Sisi's pantomime referendum

Sisi's pantomime referendum
Comment: The armed forces' role as the ruling force of the tyrannical state is now official, writes Sam Hamad.
5 min read
23 Apr, 2019
'The Egyptian judiciary was already packed full of Sisi loyalists' writes Hamad [Moment Editorial/Getty]
"The rich don't need to even pretend thedre's democracy in Egypt."  

My friend, another Egyptian reduced to anonymity out of fear, says this with almost humourous resignation. 

"This is why they're offering the poor people food just to come out… there's not even a requirement to vote… just to turn up at the polling station for the cameras."   

There's another "democratic ceremony" happening in Egypt.  

There's absolutely no doubt in anyone's mind as to the outcome of the referendum. The food, namely meagre portions of oil, rice and macaroni, or even cash payments for some lucky Egyptians, or the threat of force for some of the less lucky, serve only as an incentives for the largely disinterested poorer classes to serve as camera fodder for regime propaganda.  

The outcome has nothing to do with the will of the people of Egypt, it has already been decided for them.   

Not only will the vote certainly be fixed, but the regime has blocked by force any attempt to run a significant campaign against the amendments that would allow President Sisi to extend his rule.  

To attribute democracy to this, or any "electoral" event that has happened in Egypt since the brutal and ongoing coup against not just a democratic government but democracy itself, is an exercise in the absurd.  

The regime's goals in this pantomime referendum relate to the term limits of the presidency, the authority of the presidency over the judiciary and the authority of the Egyptian armed rorces over, well, everything.

There's another 'democratic ceremony' happening in Egypt

To translate this into the language of counter-revolution, it means that President Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi will be able to stay in power until 2030, six years more than the terms stated in the constitution and will have complete control over all aspects of the state, with even the few slight cracks in the greats walls of tyrannical power paved over.  

Through a combination of black listing and professional and even not-so-professional persecution, the judiciary in Egypt was already packed full of Sisi loyalists. But there was constitutional room within the judicial system for potential sites of resistance to the regime.  

Those sites, already so meagre, will be completely nullified once the mock referendum is finished and ratified.  

Read more: Egyptian 'President-for-life' referendum rife with bribery, coercion, irregularities

The president will be given unprecedented powers over the judiciary, placing him as head of the Higher Council of Judicial Authorities, allowing him the power to appoint and dismiss the head of public prosecutions and leading members of the judiciary in every legal field.

Most notably, the president alone will have the power to appoint the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC).

The referendum also seeks to constitutionally cement the role of the military over Egypt's allegedly civil governance. Article 200 of the constitution, which defines the role of the military solely as a security organisation that exists to "preserve [Egypt's] security and territories", will be amended to expand their role to "preserve the constitution and democracy", as well as "upholding the gains of the people".  

It's hardly difficult to discern that Egypt is a praetorian kleptocracy - a state of mass but centralised corruption ruled by a military caste.  

And this has been the case for many decades. It was a reality long before this referendum, with the military controlling much of the Egyptian economy and its "civil regime" controlling the entire economic sphere through a system of patronage, but the amendment, for the first time, puts all this in writing.  

Though it might use lovely words and expressions such as "democracy" and "gains of the people", it means that the Armed Forces' role as the ruling force of the tyrannical state is now official.

The last outcome of the referendum will be the reintroduction of an Upper House in Egypt's parliament. Though the lower house is already packed full of Sisi loyalists (only 22 of its 596 members voted against the constitutional amendments), the new senate will simply provide a new layer of loyalists.

The new senate will simply provide a new layer of loyalists

If you envision the regime as a mafia, by creating a senate the Sisi regime is opening up the books to a whole new layer of loyal soldiers that will serve as the ultra-corrupt vanguard of the ruling class on the civil sphere.  

So now to the question of why? Some, including the noted columnist Abdullah el-Sennawy, believe that the regime is doing this out of a position of weakness.  

Some see it as it getting ready to weather a storm to come, a storm that it has most recently seen Bashir in Sudan and Bouteflika in Algeria swept away.  

I think this is over-optimistic.  

While these amendments certainly do serve to protect the regime from any kind of potential unrest, this is more a case of the regime immunising itself against potential problems by entrenching itself deeper into the social fabric of Egypt.

There is nothing to indicate mass popular protests breaking out in Egypt, but one huge problem remains for the regime: What do they do without Sisi?

As hard as it might be for people to believe, Sisi is the regime's greatest asset. He essentially unites the ruling forces of the state and continues to enjoy a diminished but significant bloc of popularity among the people.

They look at the potential popularity of even old Mubarak-era figures who oppose the current status quo in the country and it worries them greatly, precisely because they come from within the broad ruling classes.

This is why they have to ensure Sisi can stay in power for as long as possible, while ensuring that the judiciary, as a legal body that can in theory undermine and oppose the regime, pose no problems for Sisi and his potential chosen successor.

The senate, packed full of ultra-loyal servants of the military, will serve as an additional check on any potential disquiet within the lower house should any kind of large scale change occur within the Egyptian regime or Egypt itself.

I've written before that what's happening in Egypt ought to be considered more of a continuous coup, but it's perhaps more like a coup, within a coup within a coup - a Russian doll regime that is active primarily to secure its own power from its enemies.

Sam Hamad is an independent Scottish-Egyptian activist and writer.

Join the conversation @The_NewArab

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.