Four years after a bloody coup ended Egypt’s difficult transition to democracy, the most populous country in the Arab world is heading toward its fourth presidential vote.
The Trump administration should call this exercise what it is: A sham and disgraceful election, the result of a dirty attempt to intimidate and discourage each and every would-be opponent from challenging incumbent President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi.
The campaign last November when Khaled Ali, a lawyer, held a press conference announcing his candidacy. He was followed by Ahmed Shafik, former senior commander in the air force. Lieutenant General Sami Anan followed by announcing his candidacy late last month.
But by the end of the registration process, all those serious candidates had been purged. Only one pseudo candidate came out of the blue: Moussa Mustafa Moussa, an architect and head of Al-Ghad Party. Unsurprisingly, his Facebook profile had statements and pictures endorsing Sisi until he registered his name 15 minutes before the deadline.
So how did the other candidates get forced out of the race?
Sisi first silenced Shafik. Not long after he announced his intention to run for election, he was held against his will at a five-star hotel for two weeks until he reversed his decision to run — and issued a statement praising the Egyptian dictator’s magnificent work for the country.
Next up: Anan. He was thrown in a military prison under suspicious and trumped-up charges once he announced his intention to run for election.
After that, Sisi's brutal grip extended to the nephew of former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. He was pressured not to run and could not even book a ballroom at hotels to hold a press conference to announce his intention to run.
Finally, longtime leftist activist and lawyer Ali had to withdraw after enduring continuous harassment from the security forces and their civilian lackeys. He faced an idiotic lawsuit that could have put him in prison for an indecent hand gesture, then eventually gave up and withdrew after witnessing the writing on the wall with what the regime has done to the ex-military generals.
Sisi’s lack of confidence in fair and free elections stems from his worries that the Egyptian people seek a new chapter with a different candidate after enduring harsh economic decisions and scarcity of political freedom. A real competitive election against ex-military generals or a credible civilian candidate would expose the frailty of Sisi’s regime and his lack of sound political skills.
His biggest worry is obvious: the coalescence of the political opposition around a viable platform and candidate. Therefore, he arrested his strong opponents and desired a landslide victory that would enable him to amend the Constitution to run for a third term and stay in power for life.
The events of the last two weeks proves that the Egyptian dictator never believed in the peaceful transition of power and has no intentions to give up power once his second term ends in 2022.
The recent developments in Egypt are ominous to its future. They prove that Sisi is moving toward a point of no return. This steadfast dictatorial approach will lead Egypt to a disastrous situation that would make the chaos that ensued the 2011 uprising look good compared to what would happen in the future.
Sisi has repeatedly emphasized his willingness to crush any opposition to his rule and the military's grip on power regardless of its goals or peacefulness. A Syria-like scenario could await Egypt if events spiral out of control due to the lack of political freedoms and the severe repression Egyptians is enduring under Sisi’s rule.
Trump has developed a personal rapport with his Egyptian counterpart; he has praised him as doing “a tremendous job under trying circumstances.” Perhaps he could use this rapport to convey to Sisi its deepest worries for the future of the superficial stability in Egypt.
The failure of a country of 100 million is a disaster the region can avoid — but perhaps only if the United States starts registering forceful objections to Sisi’s dictatorial policies. In the meantime, nobody in the White House or on the Hill should take this election seriously.
Hassanein is the Glazer fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.