At the end of the month, Egypt will hold the first election since the military ousted former president Mohammed Morsi in July.
This week, campaigning for the presidential election officially kicked off between two candidates: leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi and former army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
Last night, el-Sissi, who is the frontrunner, appeared in his first television interview. If he’s elected, he has vowed to finish the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt.
NPR’s International Correspondent Leila Fadel is in Cairo and joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to discuss el-Sissi’s campaigning efforts and the coming election.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW.
The presidential campaign has officially kicked off in Egypt. The leading candidate, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, gave his first television interview last night and vowed that the Muslim Brotherhood, the party of former president Mohamed Morsi, which has been banned, would not exist at all under his leadership.
And today, a court ruled members of the National Democratic Party can't run in any election. That was the party of the president before Morsi, Hosni Mubarak. And hundreds of Egyptians were recently condemned to death by a court for participating in protests. What's the latest on them? Let's bring in NPR's Cairo correspondent Leila Fadel. Leila, welcome.
LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Thank you for having me.
YOUNG: And tell us first more about Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, central figure in the interim government, what role did he play there, and why did he step down?
FADEL: Well, ironically Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi really came to be known as a figure in Egypt when the ousted president Mohamed Morsi appointed him as his military chief in Egypt. Later on, he would be the man that ousted Morsi from power and has really become a lionized figured in Egypt. People see him as a hero, as a savior, people who didn't like the Muslim Brotherhood and their leadership.
And so they're really seeing him as a shoe in for the election, and he had to step down from the military in order to run in a civilian position.
YOUNG: Is he far and away the leading candidate, or does he have serious competition?
FADEL: People joke that you could write the outcome of this election today. Really it's pretty clear that he will become the president. He has all of the state institutions really behind him. The streets are peppered with posters of him saying he's the hero, he will be the person that saves Egypt from terrorism, and really people say with this political atmosphere right now, there isn't really room for opposition against him in a really free and fair election.
YOUNG: But there is someone running.
FADEL: There is one person running, Hamdeen Sabahi, a nacreous poet, a leftist politician. He ran in the last election and surprised a lot of people by getting third in the very, very competitive presidential election. And so he has stepped up as the opposition candidate when many others said they wouldn't participate, because they didn't feel it was free and fair.
YOUNG: In the Muslim Brotherhood, which joined forces with secular Egyptians who overthrew Hosni Mubarak, those secular Egyptians then stood back from the Muslim Brotherhood as it gained power under Morsi. The Muslim Brotherhood, now banned, do they fit into this election at all?
FADEL: No, they don't. If you're not a declared member of the Muslim Brotherhood, you can be part of Egypt and you can vote. But the Muslim Brotherhood, as an organization, is banned and has been deemed a terrorist organization. Its leadership is pretty much all in jail.
Many members that are out sleep in different places every night. It's not an organization that has been allowed to really exist right now, even though it still is popular among a certain minority in Egypt. And it has been very vocal against the ouster of Morsi and calling for his reinstatement. But as an organization, it's being basically irradiated.
YOUNG: And what happened to the hundreds of Egyptians who were convicted and sentenced to death?
FADEL: They were accused of inciting violence, and in each case of killing one person. And it's been seen as really a travesty of justice. Human rights organizations saying really a legal massacre. And the Egyptian government saying, well, we can't interfere in the judicial system, but these will likely not be upheld on appeal.
This is the largest mass death sentence basically in modern history. And really the government isn't intervening and it's being seen as a sign of really intense repression here in Egypt in the last six to seven months.
YOUNG: Yeah. Remind us, what were the protest against?
FADEL: Well, that was the day, August 14th, it was the day when two pro-Mohamed Morsi encampments were forcefully disbanded in Cairo. Hundreds of people were killed. And then there were outbursts in different areas across the country, and some of them were extremely violent. We saw cases where policemen were massacred.
But the issue here is that none of these people actually got a day in court. They were not allowed to defend themselves. They weren't given the opportunity to give witnesses. And many say they were completely innocent, not even in town in some cases.
YOUNG: So what has happened, Leila, to the secular voice in Egypt that protested and took down the dictator, Mubarak, joined forces initially with Muslim Brotherhood and his replacement, and now where is that voice?
FADEL: Well, unfortunately, that voice was really largely marginalized after the revolution, both by the Muslim Brotherhood when they were in power. They really alienated the secular revolutionary youth movements that propped them up in the beginning. And then, under the new military regime, many of those faces of the revolutionary youth movements are now in jail under what people are saying is a draconian law, the protest law, which basically says you can't have a demonstration unless you get permission from the state of more than nine people.
And so we see a lot of those young people in jail now, convicted over this law, which was defended by the presidential candidate Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who is likely to be the next president.
YOUNG: Well, given that, what is the view of Egyptians towards this upcoming election? The whole point in overthrow - one of the points in overthrowing Mubarak was to be able to choose a leader. Is there a sense that this is at all fair or free?
FADEL: Well, it's kind of interesting because on the global level this is really seen as a time of darkness in Egypt; a lot of repression, thousands of people in jail, thousands that have been killed, and it continue every day. Today, another person is dead during clashes between supports of Sissi and people demonstrating against him.
And yet, here in Egypt, people just want stability. And Sissi has promised that, and they trust the military. The military is seen as an institution that is there to defend Egypt internally and externally, and he comes from that.
So after three and a half years of instability, of unrest, of bombings in some cases, of clashes, of traffic, they want somebody who says they can stabilize it. And Sissi says he can. So we'll see if he's elected president if he can keep that popularity and that momentum that he has right now.
YOUNG: Is there regret about the Arab Spring?
FADEL: Among some, there is, I think. I mean, I think there was a time of real hope in 2011 that people would be able to voice their opinion for the first time, and people would be able to keep their leaders accountable. But it's been difficult these three and half years. Economically the country is in turmoil, manpower cuts, people don't have more jobs, things aren't better.
So in some cases, the reaction is to go back to what you know rather than this sort of unknown and unstable path. And I think that's what we're seeing here in Egypt. And as a sort of symptom of that, people are accepting more repression today than even what we saw under Hosni Mubarak, the person they originally ousted.
YOUNG: NPR's Cairo correspondent Leila Fadel. Thank you so much.
FADEL: Thank you for having me.
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YOUNG: I'll give you a second to take all of that in. You're listening to HERE AND NOW.
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