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Sisi keeps a lid on

Egyptians face another four years of authoritarian rule

"I want 10 Zohrs," joked President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi in front of the television cameras at the official ceremony marking the start of the gas project. The reflected glory from even one more find on the scale of Zohr would, in normal circumstances, be no bad thing for a head of state seeking re-election. But Sisi needs no such lucky charm. With or without another Zohr he knows that when the votes are counted after the elections in late March he'll begin another term as Egypt's president.

This is because, for a variety of reasons, all serious challengers have either decided, or been strongly persuaded, to drop out. Only one weak candidate is standing against him—presumably to give the poll a veneer of credibility.

When Sisi came to power in June 2014 he promised to "care for the interests of the people"—shorthand for cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood and anyone else who opposed his rule. Thousands of people, including journalists and human rights activists, have been arrested and imprisoned. Any kind of public demonstration is banned. In the Economist Intelligence Unit's 2017 Democracy Index, Egypt was ranked 130th out of 165.

While the Egyptian authorities are involved in battles against jihadist Islamists based in northern Sinai, the tough anti-protest measures elsewhere have been effective. The streets are more subdued today than they've been in several years. Furthermore, Sisi doesn't seem to be in the mood to relax the restrictions on freedom of expression in the coming four years of his presidency. Any kind of public uprising akin to the 2011 Arab spring protests won't be tolerated, he said during a speech at the Zohr inauguration. "What happened seven or eight years ago will not happen again in Egypt," he said. "Whoever wants to mess with Egypt and ruin it has to do away with me first."

The crackdown on dissent is effective for the time being. But Sisi could probably do with another Zohr and the revenues it would bring. For the chronic economic and social conditions that brought people out onto the streets in the first place haven't gone away. Billions of dollars still need to be spent to improve the lives of millions of Egyptians.

This article is part of a report series on Egypt. Next article is: Egypt's gas strategy

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