This series aims to monitor the Egyptian presidential elections in its 2024-2023 cycle by comparing them to constitutional and legal frameworks, ensuring the proper conduct of such a significant event. These presidential elections determine the occupant of the highest position in Egypt and the executive authority. The series will also track the performance of relevant state institutions involved in managing the electoral process and their adherence to commitments related to this event. Additionally, it will explore the current context in which the electoral process operates.
This series will cover the stages of the presidential elections, starting from the collection of presidential endorsements and concluding with the final stage, where the winner is inaugurated as the President. The significance of this series lies in the limited number of entities monitoring the elections, whether local or international observers. This necessitates real-time monitoring and assessment of compliance with the rule of law, the constitution, and the neutrality of state institutions towards the electoral process.
- New Elections and Greater Challenges with the Economy as the Protagonist
- Presidential Endorsement Stage: Exploring Coercive Electoral Rules
- First: The National Election Authority
- Second: The Ministry of Interior
- Third: The Future of the Nation Party
- Fourth: Other State Institutions
New Elections and Greater Challenges with the Economy
President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi won the 2014 presidential elections, his first, with an overwhelming majority reaching 97% of the votes. According to the 2014 constitution, he served a four-year term, and the period from 2018 to 2022 was supposed to be his last. However, a constitutional amendment in 2019 allowed him to run for a third term, extending his presidency until 2030. El-Sisi faced little significant competition in the 2014 elections and resigned as Minister of Defense to run for the presidency.
The 2018 elections had more momentum, fueled by growing criticism of political and economic management in the country. Notable candidates emerged, including presidential candidate Khaled Ali. However, his campaign withdrew in protest against oppressive practices, and the military institution’s clear intervention in the elections became evident. Other candidates faced pressure, leading to a lack of severe contenders against President el-Sisi. The election resulted in a farcical scene, with el-Sisi winning a second term with a sweeping 97% majority.
After the 2018 elections, el-Sisi’s economic policies were exacerbated, with a lack of oversight and accountability. The unsustainable economic development model and futile projects led to a severe economic crisis, marked by a record $165 billion external debt, a collapsing local currency, and historical inflation reaching 40.3% annually. This crisis negatively impacted Egyptians’ purchasing power, increased economic burdens, and caused significant social class changes.
The economic crisis intensified public discontent with the current leadership’s financial management. Calls for a change in governance gained traction, even from figures associated with the ruling regime. The economic situation prompted many to demand a shift towards more open and human rights-friendly political conditions. However, despite attempts to improve the regime’s image, security institutions showed little change in their behavior.
On the part of the ruling authority, the fear of the repercussions of the economic crisis, coupled with apparent efforts to improve the system’s image in front of international allies and financial institutions, led to several attempts that, on the surface, appeared as reform initiatives. This included the launch of the National Human Rights Strategy, activating the Presidential Pardon Committee, and, finally, President Sisi’s call for a national dialogue in April 2022.
However, the performance of the security institutions did not witness the expected changes, contrary to what was hoped for, and the anticipated cooperation from stakeholders in the national dialogue sessions with state institutions did not materialize. On the human rights side, there have been no tangible outcomes from the National Strategy so far. The pace of the Presidential Pardon Committee’s work slowed down over the past year, with an increasing trend of summoning former prisoners and placing them in detention again compared to those who were released.
The major political actors had placed significant hope in the national dialogue, with President Sisi personally committing to endorsing its final recommendations. However, the dialogue stopped just before the elections, and its discussions were limited to an attempt to outline the general issues to be addressed in the Future without delving into them deeply and seriously.
The first stage included negotiations by political factions aiming to draw the attention of state officials to urgent issues in need of swift resolution, especially with the approaching election season. This period signifies the mobilization of citizens for participation in the elections, posing challenges that contradict the expected atmosphere of presidential elections, such as forced disappearances, torture, and the release of political prisoners. State institutions refused to admit the existence of practices like forced disappearances and torture while providing unclear responses to demands for closing the file of political prisoners regarding the timing of its resolution, the required conditions for releasing prisoners, or the justifications for keeping the file open.
They responded to discussions about the issue of preventive detention by deferring the debate to future rounds of the dialogue, leaving the terms uncertain. However, the National Dialogue ended with a series of limited recommendations submitted for approval to the presidency, as agreed upon at the beginning of the dialogue. Nevertheless, as of the writing of these lines, there has been no implementation of these recommendations, and no information has been provided about their status.
The Phase of Presidential Endorsements: Exploring Coerced Electoral Rules
According to the Egyptian election law and the directives of the National Electoral Committee, the period for collecting presidential candidate endorsements was announced to run from September 25 to October 14. However, numerous legal violations and breaches have been identified, undermining integrity, freedom, and transparency in these elections. These infractions raise substantial concerns about the possibility of a repeat of the electoral landscape witnessed in the 2018 elections.
Taking center stage in this electoral drama and compromising the principles of integrity and freedom are entities closely aligned with the current regime, including the National Electoral Committee, the Ministry of Interior, the Future of the Nation Party (Mostakbal Watan), and media institutions.
Firstly: the National Electoral Committee
The current presidential elections (2024-2030) is the fourth electoral test for the National Electoral Committee since its establishment in 2017. The Committee supervised three previous elections: the 2018 presidential and the parliamentary elections for the House of Representatives and the Senate in 2020. On September 25, 2023, the National Electoral Committee announced the timeline for the upcoming presidential elections in December of the current year. The Committee’s performance showed a clear bias toward certain candidates and a significant lack of professionalism, putting the integrity of this election phase at stake. Consequently, it also determined the outcome of the upcoming elections, casting doubt on their fairness from the outset.
The announced timeline posed several problems, starting with the short duration of collecting endorsements from September 25 to October 14. This period proved challenging for presidential candidates seeking to engage with citizens individually without party support. It was particularly problematic given legal and practical restrictions on freedom of assembly and organization and the candidates’ tours across the country.
The second issue pertained to only 217 notary offices for processing endorsements, a significantly smaller number than the 389 offices allocated for the 2018 elections. The limited time for endorsements and the reduced number of offices allowed for greater security control and favored the incumbent President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
Furthermore, there were reports of citizens being coerced into participating and numerous attacks on those attempting to endorse candidates other than the incumbent. Many citizens were barred from entering the offices. Activists and social media users documented numerous instances of such incidents, with no intervention from security forces to prevent these attacks. Presidential candidates Ahmed Tantawi and Gamila Ismail, who were potential candidates at the time, issued statements and requests to the National Electoral Committee regarding these violations.
The National Electoral Committee responded by outrightly denying any violations tainting the endorsement process, dismissing allegations of citizens being prevented from endorsing candidates as “baseless claims with no basis in reality or fact.” On another note, the Committee barred the legal committee head of Tantawi’s campaign and the campaign coordinator, Mohamed Abu al-Dayyar, from entering its headquarters to file complaints. Tantawi later addressed another message to the Committee without receiving any response.
Even after President Sisi gathered 1,130,000 endorsements and officially announced his candidacy, many notary offices remained closed to Tantawi’s supporters, citing “technical issues” with the electronic system for processing endorsements. Notably, a considerable number of offices refused to process endorsements for Tantawi. Surprisingly, during the same period, the head of the Republican People’s Party, Hazem Omar, who is close to the current regime, announced that he was submitting his candidacy papers officially, having collected 68,000 popular endorsements from the same notary offices that claimed technical issues with the endorsement system. The responsibility for ensuring the readiness of the electronic system for the endorsement phase does not rest solely with the National Electoral Committee but also with the Ministry of Justice, represented by the Assistant Minister of Justice for Notary Affairs. Their alleged negligence in performing their duties contributes to this situation.
In a related context, the National Electoral Committee approved several associations and media outlets aligned with the current regime to monitor the 2024 presidential elections. Simultaneously, the Committee excluded the Sadat Development and Social Care Association, affiliated with the Justice and Development Party leader and former parliamentarian Mohamed Anwar Sadat, from overseeing the elections. The Committee only approved “friendly and cooperative associations and councils,” according to a statement issued by the Sadat Association. This decision was made without the Committee providing clear criteria for granting some associations the license to monitor while excluding others who operate within the framework of the law and the constitution without any proven violations or judicial judgments compromising their integrity.
Secondly: The Ministry of Interior
Usually, The role of the Ministry of Interior during the election period primarily focuses on securing polling stations, which is the final stage of the election process. This involves securing key locations such as the headquarters of the National Elections Committee. However, during the current presidential election’s endorsements phase, there was an early deployment of police forces and Interior Ministry personnel, engaging in unlawful practices at the onset of the electoral race.
Before the electoral process and following the announcement by former politician and parliamentarian Ahmed Tantawi of his intention to run for the presidential elections, security forces arrested several of his relatives and members of his election campaign. This was considered a means of pressuring him to withdraw from the presidential race.
The arrests increased while collecting endorsements, with the number of detained individuals reaching 128, according to an official statement issued by Ahmed Tantawi. All of them were interrogated before the Supreme State Security Prosecution, facing imprisonment in seven cases. Some were accused of belonging to a terrorist group. Simultaneously, with the systematic security campaigns against Tantawi’s campaign, there was no official response or clarification from the Ministry of Interior to refute or explain these allegations.
Moreover, since August, security agencies have collected national ID cards from civil servants alongside coercive measures imposed on associations, unions, shop owners, tuk-tuk drivers, factory workers, and ordinary citizens. The goal was to compile detailed lists and ensure their geographic distribution, leveraging their economic needs and disregarding their complaints or violating their will. In addition, the Ministry of Interior played another role during the endorsements phase by an unusual and intensive presence in front of notary offices. This included threatening citizens who intended to endorse figures from opposition groups or ensure their prevention from entering these offices.
All these measures led to large crowds of citizens, compelled to participate, converging on Notary offices alongside a significant number of thugs shortly after the timetable announcement by the National Elections Committee. These crowds resulted in attacks on those attempting to endorse candidates Ahmed Tantawi and Gamila Ismail, preventing them from completing the endorsement process. Notably, there was no intervention from the police to prevent these attacks, alongside the prolonged occupation of Notary Registry offices.
Thirdly: The Future of the Nation Party (Mostakbal Watan Party)
To some extent, the Future of the Nation Party is considered the official party of the current regime. It was established in 2014 with clear sponsorship from the security apparatus. The party secured the electoral majority in the 2015 and 2020 elections successively. This could explain the party’s clear presence in the endorsements phase from the moment the National Elections Committee announced the opening of the endorsements for the presidential elections.
Through prior coordination with the security establishment, the party, representing the parliamentary majority and the civilian arm of the current political authority, led a series of crowds in front of Notary offices. The aim was to create congestion at the entrances of these offices to prevent any other candidates from endorsing, and these crowds persisted even after President Sisi completed the collection of his endorsements, obtaining 1,130,000 endorsements, despite the current President not needing more than 25,000 endorsements, as announced by the National Elections Committee.
In parallel with the Ministry of Interior’s efforts to collect state employees’ and business owners’ ID cards, the Future of the Nation Party worked on mobilizing large numbers of citizens. They achieved this by allocating buses and minibusses to transport citizens from their residences to Notary offices. The party also used political money to attract the most economically deprived classes to endorse endorsements for President Sisi, creating congestion and exploiting people’s economic needs in the current circumstances.
The value of electoral bribes, according to collected testimonies, ranged from one area to another, including cash payments of 200 Egyptian pounds (6.67 dollars) per person in some areas. In other areas, it took the form of in-kind support, such as school bags and food support in the form of food crates. Additionally, there was pressure on beneficiaries of the Takaful and Karama programs to force them to endorse endorsements for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. In return, they would continue to receive their monthly assistance, reaching 650 Egyptian pounds (21.06 dollars) per month for the benefiting family.
Alongside mobilizing citizens in front of the Notary offices, the second task for the Future of the Nation Party members was to impose control and thuggery at Notary offices. They aimed to prevent Tantawi’s supporters from entering the offices. The violence peaked with an attempted harassment and assault against Tantawi himself in Sharqia Governorate. He was threatened with the words, “If you love the people who are with you, don’t enter” by two party leaders in Sharqia.
The threatening practices of the Future of the Nation Party and the Ministry of Interior contradict Article 1 of Resolution No. 7 of 2023 on the rules and procedures for citizens’ support for presidential candidates. It contradicts Articles 53 and 54 of the Egyptian Constitution, Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Fourthly: Other State Institutions
The National Elections Committee, in its Decision No. 15/2023 regarding the regulations of electoral propaganda, prohibits holders of high political and administrative positions in the state from participating in any form of electoral propaganda in the presidential elections. It emphasizes the neutrality of media and journalistic institutions and underscores the neutrality of state institutions. However, absolute bias for the current President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, prevailed across all state institutions, disregarding the decisions of the Supreme Elections Committee, laws, the constitution, norms, and international conventions. This occurred even though he is supposed to be treated as a potential candidate, even before the start of the presidential campaigns.
The President himself committed the first violation by announcing his candidacy for the presidential elections for a third term on the last day of the “Story of a Nation… Between Vision and Achievement” conference. The conference lasted three days and was held in the new administrative capital to showcase the President’s achievements. Ministers and the majority of institutional leaders participated. This included the police and army institutions, which are supposed to maintain complete neutrality during the presidential elections. The Ministry of Agriculture also distributed some commodities and products under the name “President’s Gifts.” All participants were required to support this announcement and rally around it upon their attendance. This included religious institutions. Some, like Dr. Andre Zaki, head of the Evangelical Church, and Bishop Bimen, the Bishop of Qus and Naqada, and the chairman of the Public Relations Committee of the Coptic Orthodox Church, openly declared their support for Sisi’s candidacy for a new presidential term because he “ensures the establishment of justice and social protection.”
On the legislative level, the Egyptian Parliament sent a message of support to Sisi, expressing full support for the President’s internal and external policies. According to Article 101 of the Egyptian Constitution, the Parliament is the legislative authority in the state, and among its roles is to oversee the work of the executive officer. Notably, the current Parliament includes three parties whose leaders are running in the upcoming presidential elections as competitors to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. These leaders are Hazem Omar, the head of the Republican People’s Party; Abdel Sanad Yamama, the head of the Wafd Party, and Farid Zahran, the head of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party.
On the media level, the current parliamentarian and strong supporter of the current regime, Mustafa Bakri, attacked Ahmed Tantawi, accusing him of planning with the Muslim Brotherhood to return them to the political scene. Nashaat al-Dehi, another media figure supportive of the regime, also made this accusation against Tantawi.
In light of the observed practices during the presidential endorsements phase, these violations and infractions cannot be considered mere individual transgressions or volunteer actions by some individuals to appease the political regime. The report indicates collaboration and coordination between state institutions and the Future of the Nation Party to block the path for any candidates. This means violating the conditions of the integrity and freedom of elections in this phase.
The presidential elections were expected to contribute to presenting alternative solutions to rescue the country from the brink of imminent bankruptcy. This would coincide with the opening of the public sphere during the presidential elections, allowing the benefit of all possible experiences and voices to navigate through this critical phase. This is especially important given the current political leadership’s insistence on continuing the same approach and its failure to propose solutions that could slow down the pace of economic collapse.