Cairo.-A campaign that supports the former Egyptian Defense Minister, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, sent an e-mail to the press last week with an invitation to a political rally with “20.000 people” in the International Cairo Stadium. Fearing that they would not be able to fill the football stadium, the venue was changed last-minute. A few thousands chairs were placed in a lawn by the Convention Center in Medinat Nasr. Finally, on Saturday only around 3.000 people showed up for the event, and many of them were bused to Cairo from other provinces. It was a real fiasco.
The lack of public in the rally confirmed a perception that I have since March: al-Sisi’s once meteoric popularity is on the wane. There are many signs that point to this direction, and they are not only the daily conversations with Cairenes. The street vendors that sold al-Sisi’s ID replica have all but disappeared. The once ubiquitous song “Teslam al-ayadi” (Blessed be your hands), dedicated to al-Sisi, can be hardly heard in the streets of Cairo anymore. And a recent on-line poll by the newspaper El Watan shows al-Sisi with a narrow 4-point lead over his only rival in the upcoming presidential elections, the nasserist Hamdin Sabahi.
Certainly, all these facts are only anecdotal evidence. And it is possible that they only show a decline in the enthusiasm of his followers, and not a decrease in his overall support. For this reason, I won’t delve into the reasons of a phenomenon that is not confirmed (yet). The real test for al-Sisi will come on May 26th and 27th. If the elections are not rigged, the polls will be the real measure of his popularity.
No one doubts he will be the next raïs, so the main interest of this election is the size of his victory, as well as the turnout. In order to receive a mandate strong enough to apply a program of ambitious reforms, al-Sisi needs to get the support of at least 20 million voters. That was the exact number of Egyptians who voted “yes” in the Constitutional referendum hold in January, which at the time was rather seen as a referendum on al-Sissi and his removal of Mohamed Morsi. To some extent, this election is a second round of that referendum. If the former Field Marshal receives less than 20 million votes, he will emerge as weak president, which will encourage his opponents.