The results of next week’s presidential election in Egypt are in no doubt. Former army chief Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, the country’s de-facto ruler since last year’s military coup, is looking at landslide victory.
If anyone needed proof of that, Egyptian expats in London have already voted in favour of Mr al-Sisi by 90.6 per cent — and in even greater proportions in other countries.
Soon-to-be-president al-Sisi is already busy managing expectations. In a TV interview on Sunday, he said that it was difficult to establish a democracy although he planned to try, and rejected claims that under him, Egypt is once again a police state.
With stabilising Egypt’s economy and restoring law and order his priorities, the chaos in Sinai and relations with Gaza are high on the agenda.
In the interview on Sunday, he had a rare conciliatory message for Gaza’s rulers. “I call on Hamas to rehabilitate its relations with Egypt before it loses the affection of the Egyptian people once and for all,” he said. The very fact that he was contemplating a relationship with Hamas stood in stark contrast with his policy towards the Palestinian organisation’s ideological parent, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, about which Mr al-Sisi said recently “there will be nothing called the Muslim Brotherhood during my tenure”.
Alongside the ruthless persecution of the Brotherhood, the Egyptian military has also blamed Hamas for working to undermine the state, destroyed smuggling tunnels and largely closed down the Rafah crossing.
Mr Al-Sisi now seems to be signalling a slight change in policy in the wake of the Hamas-Fatah agreement and also at the urging of the Gulf states, who have lent Egypt billions of dollars and are supporting building projects in Gaza.
He knows that he cannot isolate Gaza forever and that for now at least, removing Hamas is unfeasible. But his olive branch to Hamas is weighted with conditions. They must cease all involvement in Egyptian politics and sever any secret ties with Islamist groups in Sinai; cooperate with Fatah; and enforce the ceasefire around Gaza including the prevention of missiles being fired on Israel. Then and only then will Egypt consider allowing Hamas back in from the cold.