Thursday, February 27, 2014
Even though he hasn’t officially announced his presidential bid yet, all indications point to the fact that Field Marshal El-Sisi will run for president. Everything that is now happening in Egypt is viewed from only one prism: El-Sisi’s nomination. When the Biblawy cabinet was sacked, observers immediately jumped into the conclusion that the move was aimed at releasing El-Sisi from his job as defense minister so he can announce his candidacy. When it turned out that El-Sisi will remain defense ministers in the new cabinet, observers changed their theory: unable to stop the increasing labor strikes, Biblawy was sacked in the hope that the new Prime Minister will succeed, even if by a small degree, in solving some of the country’s problems – such as labor strikes and power shortages- and eventually smoothen El-Sisi’s passage to the presidential palace.
Just like everything which is going on right now in Egypt, we cannot know for sure why the Biblawy government resigned. We can only speculate. However, when it comes to El-Sisi’s nomination for president, we do have enough evidence and events to indicate that his nomination is the most likely scenario. Now the question is: what will happen if, just like his predecessors, President El-Sisi failed to meet the ever rising expectations of Egyptians? And what will Egypt look like if by some miracle El-Sisi managed to pull the country out of the abyss it is in now?
What can happen if El-Sisi failed?
If El-Sisi failed to save Egypt’s economy and improve the lives of millions who have been suffering during the past three years, the masses could react in two ways. First, they could do what they did best during Mubarak’s 30 years era: do nothing. Second, the masses could start taking to the streets against the same person whom they glorify today. Judging from the past three years, it is hard to believe that Egyptians, especially the young generation, will settle down again. The genie is out of the bottle.
I touched upon that question in a previous post. I argued that if El-Sisi failed to save Egypt’s economy and if the current repression continued, I won’t be surprised if another mass revolt happened. If the current rate of killing and imprisoning young people continued, a new generation of non-Isalmist revolutionaries might rise in the future who, in light of the absence of an alternative opposition, might not mind joining forces with the Muslim Brotherhood to fight the oppressing state. These revolutionaries will be too young to remember the Brotherhood’s betrayal of the revolution in 2011 or their dreadful one year in power. If the economy becomes worse by then, the poor might join these forces and usher in another uprising. However, this time it will not be peaceful. The “violence bar” is already very high now; imagine how higher it could get three or four years from now. Unfortunately, any new uprising will not do the country any good since Egypt cannot withstand another revolution. The state will collapse.
One of the reasons why I don’t want El-Sisi to run is what I mentioned above. Whether we like it or not, the army is the only institution left standing in Egypt which is barely holding the country together. It is the only entity that Egyptians trust. By endorsing El-Sisi’s presidential bid, the army generals acted like members of a civilian political party and have pinned the future popularity of the military institution to El-Sisi’s performance as president. This is a very dangerous gamble, and a very serious mistake that El-Sisi and his colleagues have done.
It seems that Egypt’s patrons in the Gulf also share my viewpoint. A month ago, Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohamed Bin Rashid expressed his hope that El-Sisi does not run for president. “I hope he remains in the military, and that another person [runs] for the presidency,” he said. The editor in chief of Al Sharq Al Sawsat newspaper and the General Manager of Al Arabiya news channel, Abdul Rahman Al Rashid, wrote an op-ed advising El-Sisi not to run for president. It is widely believed that Al Rashid is close to the Saudi royal family.
What can happen if El-Sisi succeeded?
If El-Sisi miraculously managed to save the economy and improved the lives of the masses, he will truely be the next Gamal Abdul Nasser to the masses and an Erdogan – a more despotic version though- to democracy and revolution advocates. Erdogan’s autocracy started to surface when he concluded that the majority will still vote for him because he improved the economy and there is no other viable alternative to his party’s rule. We still have to see whether Erdogan’s conclusion is correct when Turks go to the polls this March and later in June, but it seems that this is what he believes right now.
El-Sisi, an already sole ruler in Egypt, will most likely continue exhibiting every characteristic of a despotic ruler if he succeeded as president. Even if he tried to show goodwill at the onset of his presidency, as Nathan Brown suggests here, he will most likely return back to business as usual especially if the people continued endorsing him as the country’s sole leader who managed to save it.
So yes, Egypt, an Arab Spring nation, will not fare well if El-Sisi failed or if he succeeded. Two things can spare us this fate. First, El-Sisi, whether willingly or not, decided to be different and adopt a more conciliatory and democratic approach. Judging from the past months, this looks unlikely. Second, a third alternative to the military and the Islamists emerged on the long run. This is exactly what Egypt needs, a truly democratic political force that will save us from the military-Islamist seesaw.
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Ahmed Hossam, better known as Mido, is the manager of the Zamalek soccer team, the second most popular club in Egypt. At 32 years old, Mido is the youngest manager in the Egyptian premier league. A few days ago he was interviewed on a popular talk show where he openly expressed his admiration of Field Marshal El-Sisi and lambasted the Muslim Brotherhood. His comments were followed by immense criticism on Egyptian social media. Zamalek fans and others, all young Egyptians, criticized Mido for talking about politics instead of focusing on his job. That was ironic because Egypt, since 3 years ago, had nothing to talk about except politics. Mido got the message, he promised his followers on Twitter that he will refrain from talking about politics again.
This incident is a small indication of the behavioral change we’re witnessing in Egypt’s youth, especially the urban young, vis-a-vis politics and the current events that are unfolding in a country that seems to have turned its back to the youth-triggered revolution of 2011. The question of why the younger generation of Egyptians are feeling alienated from the current political discourse arose when they were virtually absent at the last constitution referendum. When I went to cast my ballot, I looked around and found that I was the youngest voter in the entire polling station. I am 34 years old.
The change in attitude and behavior of the younger generation is emanating from a mixture of both apathy and disgust at how the country is moving forward especially after the July 3rd popularly backed coup which was supported by millions including large segments of the youth.
It seems that many young people are now feeling apathetic towards the current political events in Egypt. This is the result of the return of many of Mubarak’s era way of doing things. Take the last referendum for example. Even though the ballots were not forged, the process was not fair. “No” campaigners were arrested and the media, both private and public, unleashed a hysterical campaign to encourage people to vote yes. “Why would I bother and tire myself to vote?” a colleague told me. “We all knew the result would be a yes”. My colleague is not pro-Brotherhood; in fact she is a Christian in her late twenties.
Many youth, especially, those who participated in the January 2011 revolution, feel disgusted at the how events have turned after the ouster of Mohamed Morsi, specifically in regards to the abuses and excesses of the period that followed. The current police brutality and crimes we’re witnessing are unprecedented; they did not even happen during Mubarak. Many of the victims are young people including university students who were killed inside their university campuses. The crackdown has even reached young people who were supportive of the July 3 political order. Two young men who signed the Tamarod petition were gunned down during anti-government protests in Suez and Cairo. . “Even those who did June 30 (the mass demonstration that preceded Morsi’s ouster) are in jail,” I heard a Cairo downtown young street vendor tell his colleague. “Aren’t April 6 members in jail now?” he continued.
These state sanctioned, and unfortunately public condoned, measures did not shift the majority of the youth towards the pro-Morsi camp but I’ve noted before in a previous post that I noticed a rise in the number of young people who decided to join the pro-Morsi demonstrations. The current regime is losing the young generation especially those living in urban areas. These are the ones who triggered the last two mass revolts in Egypt, which toppled two presidents. I hope whomever wants to become president of this country is paying enough attention to this development.
Saturday, February 8, 2014
A few months ago I tweeted that I didn’t think Major General – now Field Marshal – Abdel Fatah El Sisi would run for president. “God does not become a prophet,” I said. Why would he run for such a difficult – and cursed – job and compromise his popularity? It looks like I was wrong. It seems Egypt’s throne is too enticing for many people.
In this post, I won’t discuss why I think it is wrong for El-Sisi to run for president. Many articles and op-eds touched on that topic when it became clear that El-Sisi wants to become Egypt’s next president. I will discuss, as a pragmatist, what I think is one of the army’s most dangerous gambles and why the institution as a whole is compromising its status in Egypt by fulfilling El-Sisi’s 35 years old dream of becoming “Egypt’s leader”.
Whether we like it or not, the Egyptian army is the only entity holding Egypt together at the moment. My pro-revolution friends often laugh at the saying that “the army is the last pole holding the tent up.” This saying is true, it is a fact. The reason why many people are crazy about El-Sisi is not because they’re in love with his persona per se as much as they see in him the only remaining strongman who can save them and bring the country back to normal. They know that the army is the last standing institution that can bring some stability after 3 years of chaos and insecurity. El-Sisi is adored by million because he is the army chief and not because he is El-Sisi.
By agreeing to nominate a president, the army acted like a political party and entered the fray of Egypt’s politics. That fray ranges from fighting jihadists in North Sinai to getting blamed for the increasing price of tomatoes. By stepping in into the Egyptian political quagmire, the army agreed to be on the front line of Egypt’s current war with things like gas prices, power cuts, the price of cooking oil, and the austerity measures that will most likely happen if the country is to depend on itself and not just on aid from the Gulf countries – the Saudis and Emiratis can’t go on feeding 90 million people forever.
The question now is this: what if the army’s candidate failed? What if President El-Sisi failed to meet the already soaring expectations of the people? What if after three or four years people discovered that El-Sisi – the army’s candidate – is as incompetent as his predecessors and ended up losing trust in the only institution still standing in Egypt?
My pro-revolution friends would love that to happen. “Let the army fails so people can learn that military rule is not the answer,” a pro-revolution friend told me. I would have agreed with him if we had alternatives to both the Islamists and the army. Unfortunately, till now, we don’t have any third option. If the army candidate failed and people lost trust in the institution that nominated him, anything could happen including a second revolutionary wave that the country will not withstand.
I would have preferred if the army stayed away from politics. It is better for Egypt and better for the army itself. However, it seems that the army sees the issue from a different perspective. Either the army is afraid to relinquish the rule of Egypt one more time or it’s just that the throne is too sweet in the eyes of its chief, or both.