A giant election campaign board supporting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi i KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
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The Struggle for Egypt’s Future

The ideological war between Islamists and nationalists has defined the politics of the Arab world for at least 60 years, and shows no sign of ending. While the impending reelection of Egyptian strongman Abdel Fattah al-Sisi suggests that the nationalists have won, all it will really mean is that the Egyptian people have lost, yet again.

LONDON – Like his fellow strongman Russian President Vladimir Putin, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, faced with only a token opponent, will easily win another term in his country’s March 26-28 presidential election. Egyptians had high expectations of Sisi when he seized power. But that was nearly five years ago, and Egypt still has not recovered from the turbulence of the 2011 Arab Spring revolution, the overthrow of then-President Hosni Mubarak, and the subsequent clashes between the Muslim Brotherhood, whose elected government Sisi overthrew, and secular-leaning nationalists.

Making matters worse, Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, is confronting a low-intensity jihadist insurgency in Northern Sinai. Thousands of civilians and members of the security services have already been killed. At the same time, a prolonged economic crisis is exacting a heavy toll on millions of ordinary Egyptians living in poverty – many on just $2 per day.

Egypt’s political polarization since the ouster of Mohamed Morsi – the Brotherhood leader who was elected president in June 2012, following Mubarak’s downfall – reflects the Islamist-nationalist cleavage that has haunted the country since immediately after independence in the early 1950s. And, in addition to the high social and human costs that this 60-year-old struggle has exacted at home, it has brought a radicalized and militarized politics to the Arab world, leading to both the rise of radical Islamism and the entrenchment of dictatorships.