Four years after Morsi: Another uprising in Egypt? Not if, but when

Four years after Morsi: Another uprising in Egypt? Not if, but when
Comment: In the four years since Morsi was ousted in a military coup, Sisi's regime has accumulated the hallmarks of an authoritarian state scared of losing control, writes Mohamad Elmasry.
7 min read
03 Jul, 2017
Supoprters of former president Mohammed Morsi mark the anniversary of the Egyptian uprising [Anadolu]
*This article was originally published on 3 July, 2017. Morsi died on 17 June 2019. 

Shortly after he led Egypt's July 2013 military coup, Abdel Fatteh al-Sisi promised Egyptians that their nation would become "larger than the world itself".

After becoming president in 2014, Sisi made more tangible promises, assuring Egyptians that he would initiate an economic revival, eliminate terrorism, create the basis for genuine democracy and broad human rights, and improve the nation's education system and infrastructure, among other things.

From the standpoints of both political science and economics, Sisi has performed poorly: Today, on the four-year anniversary of the coup, Egypt is worse off on most standards of measure, and the nation is not (in any meaningful sense) a democracy.

Despite some signs of modest growth, Egypt's economy continues to sputter along, for the most part. Poverty in Egypt has increased markedly over the past several years as inflation has increased to about 30 percent, and the Egyptian pound recently hit an all-time low against the dollar.

Moreover, Sisi's ballyhooed Suez Canal project - which went ahead without a public feasibility study and against the advice of economists - has failed to generate anything close to the revenue increase Sisi promised.

After overthrowing Mohamed Morsi, who hailed from the Muslim Brotherhood, Sisi killed, banned and jailed thousands of non-violent Islamists, including many Brotherhood leaders and members.

The state's campaign of violent repression has, among other things, likely fuelled violent Islamic State offshoots. Sisi has failed to reduce Egypt's terrorist threat, and, if anything, government policies have tended to exacerbate the terror problem.

Egypt's security woes dovetail with the nation's economic crisis

Violent vigilante attacks have increased dramatically during Sisi's tenure, as previously dormant groups have launched hundreds of strikes in major Egyptian cities, including Cairo.

Terrorists have killed hundreds of Egyptian soldiers and police officers in the Sinai Peninsula (and elsewhere across Egypt); murdered dozens of Christian worshipers in multiple attacks on Churches; assassinated Egypt's Prosecutor General in Central Cairo in June 2015; and shot down a Russian passenger jet in October 2015.

Given Sisi's security-focused presidential campaign platform, his inability to reduce vigilante violence can be seen as a significant failure, both because of the sheer human toll violence has taken on Egyptian society and also because of the impact years of social instability have had on Egypt's economy.

  Read more: IS claim responsibility for massacre of Egyptian Christians

Indeed, Egypt's security woes dovetail with the nation's economic crisis, mostly because Egypt's economy has, for decades, been fundamentally reliant upon tourism revenue.

Sisi's presidential campaign promised to revive Egypt's struggling post-uprising tourism industry, but this key sector of the economy has continued to struggle. For instance, with the tourism industry already sluggish, a report by Egypt's Ministry of Planning showed a 34 percent drop in tourism revenue during the first nine months of the 2015-2016 fiscal year. This dramatic year-over-year drop was likely precipitated by a spate of terror attacks, including the downing of the Russian passenger jet.

Sisi has failed to move Egypt meaningfully in the direction of either democratic rule or human rights

Sisi and other figures in Egypt's post-coup governmental order have also failed to move Egypt meaningfully in the direction of either democratic rule or human rights. The post-coup government moved quickly to eliminate all forms of serious political opposition - the Muslim Brotherhood, which won five consecutive free-and-fair votes in 2011 and 2012, was banned in 2013 and declared a terrorist organisation in 2014.

Additionally, in the weeks and months following the coup, the government carried out several large massacres of unarmed opposition protesters, effectively eliminated important secular opposition figures and groups, arrested hundreds of political leaders, shut down oppositional media, and greatly restricted the work of NGOs.

Also, draconian legislation effectively eliminated political protests in 2013, and, in 2014, a counterterrorism law was, according to Amnesty International, passed in order to provide "yet another tool for the authorities to crush all forms of dissent and steamroll over basic human rights".


Egypt's post-coup government also rammed through a new military-and-police-friendly constitution in early 2014.

During the referendum period, both state and private media outlets campaigned aggressively for a 'yes' vote, with the voices of Egyptians who were opposed to the constitution effectively eliminated. With tens of thousands of 'vote yes' billboards and flyers plastered across Egypt, a few individuals who attempted to post 'vote no' fliers were arrested. Unsurprisingly, the constitution passed with the 'yes' vote garnering 98 percent of all votes.

Sisi's 2014 presidential campaign was similarly undemocratic. The military successfully eliminated all serious political challengers - the most serious candidates had already been banned or arrested prior to the start of the campaign season, but a few others who remained free to contest the election ultimately withdrew after deciding the process was a sham.

In the end, Sisi was victorious, collecting 97 percent of the vote, about the same total as earlier Arab dictators such as Hosni Mubarak, Saddam Hussein, and Muammar Gaddafi formerly received.

President Sisi is widely believed to wield significant control over both Egypt's parliament and judiciary, or at least key aspects of them

In recent months, the government has continued to arrest individuals it deems political threats, and greatly expanded its media crackdown, blocking access to more than 100 websites that challenge the dominant government narrative.

With the 2018 presidential campaign looming, the government is also working hard to eliminate potential rivals to Sisi's throne. Khalid Ali, a human rights lawyer, is widely believed to be the only potential, serious competitor to Sisi.

He has been intimidated, arrested, and, according to Newsweek, "bullied" by the Egyptian government. Ali faces trial later this summer on trumped up charges that are likely to lead to the judiciary blocking his candidacy.

In addition, there is no meaningful separation of powers in Sisi's Egypt. President Sisi is widely believed to wield significant control over both Egypt's parliament and judiciary, or at least key aspects of them.

  Read more: Egypt's Sisi extends state of emergency for three months

Sisi recently proceeded to give away two Egyptian Islands, Tiran and Sanafir, to Saudi Arabia, despite a High Administrative Court ruling that said the handover was unlawful and unconstitutional. 

Sisi's failures are not just a problem for Egypt - they are a problem for the entire Arab region.

Sisi supports many of reactionary trends in the Arab region and beyond. He supports Bashar Al-Assad's campaign of violence in Syria and Donald Trump's anti-Muslim agenda in the United States, and is a key part of the current blockade and siege against Qatar, one of the few Arab nations to have offered at least some support for the principles and movements associated with the Arab Spring.

Sisi likely realises that, at present, he doesn't enjoy much popularity in Egypt. This realisation is likely the reason behind the government's decision to effectively ban foreign opinion polls, including those which ask Egyptians to rate their level of support for Sisi's performance. 

Awareness of Sisi's relative unpopularity is also likely behind the government's attempts to further eliminate all forms of political competition, such as Ali.

None of this is likely to lead anywhere positive for Egypt, or the region as a whole. I've written elsewhere that another uprising in Egypt is likely a matter of when, not if.

But no one knows for sure.

While it's possible that another uprising brings Sisi down in the near future, equally possible is that he continues to exert his will, and trudge along for another 10-15 years, or even longer. At this point, and given Egypt's continued struggles, it's hard to envision either scenario bringing much good to Egypt, or to the region.

Mohamad Hamas Elmasry is an Associate Professor of Media and Cultural Studies at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, and an Assistant Professor of Communications at the University of North Alabama. He writes about the sociology of news, the media and race, and Egyptian politics and media. 

Follow him on Twitter: @elmasry_mohamad

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.