, his focus will be fighting inflation, attracting investment, reducing unemployment through national projects and expanding agricultural production.

The first challenge the government will face is financing debt payments of $29.23 billion in 2024, $19.43 billion in 2025 and $22.94 billion in 2026, according to figures released by the Central Bank of Egypt. Shadi says the government will have to review fiscal policy after the elections to address its debt problems. Analyst Amr Hashem Rabie advocates for empowering the private sector to manage Egypt’s economic affairs. An agreement signed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) at the end of 2022 obliges the government to reduce the state’s presence in non-strategic sectors and stop providing preferences to state-owned enterprises, including the military ones.

On the international front, Cairo’s position in the region has been strengthened by its mediation in Gaza, which has gained some international support for the Egyptian economy. The European Union has announced plans to support Egypt with $10 billion in investments “to cushion the economy from the consequences of Israel’s war in Gaza and a potential surge in refugee flows.” The IMF is also considering expanding Egypt’s $3 billion loan program by an “unspecified amount” to help the country cope with the economic effects of the war, including a drop in tourism and rising energy prices.

“While economic and social reforms require significant funds, political reforms may not require any funds, so why not continue. We cannot keep doing the same thing over and over again,” says Rabie. At the same time, Fawzi believes El-Sisi is committed to strengthening pluralism by adopting an electoral system that expands parliamentary representation and promoting human rights.

The Gaza war has reminded Egyptians of another challenge: the unstable nature of piece in the region and the delicate balance that Egypt has to maintain. Cairo needs to forge significant partnerships with Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which are providing much-needed financial assistance. However, Egypt has taken a different public stance on the Gaza conflict than many of its Gulf allies. The Egyptian authorities, experts say, are publicly criticizing Israel’s operation and revealing their future plans for Gaza, not least the possibility of forced resettlement of Palestinians.

Relations with Israel, based on the decades-old Peace Treaty, have become tense. Although Cairo negotiated a truce with Doha and hostage exchange between Israelis and Palestinians, President El-Sisi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not speak during the two-month war. Analysts, however, say Egypt will continue to play a key role in coordinating with Qatar as a mediator between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Another complex and old problem awaiting the president is the construction of Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam on the Nile, which threatens Egypt’s main water source. Years of negotiations with Ethiopia have produced little progress in addressing Egypt’s concerns. Cairo today is forced to continue further negotiations with Addis Ababa to resolve the water problem, primarily in the interests of its country and the ever-increasing population of the Nile Valley.

In other words, the holidays are over and weekdays came with their everyday concerns, and President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi will have a tough and skillful work of navigating the “Egyptian ship” through the tricky and dangerous waters of the domestic and international environment.


Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, exclusively for the internet journal “New Eastern Outlook”.

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