President Sisi, Egypt’s Next Autocrat?

Egypt1Egyptians celebrated a tremendous achievement when the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak was toppled on February 11th, 2011. Unfortunately, that victory was short-lived because the subsequent leader, Mohammed Morsi, fell far short in delivering on the people’s goals of “bread, freedom and social justice.” Now a year after Morsi’s leadership abruptly ended, the military official who announced the coup to depose Morsi, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, is going to be elected the next President of Egypt. Sisi is expected to usher in a reversion to many of the same autocratic policies and practices of the Mubarak era that Egyptians fought so hard against in the first place.

A defining hope early on in the Arab Spring was that with the downfall of autocratic leaders like Mubarak, Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, Ben Ali in Tunisia, and Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen, a new and promising future would be on the horizon for the region. However, with perhaps the exception of Tunisia, the aforementioned countries are still facing daily challenges in managing the difficult transitional period toward finding a new and stable government. Egypt as the largest nation in terms of economic size, population, and regional influence is once again facing oppressive military encroachment that will severely limit the potential of its people.

After Mubarak was overthrown, the power vacuum was filled by the most organized institution outside of the formal state apparatus: the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohammed Morsi, narrowly defeated the military’s contender in June of 2012. When Morsi became president he consolidated power to his own office until his controversial ouster via military coup on July 3rd, 2013. Morsi’s creeping Islamism in politics divided the country and resulted in sporadic deadly clashes on the streets.  Conflict between the Brotherhood and the military apparatus that has persisted in tensions across the country and led to greater pessimism toward the future.

Although Morsi was elected democratically, he turned his back on the majority of the Egyptian people by failing to implement the reforms expected of a new leader. The Brotherhood was banned by the current interim regime and nearly 700 people were sentenced to death by a court for their role in the violence on behalf of the Brotherhood though the decision is not yet final. The court ruling is shocking both in terms of scale and in terms of brutality, and has served to reduce the Brotherhood to a shell of what it once was. Originally a leader in informal community development and social projects across the country, the jump into the political realm for the Brotherhood backfired incredibly.

Though Mohammed Morsi was responsible for mismanagement during his term as president, the planned execution of hundreds, persecution of hundreds more, and declaration by Sisi that the group would be wiped out are reminiscent of the Mubarak’s brutal repression tactics from when he was in power. Already the United States, which held an ambivalent stance towards the Morsi ouster, has warmed to the prospect of Sisi taking the reins in Egypt. After reducing military exports to Egypt, the US has begun sending Apache attack helicopters again in order to combat extremist violence in the Sinai peninsula.

General Sisi announcing the military coup that ousted President Mohammed Morsi

General Sisi announcing the military coup that ousted President Mohammed Morsi

On June 5th it is widely expected that Sisi will be announced as the next president of the country. Sisi has manipulated his image to be a symbol of stability and opposition to Morsi, though it is clear that his military allegiances will not disappear once he takes the leadership role. “Sisi-mania” took the country by storm when General Sisi stepped up to declare Morsi as unfit in the military coup, and ever since he has been destined for the top spot and crafted as a reluctant but beloved leader.

After more than four decades in the military, there is little question that Sisi will not deviate from the military interference in institutions and businesses that has kept them so entrenched in Egyptian society and politics. His reaction to the Brotherhood has suggested that opposition to his rule will be met with an iron fist, and the cult of personality that has been created around him marginalizes those who disagree with the direction he will take the country. What Egypt really needs is a more representative government that includes the real revolutionaries and liberals who ousted Mubarak, however those groups have been scattered and disorganized especially in contrast with the hierarchy of the military. Furthermore, eliminating the Muslim Brotherhood only pushes moderate religious Egyptians away from the state and gives the more extreme Islamic groups, such as the Salafis more legitimacy in their grievances.

The reality is that Sisi will be the next leader of Egypt, and the future does not look bright in terms of his promises to moving Egypt forward. The liberal revolutionaries that hoped for a freer, more accountable, and less corrupt Egypt have in many ways been co-opted by the old military elites with a new veneer. The military apparatus in Egypt has successfully capitalized on the disappointment that came with Morsi’s presidency and Sisi’s camp has presented him as the only option left. The United States has already decided to play ball with Sisi, and the majority of the Egyptian people have begrudgingly accepted the reality before them though once he is in the limelight the dissatisfaction with the military may return. Hopefully slowly but surely, the aspirations that led to Mubarak’s fall may once again permeate into Egyptian politics to direct the country through positive development for the people. Sisi has made sweeping promises to alleviate poverty and interestingly says he will step down if the people rise up against him, but I for one wouldn’t bet on it just yet.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “President Sisi, Egypt’s Next Autocrat?

  1. Great post–very informative

  2. Elias K.Aharon

    I read the map differently. I have been following developments within and about Egyptian arenas via direct source Arab media. The occurrences and turn of events in Egypt since January 2011 have been a fascinating instructive object lesson to those who followed up attentively open minded.

    The more so for me, being an old Jewish academic 1951, an ex-flux ending more than two millenniums stay in Babylon – Iraq in modern times – a country which after the exodus of its ancient Jewish population has been fated ever-since to foster inter and intra sectorial deadly animosities leading meticulously practically to actual and imminent daily bloodshed and destruction. Well, one may cynically remind – the classical Jew scapegoat was not there!

    Jews and Egypt are spiritually bound by sort of a standing mystic non-perishable historical Pharaoh pre-Islam linkage. The growing Islamic presence since the “Hijra” and the involvement of Jews in Arabic culture and the Professions overshadowed that basically intrinsic affinity by Jews to Egypt and Egyptians. The inception of the State of Israel in May 1948, adjacent to Egyptian borders, must have had, in a way, insidiously rekindled dormant ember – hybrid biblical reminiscences and muzzy sentiments cropping out of current animation of past factual or legendary chronicles. Somehow, time and again a sporadic visualization steps on me: Hebrews, lacking staple food, sojourn for good or bad, the land of the Nile within the precinct of old Egypt, deep in slavery, politic, culture, reign. I am just one descendent of that remarkable old breed, my fore-parents’ exodus, my roots deep in that blessed soil, somehow sometime over there, sweating the heat and toil, maybe availing themselves of the blessings of the Nile.

    I have not been in Egypt physically, I care for Egypt and do wish her stable peace, rising prosperity, to flourish and keep safe and sound. The Inauguration Ceremony of President Sisi is an important milestone in Egypt’s history. It is the first time ever for a Head of State to be elected by direct public referendum in accordance with stipulated principles and procedures embedded in updated fair and equitable constitution along with Presidency actions and Orders susceptible to statutory oversight.

    I tend to believe in President Sis, his integrity, his piece and peace of mind. I distinctly feel his honest intentions and earnest inclination to afford his country and people fair and equitable peace and prosperity.

    “Democracy” is a tricky hazy-crazy expression subject to interpretation of the specific tamed or untamed specific interpreter. That expression could be manipulated when promulgated and easily adaptable by persons or groups to accommodating their own particular interests to serve sinister ends. It is amenable in interpretation, unpredictable in application.

    Looking closely constitutionally on the Egyptian scenario since June 2013, an objective mind cannot end up with a verdict of guilty against the General Staff. The involvement of the General Staff was critical to save the country and inhabitants from falling easy prey to extreme radicalism, back to dark pages of history. In the case of Egypt, its Armed Forces hold the statutory authority to act and were the sole address able to cope with the i calamity.

    The score count fails the Muslim Brotherhood. Their trends and actions were appalling and extremely dangerous to the nation at large. Their religious doctrines and fanaticism are not representative of core Islam, just far away from main scriptures and spirit, mostly nullifying pivot center stream.

    Sisi, on the memorable June 30, 2013 stood up steady and decided amidst chaotic impending mischief to save his country, the people and future of Egypt. The cruel bad omens did not come true/ . Luckily, with Almighty’s will he succeeded.

    Summing up, my legal and accounting qualifications and expertize with plain common sense scrutinizing President Sisi’s background and record, sensing his acts, utterances, decisions and judging the recent revision amendment to the Constitution, he has certainly done very well so far. He leaves impressions of charisma and integrity, civilized, religious, carries himself well. He thus holds a good chance of successfully navigating his Egyptian heavy barge through and beyond muddy hostile inter and intra currents. I bet he will do his level and above best honestly, conscientiously, equitably to attain his declared clear goals. His people need him. The shaky Middle East need him.

    • Elias, thank you for your opinion and insight I appreciate your reply.

      However, I must say the majority of your post focuses outside of the personality of Sisi and the recent history. Most importantly I note the heavy handed sentencing of journalists and the issued death sentences against nearly two hundred Muslim Brotherhood members. I don’t disagree with you at all that under Morsi many of Egypt’s issues got worse and many problems were added, but I don’t hail the return towards a strong military leadership as a positive given the recent history citing most notably Mubarak.

      I don’t mind that Sisi is civilized, full of charisma, and holds himself well. I wish for an accountable leader in Egypt that listens to all Egyptians, not just those who put him in power. As a military leader he comes from a institution in Egypt that holds significant power and has the opportunity to reform, however there is little indication that any in the military leadership ranks wish to see another civilian leader at the helm of Egypt.

      Democracy is a very difficult and fluid concept in any situation. It is clear if you read into the elections that Sisi’s ascendance was guaranteed but not through the most honest means. Many people boycotted the election and many voted for Sisi as the ‘least-worst’ option. I agree that the election of Sisi will bring a much-needed level of stability to the country but I question at what cost to the social and economic prosperity of the lower classes and those not tied to the military. Sisi has the power to change Egypt, and I am cautiously hoping for the best.

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