The Presidency of Egypt’s Sisi: A Second Coming or a New Order?

Amidst considerable local and international skepticism, the politically volatile Egypt has finally concluded it’s period of social, political, and economic instability in pursuit of the Egyptian symbol of the status quo: the military’s Abdel Fatah El-Sisi. El-Sisi’s victory in the recent May elections by an overwhelming 97% margin marked the rise of concerns across the spectrum warning of the return of the Mubarak garrison-state regime and the eradication of the “bread, social justice, and humanitarian dignity” method of government dominating the chants of the 2011-2014 revolutionaries.

Indeed, many of those skeptical views allege that influential actors within the Mubarak regime backed General El-Sisi as a replacement card for the President should the powerful incumbent dare to pass on authority to a regime-outsider: Mubarak’s youngest son Gamal. In this sense, Mubarak’s regime persists despite its figurehead’s absence. Through publicly accentuating the Brotherhood’s political failure, the perpetuators of the Mubarak regime return for a second order led by General Marshall El-Sisi. Such analysis, however, fails to account for one fundamental aspect of regime politics: the annihilators of a political regime never do so to restore the same method of governance. Instead, regime annihilators exploit a stir in the system to penetrate the old regime at its weakest point and establish a new order. In this regard, it is fair to say that the “stir” in our case came in the form of a social revolution in 2011.

Historical precedents show that shifts and turns in the health of a particular regime are strongly determined by political trends that are influenced by the nature of the social contract between the governors and the governed. In other words, the popularity of a single governing body among the electorate determines the strength with which groups opposed to the regime could compete for authority, and dismantle the established regime for a new one. Once installed in power, a new regime follows a similar political discourse to the old regime with a possibility of societal needs falling in favor of the efforts of groups opposed to those in power.

In a democracy, such evolutionary aspect of regime politics is deemed critical to effective governance that truly reflects the demands of an also evolving electorate. In Mubarak’s Egypt, regime heads attempted to impede such cyclical nature of regime politics that ensures the survival of the fittest system by eliminating all opposition and obstructing effective tools of democracy that render governments impelled to their duty towards constituents. Mubarak’s system, however, would be regarded, academically, as lacking political vision for assuming such an arrangement to be fail-proof. What happened in 2011 is a lesson in regime politics featuring the people, stripped of any other means to pressure an oppressive regime, re-defining the terms of the social contract with the governors, replacing the old regime with a new one that originates from within the same ranks of the former. The new terms of the contract could be summarized in the words: “The Military and the People are One Hand.”

The historical example of the presidency of Abraham Lincoln in the 1860s lends itself quite generously to the present argument. President Lincoln rose to power amid social and political discontent in light of the fragmentation of the dominant regime over issues of political rights such as voting power, state rights, as well as social rights: namely, slavery. The dominant regime (the Democratic Party established by Andrew Jackson in the 1830s) failed in treating the wounds of society and hence their monopoly on power was challenged by the Whigs in the 1850s. Divides were so severe they polarized society and threatened to disassemble the Union. The stage was set for a new regime with a new agenda that would accommodate arising societal needs and corrects the political mistakes of the previous regime. Such was the role of Abraham Lincoln and his Republican Party.

The political mistakes of the Mubarak regime enabled the voices and efforts of new faces and faltered the effectiveness of old ones. Such is the nature of regime politics. Abraham Lincoln originated from the democratic-republican school of thought but his political vision was just necessary to form a new coalition that moves the United States past the issue of slavery amid growing unrest. He formed a new regime.

It would be a premature judgment, in this sense, to label President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi the messiah of Mubarak’s regime or the perpetuator of the status quo. There is no doubt that the political arrangement prevalent in Egypt prior to 2011 no longer exists. The downfall of the old arrangement came through the works of a disconcerted public and political actors taking advantage of the weak points of an ailing regime. We support such argument through the examination of historical trends in regime politics. As the leader of a new political order, President El-Sisi will have a significant contribution to the morphology of the new regime, it’s ideology, and its durability.

At this stage of a regime’s life span, there is considerable potential for development and historical credit available to the regime’s leader. President El-Sisi’s position within his regime is equivalent to that of Gamal Abdel-Nasser in the old regime. Occupants of Mr. El-Sisi’s position in regime politics frequently leave behind a lasting legacy, as well as a lasting memory in the minds of their people. Presidents operating in a premise where the regime is vulnerable or unpopular are usually forgotten or remembered for their shortcomings. The world will certainly spectate as this interesting feat of regime politics unfolds.

Ahmed Youssef is an Egyptian from Cairo and a senior double major in political science/international relations and Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University. Read other articles by Ahmed.