The first round of Egypt’s presidential elections will take place from May 26th to 27th, Egypt’s Elections Committee (PEC) announced on Sunday March 30th, 2014. Candidates are allowed to file their applications to the commission from March 31th to April 20th, the committee said.

After presidential elections taking place, Egypt will precede the parliamentary elections, according to Egypt’s interim government. Field Marshal Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, former Secretary of Defense, has announced his intention to run and is also favored to win the presidency. Former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi currently serves as the only other serious contender who has formally announced his intention to run for president. Other former presidential candidates, like Khalid Ali and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fatooh, refused to participate in the upcoming elections. They referred to an unfair political environment that is reminiscent of the claims made by Mohammad el-Baradei concerning the 2012 presidential elections. The lack of trust from the public over the fairness of the coming April elections, combined with the perceived difficulty of the next president’s job, especially its economic aspects, has thinned the pool of candidates and decreased the likelihood of a comprehensive electoral outcome.

As is to be expected in Egypt’s tense political atmosphere, the upcoming presidential elections are not without contention. In fact, these elections were supposed to be held on February 18th, exactly one month after the ratification of the new constitution, but fierce debates over the laws regulating the elections have delayed the process until May. One of the central controversies surrounding the election concerns the interim President Adly Mansour’s issuing of a law that grants the Presidential Election Commission immunity from other judicial bodies. Some Egyptians and international observers believe that this law grants the military institution and its interim government unchecked power to ensure that the results of the election are a foregone conclusion. Still others reject the elections outright and claim that Mohamed Morsi is still the legitimate president of Egypt. Seeing as the deposed former President Morsi is currently on trial for inciting the murder of opposition protesters outside of the presidential palace in December 2012, it is safe to say that he is in no position to mount a second presidential campaign. Rather, the path to the presidential palace appears paved for a candidate from the military establishment.

Abdel Fatah el-Sisi’s recent promotion from General to Field Marshall has not appeared to dampen his intentions for seeking yet another title.  El-Sisi resigned from his post as Minister of Defense to declare his intention to run for Egypt’s presidency.  El-Sisi was replaced by General Sedki Sobhy amidst wide public anticipation of el-Sisi running for president. Already having served as the Egyptian Minister of Defense and the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), el-Sisi is poised to add the title of president to his long list of other titles. Interestingly enough, el-Sisi announced his candidacy for president on TV and promised the Egyptians to submit his presidential program once there is an official call for presidential candidates to submit their names.  El-Sisi, has chosen to announce his intention to run building up on his previous promises not to ignore the call of the broad Egyptian public—a call that he has interpreted as unconditional support for Egypt’s Armed Forces, and Egypt’s national security.  El-Sisi’s run for president is a tough decision considering the insurmountable economic challenges Egypt is facing, which the next president will be forced to confront. The assumption behind the Presidential Elections Commission (PEC) delay of announcing an exact date for elections is most probably to allow other suitable candidates to enter the race, so that Egypt can witness more balanced elections. On the other hand, the PEC issued 55 articles regulating a newly issued elections law, stipulating future PEC meetings and the documents candidates must submit. It is apparent that el-Sisi wants to ensure that his candidacy abides by all of the laws regulating the elections, according to his most recent statements.

Whatever the case may be, el-Sisi is nevertheless the frontrunner. If he does become president, his election will spark a wide debate concerning the separation of powers within Egypt.

Hamdeen Sabahi has also declared his intentions to enter the presidential race. Sabahi, a left-wing politician who appealed to many liberal and secular voters in 2012, finished third during the last presidential elections. Previously, Sabahi served as a leader of the National Salvation Front (NSF), an umbrella group of political parties opposed to Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood. Following the ouster of Morsi from power, the group split into various factions and ceased to serve as the functional unit that existed during the Morsi presidency. Currently, what remains of the former NSF is split between those who support el-Sisi and those who support Hamdeen Sabahi for president. During the 2012 election, Sabahi’s campaign had a nationalist and socialist tone that led many people to label him a Nasserite. Yet an appeal to the spirit of Gamal Abdel Nasser may not be so successful in 2014, as the presence of another popular military leader in the presidential race will be sure to dwarf any nostalgia for Nasser. Sabahi may not be able to overcome el-Sisi’s high popularity levels; however, at the moment he is the only serious contender in the presidential race.

Other presidential hopefuls from 2012 are less optimistic concerning these elections and unwilling to enter the race. Khalid Ali, a former presidential candidate in 2012 and labor rights campaigner, went so far as to say that the elections were a farce. Ali is a relatively young politician who is popular amongst youth groups, especially those from downtown Cairo. Capturing only 0.6% of the votes cast in the 2012 race, Ali finished seventh in the presidential elections. He refuses to enter the race again because he believes that the odds are stacked in favor of el-Sisi. Moreover, he charged the media as being biased towards el-Sisi—a bias he believes has decreased the chances of a fair electoral race. At this point, it is unclear how his leftist, youth following will interpret Ali’s confrontational stance towards el-Sisi’s presidential aspirations. While Ali is undoubtedly a popular public figure, especially in the downtown Cairo area, his following is unlikely to significantly affect the presidential election.

Abdel Moneim Abul Futuh, a leading presidential contender in 2012 who left the Muslim Brotherhood to run in the elections, also announced that he would not participate in the 2014 elections. He too cited unfavorable electoral conditions, claiming that the Egyptian people now live in a “state of fear.” This is a clear reference to the crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood members and human rights activists since the military’s ascension to power. As a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Futuh’s participation in the 2014 elections would have created an interested dynamic within the Egyptian political sphere. The candidacy of another Muslim Brother, or at least someone sympathetic to the group, would have forced Morsi’s supporters to consider throwing their support behind a candidate opposed to el-Sisi rather than boycotting the elections. This scenario is unlikely, though, as many of the former President Morsi’s supporters believe that any participation in elections would serve to legitimize the various political processes that began with the removal of Mohamed Morsi from power in July of 2013.

The outcome of the elections is still difficult to predict. Many Egyptians support Field Marshal el-Sisi so much so that they have chosen to ignore the historical repercussions of sixty years of military rule in Egypt. This segment of the population may just be responsible for rewarding el-Sisi with the presidency for the sole fact that he removed the first democratically elected president of Egypt. The only other serious candidate in the race is Hamdeen Sabahi; but he made an unsuccessful election bid in 2012, and it is unlikely that he will comeback and defeat the wildly popular el-Sisi. Others, like Khalid Ali and Abul Futuh, have adopted the Mohamed Baradei approach and refuse to participate in the presidential elections completely. At this point, it is still unclear what will happen, despite el-Sisi’s formal bid for the presidency. In December it snowed in Egypt for the first time in over 100 years. Anything can happen in April.

By Robert Mogielnicki
Robert Mogielnicki works as a business analyst with Oxford Strategic Consulting. He is currently pursuing a graduate degree at the University of Oxford where he focuses on issues of economic integration in North Africa, nationalization policies in the GCC, and business development in the Middle East. He can be contacted at robert.mogielnicki@oxfordstrategicconsulting.com.