The results of elections held in Egypt and Syria last week were a foregone conclusion. International observers and locals alike predicted that Syria’s incumbent President Bashar al-Assad would be elected for a third term in office, while former Field Marshall Abdel Fattah al-Sisi would win a landslide in Egypt’s presidential poll. Since the outcomes of the two polls were as already well known even before they were held there is actually no prize for the correct predictions.
President Bashar al-Assad won easily, but the implication of his victory is that the prospects of a negotiated settlement of the long running conflict in the country are almost foreclosed. The main goal of the international mediation in the conflict was the formation of an inclusive transitional government but lack of agreement on the issue was the reason for the collapse of the Geneva negotiation. Now with an electoral victory, it is hard to imagine that the government in Damascus would be willing to negotiate a settlement to the conflict.However, even with the regime’s overwhelming military superiority over the insurgents, the only path to the restoration of peace in Syria is through negotiation. Even with a dubious election victory in which many Syrians did not participate, President Assad can still stretch forth the olive branch. It is time most of the insurgents, especially those linked to al-Qaeda, were discredited. There are several moderate opposition groups that can be co-opted, if there is genuine effort on the part of government to bring about genuine reconciliation. The victory of President Assad in Syria would not magically end the armed conflict in that region and we remain skeptical to any prospects of military solution to the conflict.
In Egypt, the landslide victory of Field Marshal al-Sisi is not likely to launch Egypt into a political Eldorado of stability. Egypt has been in turmoil since the fall of the former maximum ruler, Mr. Hosni Mubarak. The subsequent election of former President Muhammad Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood did not end the crisis. The rule of the Muslim Brotherhood was dogged by controversial changes to the Constitution to reflect their ideology, instead of promoting a broad programme of reconstruction and reconciliation. Before the army struck to kick out the regime, Egyptians had already started gathering at the legendary Tahrir Square demanding the end of the regime. The army that kicked out Mursi claimed to have acted at the behest of the popular will. The military-backed regime led by the former head of Egypt’s constitutional court launched an earth-scorched manhunt of the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Field Marshal al-Sisi’s ambition to run for the presidency has been an open book even as the strongman continuously denied it. However, this year, he came out in the open, retired from the army and threw his hat in the ring. As predicted, he trounced his only opponent, the left-leaning, Mr. Hamdeen Sabahi.
With Al-Assad and Al-Sisi firmly entrenched in their respective presidential palaces, it is hard to believe that the troubles of the two important Arab nations are over. However, though, the two polls could hardly stand any close scrutiny, we urge the two leaders to reach out to credible opposition politicians and build the necessary bridges that would facilitate national reconciliation.