No springtime for Sisi in Egypt

Egypt held its presidential election this week. Army strongman Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was elected with 93.3 percent of the vote.

A margin like that can only be explained by large-scale fraud, non-turnout by those who support other candidates, or both.

I can’t speak to whether there was fraud, but certainly voter turnout was low. The government claims that turnout was 46 percent, well below the 80 percent Sisi had called for last week and less than the 52 percent turnout in the 2012 election won by Muslim Brotherhood man Mohamed Morsi.

Most accounts I’ve seen suggest that turnout was considerably lower than 46 percent. Whatever the correct number, turnout was sufficiently disappointing that the government added an extra day of voting. Reports indicate that few took advantage of it.

Perhaps the most telling verdict on the election came from the Egyptian stock market. Despite the fact that the business community generally supports Sisi, the landslide winner, the market fell 2.3 percent on news of the low turnout (it has since fallen another 3.45 percent on news of a 10 percent tax on stock market gains).

The low voter turnout is a blow to Sisi. First, it deprives him of the electoral mandate he had hoped for. Second, and maybe more importantly, it undercuts his image as a powerful leader in control of events. Part of the case for Sisi is that he’s a man who can get things done. To fall so short of his turnout goal hardly supports that case.

None of this will matter if the Egyptian economy experiences a revival. But in the more likely event that it does not, Sisi’s opponents may be emboldened more quickly as a result of the election.

Three years after the Arab Spring, winter appears to have returned to Egypt. Things might have been worse — the Muslim Brotherhood could be in power. But they don’t seem materially better than they were before Mubarak was toppled.

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