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26-28 march 2018: free and fair elections in Egypt?

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

This blog reflects the personal view of the author.

Presidential elections are currently being held in Egypt, from the 26th and 28th March 2018, where President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is running for a second term against Moussa Mustafa Moussa, leader of El-Ghad Party. President el-Sisi has been in power since 2013, when he deposed Mohamed Morsi – the first democratically elected Egyptian president - through a military coup.

Declining Participation & Human Rights

For many observers, President el-Sisi is proving more repressive than Hosni Mubarak. In effect, Egypt’s record in the IIAG category Participation & Human Rights under President el-Sisi’s mandate is worrying. Since the President came to power in 2013, Participation & Human Rights has been declining, losing on average one point per year and inverting the progress previously achieved. In 2016, Egypt ranks 48th out of 54 African countries in the category, scoring 27.2 out of 100.0.

Since 2013, Rights is the IIAG sub-category that has declined the most in the country, losing -10.4 points in three years. This results mainly from a rampant decline of the indicators Human Rights Violations (-25.0 points since 2013), Freedom of Association & Assembly (-22.9 points since 2013) and Freedom of Expression (-14.1 points since 2013), and from a stagnation of the already low-scoring indicators Civil Liberties (scoring 29.2 in 2016) and Protection against Discrimination (scoring 0.0 in 2016). In all the Rights variables that measure outcome (all variables except for Human Rights Conventions), Egypt scores lower than the African average.

In effect, Human Rights Watch recently published a report claiming that the Interior Ministry’s regular police and its National Security Agency have used widespread arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and torture against perceived dissidents. The Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms has documented at least 1,500 enforced disappearances in the past four years, as reported by the BBC.

Participation is Egypt’s second most deteriorated sub-category since President el-Sisi took power, losing -6.2 points in three years. All the underlying indicators have deteriorated since 2013 except for Election Monitoring Agencies, which only started to deteriorate in 2015. The declines in Political Participation (almost -20.0 points since 2013) and Legitimacy of Political Process (-11.1 points since 2013) are particularly worrying in a country with on-going elections.

The current elections are being condemned by some as 'farcical' and a 'sham', and the government has been accused by international and Egyptian rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists, of having “trampled over even the minimum requirements for free and fair elections” in its bid for a second term. Moussa Mustafa Moussa, the President’s single opponent, was until recently an ardent supporter of President el-Sisi and registered his candidacy 15 minutes before the deadline.

A deep economic crisis versus public perception data

President el-Sisi is also managing a country in an economic crisis. Currently, Egypt is the third most populous country in Africa and its GDP per capita is the 10th highest on the continent, with an annual growth which is the 19th fastest on the continent (4.3.%). However, Egypt also has the 12th biggest share of unemployed population as a total of the labour force in Africa, with a rate which is more than the double the global average (11.8% of the total labour force, compared to 5.5% at the global level). While more than 50.0% of the population is below 25 years old, 34.3% of the 15-24 year-old labour force is unemployed. Moreover, inflation rates are at 13.8%, and tourists have been kept away of the country due to a rise in terrorist attacks. In 2016, the International Monetary Fund has responded to the country’s macroeconomic crisis with a three-year loan of about $12 billion.

However, looking at the IIAG, the country’s recent record in the categories Sustainable Economic Opportunity and Human Development has been positive. For both categories and all their underlying sub-categories, the pace of progress has been faster since 2013, the year when the President took power, than over the past decade (2007-2016). Nevertheless, this improvement has mainly been driven by indicators which measure public perception.

Progress in the category Sustainable Economic Opportunity has been mainly pushed by progress in the sub-category Infrastructure (+17.6 points since 2013), with the public-perception variables Road & Bridge Maintenance (+51.5), Reliable Energy Supply (+30.2) and Water & Sanitation Services (+47.8) driving the trend. The sub-category Business Environment (+10.6 points since 2013) has also contributed to the category’s progress, with the public-perception variable Employment Creation improving by almost +29.0 points since 2013. Progress in the category Human Development has mainly been pushed by the sub-category Welfare, due to progress in public-perception indicators such as Poverty and Narrowing Income Gaps, both improving by more than +30.0 points in the past three years.

Under President el-Sisi’s government, Egypt’s citizens' Participation and Rights declined, and its macroeconomic stability was shaken, as proven by the IMF intervention. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that President el-Sisi’s second term will be threatened: due to limited freedom of expression, association and assembly, and to a high record of human rights violations, as shown in the IIAG, the freeness, fairness and validity of the current elections is likely to be questioned.