Something had to give in Egypt

Something had to give in Egypt
Comment: Egyptians are waking up to the fact that Sisi never intended to fulfil his promises, writes Sam Hamad.
6 min read
25 Sep, 2019
Egyptian protesters in Cairo call for Sisi's removal, September 20, 2019 [Getty]
The anti-regime protests that erupted across Egypt last week emerged from a stifling atmosphere of repression.

For those outside Egypt who have seen Sisi's regime for what it was from the beginning, namely a counterrevolutionary form of the Mubarak regime, the extent to which many Egyptians were initially sold on his lies might not have been fully apparent. 

The lies of a better tomorrow for Egyptians. The lies of a more secure, cleaner, stable and economically prosperous Egypt, always contrasted with the alleged 'chaos' of democracy. 

There were even lies about human rights being constitutionally protected and practiced, lies told by the same people who were overseeing massacres and the creation of veritable prison state for all dissenters.  

Every single one of his 'promises' and every aspect of his ruling narrative has been exposed as a lie - lies underlined by the most brazen barbarism and avarice. 

Even the entirely contrived narrative of Sisi as the 'unwilling president' who sacrificed his military career to serve the Egyptian people was blown apart when he ceremoniously amended the constitution to keep himself in power beyond his term limits.

It was easy for us, outside of Egypt, unconditioned by its 'traditions' of propaganda and the socio-political prejudices that informed much of its anti-Morsi and anti-Muslim Brotherhood narratives, to point out how absurd all of this was at the time.  

Sisi has engendered a state of constant and unprecedented repression in Egypt

But, unlikely as it may seem, the diverse elements of Sisi's support base each had their own genuine expectations for him.  

What we're seeing today, is the reality that Sisi has consistently failed to rise to the occasion. In fact, what we're witnessing, and what Mohamed Ali's video attacks vividly demonstrate, is Egyptians waking up to the fact that Sisi didn't even try to fulfil them and, what's more, it was never his intention to try.

Ali offers up an almost perfect encapsulation of the socio-political nature of these protests. He openly admits his support for the protests that were an integral part in the overthrow of Morsi in the summer of 2013. We also know that he worked with the regime as a relatively high-level military contractor, meaning he and his family were part of Egypt's exclusive system of patronage.  

All this points to the key fact that Ali is unconnected to what might be called Egypt's 'traditional opposition', whether it's the Muslim Brotherhood (something of which the regime immediately accused him), Nasserists or the network of liberal professional 'activists' who were often misleadingly presented as the 'voices' and 'faces' of the January 25 revolution.  

Ali's role as a veritable insider is of the utmost importance. If he was in any way associated with Brotherhood or the 'traditional opposition', the regime's propaganda state and private propaganda outlets would've easily dismissed him.  

But the relatively heterodox angle of his criticisms, as a former Sisi supporter and someone who has worked with the regime, is precisely why his videos have garnered such a huge impact within Egypt.  

To those of us who have never supported Sisi or bought into any of his lies, what Ali is saying is unsurprising, but those who did, they chime with the lived realities of the increasingly dismal life of the average Egyptian.

When Ali details the extent of the huge, systemic corruption that the Sisi regime undertakes, including the personal corruption of the Sisi family, it's very much in sync with Egyptians, from all classes outside of the super-rich, who have seen a sharp decline in living standards. Even rich Egyptians can be found moaning about how Egyptian produce - everything from football shirts to fruit - has declined in quality.

Again, Ali's social class and background are telling here. It's the lower middle and working classes that ultimately feel the most social and political pain due to the IMF-backed austerity policies of the regime combined with the socially destructive everyday consequences of kleptocracy.  

But it's precisely because those higher up the socioeconomic ladder have also been negatively affected that Ali's criticisms have been embraced like no other source of opposition in Egypt since 2011.

And it's not simply confined to economic factors.  

As I wrote back in August, Sisi has engendered a state of constant and unprecedented repression in Egypt. This repression, in its beginnings, was targeted against the Muslim Brotherhood, Freedom and Justice Party and anyone who supported the democracy of January 25. 

But that wasn't enough for the regime.

The Sisi regime represents the counterrevolutionary leap away from Mubrarak-era authoritarianism to a new dawn of totalitarianism

In its efforts to ensure that another January 25 could never happen again, the regime has rolled out that repression to any criticism of the regime or its apparatuses. The resulting laws turn popular tweeters and Facebookers into potential 'terrorist organisations' if they even satirically criticise the regime, leading to social media figures facing military trial, and being flung into the same dungeons as the much-feared Brotherhood. 

The result is a war waged by the regime against anything that is independent of it, or that remotely poses a threat to its very delicately balanced status quo of kleptocratic tyranny. Victims have included civil society groups, and even a student benignly carrying a copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four.  

The Sisi regime represents the counterrevolutionary leap away from Mubrarak-era authoritarianism to a new dawn of totalitarianism, where even what one reads, learns and ultimately thinks is conditioned by the regime.   

The net result of this is the persecution of people who were previously thought to be 'untouchable' in terms of state persecution.

For this reason, even feloul (former Mubarak-era officials) who criticised or dared to oppose Sisi, such as Mubarak's old defence minister Ahmed Shafik or his old Army Chief of Staff Sami Anan, were arrested and, to use apposite mafia terminology, made offers they couldn't refuse to terminate their criticisms and campaigns of opposition. 

There should be no doubt about how seriously Sisi takes these criticisms, even going as far to mention them publicly, something he rarely, if ever does.  

Read more: Egypt detains at least 1,300 over 'Palacegate' protests against 'Sisi corruption'

I was often astounded that a society could face such active and expansive repression for six years without any significant resistance. These protests - despite the brutal crackdown that ensued - could be the beginning of that reaction.  

The fact that so many Egyptians, acutely aware of the ruthless regime massacres at Rabaa and Nadha, demonstrated across the country, points to a change in the popular political consciousness of Egyptians. 

Under Sisi, chanting the infamous slogan 'the people demand the fall of the regime' could literally land someone a death sentence.  

And yet, still they chant it. While it's too early to label this a new January 25, the following days and weeks will determine the depth of this change, and Sisi's capacity to resist it.

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

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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.