Egypt’s military chief is looking for a strong turnout in next week’s constitutional referendum as a mandate to run for president. But the popular general who ousted President Mohammed Morsi and ordered a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood could be disappointed: His Islamist foes have promised a boycott and mass demonstrations aimed at keeping voters at home.
A presidential run by Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi will also depend on whether oil-rich Gulf Arab nations like Saudi Arabia and the UAE pledge financial assistance substantial enough to keep Egypt’s economy afloat and bankroll major development projects, senior officials told the AP. That would create jobs, allowing the general to retain popular support while he searches for long-term remedies for the country’s economic ills.
There are growing signs that the presidential vote will be held first, as early as April. The significance and timing of the referendum are all too significant.
A comfortable “yes” majority — 70 percent or more —along with a respectable turnout, would enshrine the legitimacy of the regime installed by el-Sissi when he ousted Morsi.
El-Sissi has enjoyed soaring popularity in the nearly six months since Morsi’s removal, with many Egyptians looking to him to be their savior after three years of turmoil and a heavy legacy of economic and social injustice left behind by Hosni Mubarak’s 29-year rule.
Egypt’s mostly pro-military media has been treating el-Sissi’s candidacy as an all but foregone conclusion, but the general has remained publicly silent on the issue since he told a newspaper interviewer late last year that he could not rule out a bid for the presidency.
The last time el-Sissi asked for a popular mandate was in July, when he called on Egyptians to take to the streets in support of what he called a fight against “possible terrorism.” Millions responded and security forces have since stepped up their crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, rounding up most of the group’s leaders, together with thousands of Morsi supporters. Hundreds were killed when security forces cleared two pro-Morsi sit-in camps in August.