2014: The Sisification of Egypt
By Amr Khalifa
If your wishes for 2014, in Egypt, included respect of human rights, a civil state and respectable judiciary, the year was an efficient delivery system of pain. The stark reality that this dark turn in history delivered, to analysts and dissidents alike: the majority of Egyptians prefer to exalt in Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s iron-fisted glory. This ‘fist’ has seen Egypt arrest over 10,000Egyptians this year alone, including hundreds of minors. When Mubarak was, recently, found innocent of charges of killing protesters, in yet another dark twist, two more protesters were killed while protesting the verdict. The 25 January Revolution seems an increasingly hazy historical relic in an era of extreme political dichotomies. Such is a refusal that any narrative outside the government line exists that, two weeks ago, a man was arrested for possession of magic markers in the bathroom of a mosque: accused of writing anti-regime messages . The world stands idly by, for various reasons, and watches the ‘Sisification’ of Egypt in 2014.
The western bankers, and increasingly many governments, perceive Al-Sisi in a positive light as Egyptian payments to creditors have increased, and government subsidies have decreased. Tell that to the tens of thousands of political dissidents languishing in Al-Sisi’s jails – many for hundreds of days without charge, either criminal or political. Al-Sisi’s supporters, and they are many, strongly believe that his presidency will bring the dream of stability. So long as Al-Sisi can deliver on that singular campaign promise, it appears that the audience, both domestic and foreign, is willing to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to systematic abuses of human rights. Those very supporters manage to ignore an increasingly heated terror paradigm seeking to stretch its nefarious hold from Sinai to multiple governorates within the domestic arena. Time and again, conscripts, police officers and the army are shot at, blown up and the security apparatus are reactive rather than proactive. There are waves of public anger but of note is whom that anger seeks out. In all cases, naturally, it targets the Islamist/Jihadi extremist element, prominent among them Sinai State, formerly Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, and Ajnad Misr.
After some of the larger operations against security forces that anger has targeted Minister of Interior Mohammed Ibrahim, and just this past week policemen in Alexandria blocked off the precinct preventing the warden from entrance while demanding better protection from terrorists. Even as soldiers and policemen are thrown, as lambs, to the slaughter, the official government narrative continues to pound away about stability. What has helped construct the false paradigm of stability are ever weakening weekly Islamist demonstrations.
Not only have these, largely Muslim Brotherhood, demonstrations decreased both in size and frequency, but their biggest failure has been an inability to ferment any kind of tangible political alliance with Salafists or, more importantly, with 25 January ‘revolutionary’ camps. Accordingly, the Al-Sisi regime plays a strategic game of wait-and-see: live fire has decreased as government realises that Islamist deaths assist, the now banned, Muslim Brotherhood in donning the victim’s cape. This cannot belie that the vast majority of Egyptians killed, tortured, and jailed since 3 July 2013 have been Islamists. But for the Al-Sisi camp the image, sans nuance, is one of increasing stability; hence, one of Sisification of the security environment.
If democracy is a sail ship Al-Sisi has, instead, boarded a battle ship into the political sphere. A recent article by The Guardian pointed out, with precision, that the Adly and Al-Sisi administrations have rendered the term ‘dictatorship’ an understatement and crossed, with sure steps, into the realm of the draconian. Al-Sisi has “used the absence of an elected parliament to almost unilaterally issue a series of draconian decrees that severely restrict freedom of expression, association and assembly”. In an, often cited, sickening irony the very modus operandi of revolt, demonstration, has been made illegal via the, now infamous, Protest Law and used to thrust the leading figures of the 25 January revolt into system’s dungeons.
But the question, often ignored, is why has the vast majority of Egyptians turned a blind eye to this crude violation of human rights? The answer is darker than the act of imprisonment itself and is two-fold. Primarily, after over 36 months of demonstrations, the average Egyptian became an embodiment of demonstration fatigue even when they are well warranted. But the revolutionary camps, liberal and later Islamist, became guilty of lacking a strategy and relied too heavily on demonstration based refusal of the status quo. Many in the opposition, from various political quarters, hang their hope on a belief that the regime’s consistent errors will hasten its demise. Sadly the opposition does not recognise that their own naive errors have assisted Al-Sisi in tightening the noose around the opposition’s neck. The equation for Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has been security in exchange for a carte blanch from the populous and a carte blanch he has received. Those waiting for a parliament, in the coming months, will be sorely disappointed as all indications point to a highly muted and pro regime version being prepared to formalise the status quo and strengthen the vice grip of the police state.
Police states, such as Al-Sisi’s, are fond of loudly trumpeting the rule of law, but if 2014 uncovered anything it showed the systematic flouting of such laws by Al-Sisi and his elites. 2014 became the year of the ‘leak’ and leak did the upper rungs of the Al-Sisi administration. Leaks appeared throughout the year but the most dangerous ones, ones that appear to be recorded in the head Al-Sisi’s office, found their way into public purview in the last five weeks of the year. The firstleak appears to show intentional attempts by a highly important member of SCAF to collude with the general prosecutor and a high ranking official in the Egyptian navy to doctor paper work pertaining to the imprisonment of ex-president Morsi.
On a basic level, the regime felt, due to Morsi being held in a military hanger and not under the jurisdiction of the interior ministry, that the case against Morsi was prone to collapse. Crucially, in second part of the leak Al-Sisi, then defence minister, speaks to actors in scandal who confirm the matter has been handled. Try as the regime might to indicate that said recordings were doctored and/or manipulated by the Muslim Brotherhood those attempts only showed desperation by a regime publicly uncovered.
Other leaks followed but most important was the last, having been released this past week. It showed manipulation of the judiciary – the very same judiciary implicated in a number of dubious and, what appear to be, politicised verdicts earlier this year. In the days following Rabaa [Al-Adaweya], there was another massacre involving 37 prisoners who were murdered by police officers who tossed tear gas in the transport bus of Muslim Brotherhood members. The verdict against those officers has since been overturned. The leak, where listeners can hear Gen Mamdooh Shahin of SCAF discussing with Gen Abbas Kamal, who heads Al-Sisi’s office, appears to show the former promising the latter tomanipulate the judiciary on behalf of one of the implicated officers – the son of a high ranking official. In Egypt, circa 2014, the law, rather than a purveyor of justice, was a conduit of control for the ruling elite.
For Egyptians in love with Al-Sisi tunnel vision is the rule but, for all others, this is a regime with no vision. With a system of non-existent legislative, highly pliable judiciary, and a draconian executive visions of 2015 are not full of happy song. Al-Sisi is correct in one regard, however, “the crisis facing Egypt is bigger than any president”.
Amr Khalifa is a freelance journalist recently published by Ahram Online, Tahrir Institute, Muftah and Mada Masr