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Egypt's new day? [Commentary]

Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi Mohamed Morsi Hosni Mobarak Egypt presidential election

As expected, former Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi won the latest Egyptian election for president by a landslide, giving the military establishment total control of all governmental instruments of power. He won 92 percent of the votes with 46 percent turnout. President-elect el-Sissi now has a historic chance to usher in a new democratic Egypt. Unfortunately, the last 10 months of his rule have indicated a far different future for his struggling country.

But one can always hope.

Of course, the April 6 Youth Movement revolution that began in 2008 and spawned the Arab Spring in 2011 had many Egyptians hopeful for change. And the changes came fast. Many leaders and supporters of the revolution who helped remove President Hosni Mubarak in January 2012, ended up supporting a similar action against his successor, President Mohamed Morsi. When he was toppled in July 2013, the new military-installed government, with Commander el-Sissi serving as deputy prime minister, quickly moved to suppress Mr. Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood leadership and its members with widespread arrests, detentions and killings.

Conditions quickly deteriorated, with the military next turning to the original Arab Spring activists, including the leaders of April 6 — among them, Ahmed Maher and Mohamed Adel, co-founders of the group and their colleague Ahmed Douma. All are in prison today doing three years hard labor. These three men played a crucial role in the 2011 uprising that toppled Mr. Mubarak.

Furthermore, two-dozen Islamist women, among them girls of 15 and 16 years, were also sentenced to jail for protesting the regime — the teenagers to stay in prison until they turned 18, the adult women to stay for 15 years. The harsh sentences outraged many Egyptians and raised an international outcry. Under pressure, a higher court later voided their sentencing.

But in the meantime, 529 protesters were sentenced to death in March of this year, ostensibly for killing one policeman during the riots that followed Mr. Morsi's ouster. A month later, another 683 people were given the same sentence. Three Al-Jazeera journalists still languish in jail on charges of collaborating with the Muslim Brotherhood.

The interim government's tactics have led to violence by opponents in the streets, on university campuses and in many Egyptian cities. Terrorist activities have ramped up in Cairo and Sinai among other places. As the economy continues to deteriorate, Egypt's labor force is demanding pay raises and staging strikes; professional groups, including the country's doctors, are contemplating work stoppages, too.

My continued hopes for Egypt are rooted in its people. I remember the young Egyptians I met during my visit to Egypt just a month before the election of Mr. Morsi in 2012. They had expected him to win but were willing to revolt if he hijacked the government for the benefit of the Brotherhood only — which he did and they did. There must be hope that some of that same passion is still churning just below el-Sissi's mandate.

The same goes for his support from a number of revolutionary liberal leaders in Egypt, like the indefatigable, 76-year-old activist Shahenda Maklad, who had stepped up for el-Sissi during the election. Despite her lifelong struggle for democracy, this drew an avalanche of criticism from her compatriots. But like the youth I met, Ms. Maklad is not complacent; she recently demanded the removal of the minister of interior for violating detainee rights and led a sit-in at the presidential palace, demanding the release of activists Ahmed Douma and Ahmed Maher. She has vowed to continue the fight, while at the same time supporting the results of the election.

President-elect el-Sissi, now in civilian clothes, has a real opportunity to lead his country and follow through on his campaign promises for a true democracy. Leadership requires a new, bold path followed by decisive actions — including a total amnesty of all political prisoners and ending emergency rule — and full attention to the ailing economy. He should ensure a free and fair election of the new parliament and abide by the new constitution. These steps will send a message to the people of Egypt, the Arabs and the World that a new day has dawned Egypt.

One can only hope.

Adil E. Shamoo is an associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies, a senior analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus, and the author of "Equal Worth: When Humanity Will Have Peace" (University Press of America, 2012). His email is ashamoo@som.umaryland.edu.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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