A Year in Office, el-Sissi Rules Egypt + Video

Fri Jun 12, 2015 11:53:27

A year after the general-turned-politician took office in a landslide election win, el-Sissi largely has silenced political opposition and is trying to run the country as a one-man show, a far cry from the democracy millions dreamed of when they toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak in a stunning 2011 uprising.

A nation of some 90 million people, Egypt has had no parliament since 2012, political parties are quiescent and elections for a new legislature have been repeatedly delayed — meaning there's little concrete debate on policy. Laws simply are issued by the presidency.

Police and powerful security agencies act with near impunity against opponents or those trying to engage in unwelcome political activity. Rights activists report a return of torture, abuses and arbitrary arrests surpassing even the 29-year Mubarak era. A strict law against protests in place since late 2013 effectively silenced street demonstrations.

The judiciary also has backed the security agencies' heavy hand in ways unseen under Mubarak's rule. Courts hand out mass death sentences — about 1,500 so far by some estimates — against Islamists, thousands of whom are in prison in a nearly 2-year-old crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. Secular and leftist pro-democracy activists are jailed as well, some given long prison sentences for even small, peaceful protests.

El-Sissi became Egypt's most powerful figure when, as army chief, he led the July 2013 military ouster of the country's first freely elected president, Mohammed Morsi, after massive public protests against Morsi and the political domination of his Muslim Brotherhood. A bloody crackdown ensued, killing hundreds of Islamists.

Praised by many Egyptians as a hero for "rescuing" the country from the Brotherhood, el-Sissi vowed from the start to bring security and repair the economy, saying outright that demands for rights and needless political debate cannot be allowed to undermine those goals. That message vaulted him into the presidency in elections, and he was inaugurated on June 8, 2014.

He still seems to enjoy strong popularity among large sectors of the population who see him as the only figure strong enough to lead. What grumbling that has become public largely come from supporters like el-Sinawi, warning him that he needs to show progress and change.

Some have debated whether el-Sissi supports the silencing of dissent or can't impose his will on the many centers of power in the Egyptian state, which he needs for support and which have their own agendas — like the judiciary, the media, wealthy businessmen and the security agencies.

El-Sissi has been able to bring some improvements to the economy.

Security has been more difficult to establish. Army and police are battling ISIS militants concentrated in the strategic Sinai Peninsula, and there are frequent bombings — usually small but sometimes deadly — against security forces in Cairo and other parts of the country.

Some supporters of el-Sissi have called for the anti-protest law, which requires that any demonstration get prior police approval, be lifted or amended. But el-Sissi has staunchly stood by it.

El-Sissi's rise to power was accompanied by a wave of nationalism not seen in Egypt since the country's wars with Zionist regime between 1948 and 1973.

Meeting recently with party leaders, el-Sissi said parliamentary elections would be held by the end of the year, according to his spokesman. But he also told them he would be prepared to back a coalition encompassing all the parties, suggesting he does not want an opposition bloc in the next legislature.

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