Many thousands of Egyptians have been packing into central Cairo, filling Tahrir Square, a nerve centre of revolt against unjust rule. Only now they have been celebrating: the declaration on Tuesday of a landslide victory in presidential elections for Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
The former army chief (59) is officially said to have won 97 percent of the vote, but less than half the electorate turned out to cast a ballot, which was far short of what he had called for.
The challenges are vast. Egypt’s 82 million people desperately need a return to a viable economy, which, with GDP of 192 billion euros, is number three in the Arab world (after Saudi Arabia and the Emirates). Unemployment has been stuck above 13 percent – most of those young people.
Around a quarter of the population live on less than two euros per day. While al-Sisi has said openly that real democracy in Egypt will take 25 years, economic revival is by far the highest priority.
The key tourism sector, which in better times accounted for more than 11 percent of GDP, has been struggling since early 2011 and the Arab Spring uprising which ended the 30-year presidency of Hosni Mubarak.
Energy shortages have come with population growth and an annual eight percent rise in electricity consumption. Households and companies face frequent blackouts. The shortfall in gas and oil supplies is largely due to stagnant domestic production, lack of investment and poor maintenance — made worse by the political instability. Al-Sisi presents himself as a guardian of order and stability.
But he doesn’t only have practical challenges; almost half the country still support Egypt’s first freely elected president, Mohamed Mursi, who the army ejected from office last July amid rising public discontent with his Muslim Brotherhood-backed government.
Egyptians are still thirsting for the social justice they demanded three years ago in Tahrir Square.