Abdul Fattah Al Sissi, the former Egyptian army chief, looks set to win Egypt’s presidency by an expectedly high margin. Al Sissi was the front-runner in the election by a very long way and it was not a surprise when initial results showed that he had won 96 per cent of the vote. The only opposition candidate was the veteran left-winger, Hamdeen Sabahi. The various strands of Islamist parties failed to find a legal candidate, particularly as the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters were defined as terrorists.
This resounding number of votes means that Al Sissi will have a lot to live up to. Egypt has had a miserable experience since the revolution of 2011 that removed Hosni Mubarak and was followed by the disaster of Mohammad Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood government. Calm only started to reappear with the revolution of July 2013 and the military-backed interim government that prepared the ground for this week’s election of a more permanent leadership.
Al Sissi has not said much about his economic policies, but he badly needs to promote employment and encourage new investment. He can rekindle confidence in Egypt’s disastrous economy with some quick-win moves, if he wants to reduce subsidies and open up the country to foreign investment, by reducing the crushing bureaucracy and offering a better and a more transparent legal structure that will give foreign (and Egyptian) investors more comfort that their contracts can be enforced through the courts.
In the region, Egypt has yet to find a new role although it does enjoy close relations with several Gulf states. Al Sissi has been flirting with the Russians as part of a process to distance himself from the Americans. He has been able to drive that distance home effectively and has made clear that Egypt under his government will not be in the Americans’ pockets as it was under Mubarak. But Al Sissi now has to recognise that the Russians are not his strategic partners and that Vladimir Putin is simply grabbing the chance to expand his opportunities in the Arab world.