Another revolutionary wave is on Egypt's doorstep

Another revolutionary wave is on Egypt's doorstep
Comment: Unless Sisi changes, he will be changed, writes Amr Khalifa.
6 min read
25 Jan, 2016
Popular anger at state abuses may yet rise to the level of outright revolt [Getty]

There will be a revolution. But when, how, by whom and what will trigger it are questions that need examination.

Since a glorious sunset on January 25, 2011, with few exceptions, it has been the worst of times and the very worst of times for Egyptians who dared to dream of something better sprinkled with dollops of dignity.

Sisi and The Gang may very well, in trying to stunt revolution, cause it. It will not be easy - nothing ever is in Egypt. But as eyes focus on super-heated Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Libya, the pot has begun to simmer in Cairo as well.

In the Egyptian political zeitgeist 1+1 rarely equals 2.

Where injustice reigns, fear, anger or revenge are present. Though unquantifiable, emotions and national psyches are invisible agents of change. In Egypt's case, one cannot simply say, as was said by many: "Leadership, after January 25, must be fair - otherwise the people know the way to Tahrir."

Indeed, all know the way to Tahrir. But under Abdel Fatah al-Sisi's watch, there isn't one Egyptian that doesn't know that marching to Tahrir, in opposition, could be a death sentence.

This is not about Sisi the persona, no matter how anointed he feels, this is about army rule. Far too many state actors win with army rule. There is far too much money to be had.

When you have a group of men who control vast swathes of the economy, aka Military Inc, estimated as high as 40 percent of the entire national economy, those who dream of revolution had better understand that those men will only retreat over their proverbial or literal dead bodies.

That is why the army's role in the Egyptian economy has been called the black box in a recent Carnegie MEC study.

The Egyptian police are no less an impediment to change than the army. For the police, the equation isn't just about political power and riches. Rather, the ministry of interior, fully understands that it is the first line of defence for the regime, should anger explode.

Accordingly, part of the bargain are monumental pay raises across the board to the tune of 30 percent as recently as early 2014. The Interior Ministry also receives a benefit they sadistically enjoy: Impunity.

Police imprison, both judicially and extra judicially, whomever they wish, and when they wish, with systematic torture and forced disappearances featured heavily.

Causes of a potential revolution are as numerous as snowflakes in an arctic blizzard

The very police force that people rebelled against in January 2011 is taking revenge on the populous at large. Such brutality will cost state actors.

So who wants revolution? Why? Can it happen? And if so, when?

For the first year of his presidency Sisi was the Teflon Man; little, in his supporters' eyes, damaged his credibility - nothing stuck to him. But that has begun to change - simply look at social media and some articles in the Egyptian press for abundant proof.

Causes of a potential revolution are as numerous as snowflakes in an arctic blizzard. The toughest security crackdown in Egyptian history is an obvious indicator the regime understands what roils beneath the surface. But in trying to prevent revolution the state is creating revolution.

In attempting to stymie a public uproar, Sisi, his policies, his security apparatus, his corrupt judiciary, and a political process laced with condescension towards an accepting public, have become triggers.

But Sisi is a byproduct of the intelligence apparatus - and in Egypt that is less about gentle cajoling as it is slamming heads into tables. And slam he has. More than 50,000 Egyptians languish in jails on politicised charges.

By jailing dissenters, the government believes it will blunt opposition. But the reverse may be occurring. If you remain insistent on putting your army boot to the necks of dissenting voices you create multiple dissenting voices for every broken neck.

Unemployment, murder of family and friends and widespread torture turns youths into ticking time bombs.

For purposes of analytical economy there are three chief dissenting camps, though it could change in the coming months: The revolutionaries belonging to January 25, the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi strain.

But one major wildcard many ignore are disheartened ex-Sisifites. This is a growing group who once supported Sisi for security reasons will mushroom in the coming months as disillusion spreads.

Tens of thousands have called prison home for the majority of the past two years since Sisi's coup. Revolutionaries aren't just hampered by the clampdown, they have been flustered by fatigue, depression and disorganisation.

But issues of torture and political prisoners, in particular, are replenishing the organizational reserves. The more the regime breathes fiery violence and repression and shows fear of the fifth anniversary of the revolution - searching homes arbitrarily and arresting activists - the more gasoline is sprayed upon a building fire.

Another source of worry for government is the split within the Muslim Brotherhood. For months it has been no secret that the MB has split internally. One side is the old guard, officially, eschewing violence, and the new guard, led by revolutionary youth frustrated by its leadership and the regime and leaning towards systematic escalation and violence.

Repression is radicalism's birthplace

For now, indications are, the violence is hit-and-miss and does not target with intent to kill - but this could change in a heartbeat as the crackdown continues takes its toll. As though reality wishes to buttress this very point, an explosion in an apartment, in a crowded neighborhood kilometres away from the pyramids, killed at least six.

The punchline? The Ministry of Interior issued a statement saying the bomb had been planted by Muslim Brotherhood militants. But it was caught with its story-telling pants down when the Cairo branch of the Islamic State group later claimed responsibility.

True or not, such allegations will be used to justify the monumental repression underway. Repression is radicalism's birthplace. There are zero signs this elaborate system of collective punishment will cease, instead, the opposite is likely.

The stick approach is why anger may rise to the level of revolution in due time.

No one can predict how a cycle of injustice, economic malaise, political corruption and unemployment will coalesce to produce a revolt - or when.

Events in Tunis, as I type, speak beautifully to the unpredictable nature of revolt. Having said that, one cannot discount that there is a rising anger among two major camps: revolutionaries and Islamists.

These are youth majority camps who have been hard hit by killings, torture and forced disappearances - coupled with large spikes in unemployment. That is the TNT, but the detonator will be provided courtesy of future events.

But with the Jihadi, Salafist, and increasingly some of the Brotherhood youth in the mix working to destabilise a discombobulated government, the prospect of revolt is real. While it may not be weeks or months away, it is also not many years away.

This will not be January 25 part II, rather, a tiger coming at full speed with claws at the ready. A toxic mixture, from a regime perspective, is afoot: revolutionaries, Islamists, Salafists, Jihadists, Mubarakists and ex-Sisifites all make for a fragmented state.

Unless Sisi changes, he will be changed.

Blood produces blood. And Sisi fired the first shot.

Amr Khalifa is an Egyptian analyst and commentator. He has written for Daily News Egypt, Ahram Online, Mada Masr, Muftah and the Arab Media and Society Journal. Follow him on Twitter: @cairo67unedited

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.