Former Egyptian army chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi was sworn in as president yesterday in a ceremony with low-key attendance by Western allies concerned by a crackdown on dissent since he ousted Islamist Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi last year.
Last month’s election, which officials said al-Sisi won with 97 percent of the vote, followed three years of upheaval since a popular uprising ended 30 years of rule by former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.
Security in Cairo was extra tight, with armored personnel carriers and tanks positioned in strategic locations as al-Sisi swore to protect Egypt’s unity, law and the interests of its people before a panel of judges at the Egyptian Supreme Constitutional Court.
Near Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the symbolic heart of the revolt against Mubarak, where protesters now rarely tread, young men sold T-shirts with the image of al-Sisi in his trademark dark sunglasses.
Commentators on state and private media heaped praise on him, turning a blind eye to what human rights groups say are widespread abuses, in the hope that he can deliver stability and rescue the economy.
Many Egyptians share that hope, but they have limited patience, staging street protests that toppled two leaders in the past three years, and the election turnout of just 47 percent shows al-Sisi is not as popular as when he toppled Morsi.
“Sisi has to do something in his first 100 days. People will watch closely and there might be another revolution. That’s what people are like in this country,” theology student Israa Youssef, 21, said.
The US only sent a senior adviser to US Secretary of State John Kerry and most European countries sent only ambassadors.
“Just having ambassadors shows very clearly that while the governments are recognizing the new transfer of power, they are certainly not doing so with a huge amount of enthusiasm,” said H.A. Hellyer, non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “It won’t mean much in terms of trade and cooperation, but it leaves a bit of a foul taste in people’s mouths.”
Diplomacy pales as a problem for al-Sisi compared with an urgent need to fix state finances and tackle an Islamist insurgency to lure back tourists and investors.