Press Review CW 51/2023: No surprise
Press Review 15 December 2023 to 21 December 2023

Egypt’s President Al-Sisi re-elected

On Monday, Egypt’s National Election Authority announced the re-election of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. In the presidential elections held from 10 to 12 December, the approximately 67 million eligible voters voted 89.6 per cent in favour of the incumbent president, thus enabling his third term in office. Al-Sisi’s election success came as no surprise; in the run-up to the election, critics had already condemned the election, which was praised by the electoral authorities as democratic and pluralistic, as a “foregone conclusion” and pointed to the opposition parties’ lack of chances. Out of Al-Sisi’s three challengers from smaller parties, second-placed Hazem Omar of the Republican People’s Party received just 4.5 percent of the vote. The popular opposition politician Ahmed Tantawi had already withdrawn his candidature in October. According to official figures, he had not collected the number of signatures required to register as a presidential candidate. According to Tantawi, however, his withdrawal was linked to the use of violence against supporters, some of whom were also arrested. Tantawi himself has been in custody since November, accused of circulating unauthorised support forms for registration in the recently held elections. Despite this background, the National Election Authority emphasised the “unprecedented” voter turnout of 66.8 percent and denied any allegations of breaches of electoral regulations that had been made by some observers. In fact, the voter turnout is significantly higher than the 41% who voted in the last elections in 2018. This is partly attributed to a rise in Al-Sisi’s popularity in the wake of the Gaza war, which overshadowed the elections. The former general was able to win over voters by acting as a stabiliser, amongst other things by providing humanitarian aid and negotiating the release of hostages with Hamas. However, Al-Sisi’s popularity had previously declined due to the country’s increasingly deteriorating economic situation. With inflation figures of 36.4 percent and two thirds of the population living below or just above the poverty line, the president had faced increasing criticism. He has also been accused of wasting public money through the infrastructure measures he has driven forward, such as the construction of a new capital east of Cairo. Al-Sisi’s renewed mandate is based on a controversial constitutional amendment from 2019, which extends the presidential term of office from four to six years and allows for three consecutive terms instead of two. Al-Sisi first came to power in 2013 by overthrowing the first democratically elected president of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Morsi. He won the presidential elections in 2014 and 2018 with over 96 per cent of the vote. He is now entering his third term in office and will rule the country for another six years.

 

Constitutional referendum in Chad

The referendum on a new constitution took place in Chad on Sunday. Eight million eligible voters were called to cast their vote in the referendum, which the military government describes as an important step in the transition to a civilian government. The proposed constitution provides for various changes, according to which Chad is to become a decentralized unitary state. Although local authorities could be given the opportunity to elect their own representatives and levy their own taxes, power would still be concentrated in the hands of the head of state. The constitutional proposal and the referendum thus ignore one of the main demands of the National Dialogue, which ended in 2022: to give Chadians the choice between a unitary state and a federal system. According to local surveys, up to 70% of the population are in favour of a federal state, and ten out of 23 provinces are also said to have spoken out in favour of such a system in political talks at provincial level. Meanwhile, the ruling junta has run an elaborate campaign in favour of the draft constitution in order to persuade the population to vote yes in the referendum. In doing so, the military government was able to secure the support of one of its main opponents, Succès Masra. Masra, leader of the largest opposition party in Chad Les Transformers, only returned from exile in the capital N’Djamena at the beginning of November (Press Review CW 45/2023) after he was forced to leave the country in October 2022 as a result of violently suppressed protests. However, many other opposition groups question the seriousness of the referendum and spoke out in favor of a boycott in advance. They also question the independence of the electoral commission. They see the referendum as an attempt to stage a democratic advance, but one that will not make a lasting contribution to the transition and is only intended to consolidate the power of the military and Mahamat Idriss Déby in the long term. In view of the resources deployed by the junta, the outcome of the referendum was already clear in advance. From the opposition’s point of view, the call for a boycott was intended to delegitimize the result through a low voter turnout. On election day itself, several media outlets unanimously reported a rather low turnout among the population entitled to vote, while official figures on voter turnout are still not available four days after the referendum. According to reports, there were also irregularities during the ballot: vote counters are said to have been expelled from polling stations, voting material is said not to have arrived at polling stations on time, which led to delays, and there was a lack of ballot papers with which to vote for a federal system. According to international experts, there is also no doubt that the referendum will lead to the adoption of the new constitution. The results of the plebiscite are expected to be announced on December 24. The result is expected to be confirmed by the Supreme Court within four days. The Chadian military government’s transition plan has already been revised once. After the military seized power in April 2021, the transitional government under the leadership of Mahamat Idriss Déby dissolved parliament and promised free elections within 18 months. The deadline was initially extended by a further 18 months. Presidential elections are now scheduled for the end of 2024.

 

In other news

A new vaccine production facility was inaugurated in Rwanda’s capital Kigali on Monday. The Mainz-based pharmaceutical company BioNTech wants to be the first company to produce mRNA vaccines on the African continent and at the same time promised that they would only benefit this continent. The main aim is to develop vaccines for diseases that are particularly widespread in Africa. A malaria vaccine is soon to be manufactured and vaccines against tuberculosis and HIV are to be added. The opening ceremony was attended not only by Rwandan President Paul Kagame, but also by the presidents of Ghana and Senegal, the Chairman of the AU Commission Moussa Faki and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. In her speech, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock emphasised that the aim was to offer vaccines at affordable prices on the African market. So far, only 1% of the vaccine doses administered in Africa have been produced on the continent. This is now set to change. The project is co-financed by the EU’s Global Gateway Initiative, which aims to boost vaccine production in Rwanda, Ghana, South Africa and Nigeria with 1.2 billion euros.

 

Event notice

Since 24 November the exhibition Folk Ritual by Congolese artist Zemba Luzamba is on view at the Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery in Berlin. In his works, the artist, who now lives in South Africa, deals with social and political power structures on the African continent, questions and satirises them. Most recently, Luzamba’s art was shown at the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in South Africa. Interested parties are invited to visit the exhibition until 6 January 2024. Further information on the exhibition can be found here.

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