In March 2018, Sisi has been « re-elected » with 97% of votes. While Moubarak (in power from 1981 to 2011), used to fake democratic elections, Sisi (in power since the 2013 military coup), doesn’t even seem to care about looking like anything else than a tyran. With Trump in power, with the absence of reaction from the international community to the crimes of Assad and Poutine in Syria, the regional context allows for such a political disaster. The Egyptian elections are, to this regard, a manifestation of the brutality of the counter-revolution.
Before the revolution, the Egyptian regime used to give to the opposition (the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups) a very tiny margin of movement. Sisi, the current dictator, on the other hand, claims to be a savior that transcends political constraints, and as such, Sisi fights any sort of (even fake) opposition. No one is entitled to criticize even one of his ministers because it would be considered a personal offense or a challenge to his power. He realizes that perhaps it was this tiny margin that Moubarak left open that allowed the leak that would trigger the revolution in 2011.
In 2013, the military coup was followed by huge protests to counter the army and to support Morsi,the democratically elected president. Sisi responded by sending the army and the police, heavily armed, even with helicopters, to shoot on protestors. A thousand people died that day — this was the biggest massacre in modern Egyptian history. Since then, 16 new prisons have been built in order to contain sixty thousands political detainees. The conditions in these prisons are inhumain beyond words : torture, rape, on a massive scale. Often does the regime not give any information about the arrest or the execution. It always starts with the detainees first disappearing for days up to weeks and months in some cases, then suddenly reappearing in a government detention center confessing committing something that may have taken place during their detention
Two tiny islands at the center of the narrative
The violence of the regime’s repression is unprecedented. But it’s not just a matter of degree of violence, as much as a shift in the regime’s nature and rhetoric. This shift is shown very clearly in the « Tiran and Sanafir » case. They are two tiny Egyptian islands, located at the entrance of the Aqaba gulf, which have played quite a central role in the national narrative of the Arab-Israeli conflict. During the Six Days War in 1967, after Egypt closed the Aqaba gulf through these islands, Israel claimed that it was international land as a justification for its agression. In the Egyptian national narrative, Egyptians « liberated with their blood » these two islands. And at the core of this narrative, the army lies as the gate keeper. Fast forward to 2017, Mohamed Ben-Salman, the Saudi crown prince, wanted the islands for his fantasy dream of « modernizing » the kingdom and to have direct borders with Israel, a major ally in the Iranian front. Sisi sold the islands, claiming that the islands had always been Saudi, that Egypt « occupied » it, and that it was time to give it back to their « rightful owners ». This was a real shock to a lot of Sisi’s supporters because it breaks the pact that they had with state. For the nationalists, Egypt is more important than Egyptians, and loosing a “speck of dust of the Egyptian soil” is an act of treason. This was a red line even for Moubarak: he was known to be a corrupt dictator, yet he had some support from the nationalistic camp, because he embodied the image of a strong, united, sovereign Egypt.
After the revolution, the majority of nationalists were supportive of the army and of Sisi’s coup (2013). Their main argument was that Egypt needed a strong figure at its head, in the midst of the Middle East chaos. They condoned, if not cheered for, the brutal wave of oppression that followed, as it came with the promise that it will save the state and guard the homeland. They « ignored » that Sisi’s coup that overthrew Morsi was supported by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Of course, their generous financial support was not an act of charity but rather a subjugation, as the issue of the two islands illustrates it. As it turns out, the « Tiran and Sanafir » case is central in the opposition of the Sisi regime from within the army and also from the civilian opposition. This was most evident in the presidential elections.
Sisi, a tyrant with no opponents
From the 26th until the 29th of March 2018, presidential « elections » took place in Egypt. It ended with an expected staggering victory for Sisi of 97% of the votes. There was never any doubt that Sisi would do everything in his power to stay at the head of the country. This is nothing new: Nasser remained in power until he died, Sadat until he was murdered and Moubarak until the revolution. Yet, the way these elections and the campaign was conducted shed light on the major differences between Sisi’s regime and rhetoric and the « traditional » tyrants Egypt had before. It also reflects some deeper changes that took place globally with the rise of Trump in the US, the rise of the right and far-right in Europe and the deep effect of the bloody oppression of the Syrian revolution by the Assad regime.
Two major army figures announced that they were planning to run against Sisi in the elections. The first was Ahmed Shafiq, Moubarak’s last prime minister, an army general and a sworn enemy of the revolution. Shafiq was responsible for the camel battle in Tahrir square back in 2011. Shafiq was also the old regime’s candidate against Mohamed Morsi in the 2012 elections. Shafiq left Egypt in 2012, escaping a legal case of corruption. He went to the UAE (United Arab Emirates), the sanctuary of Arabic dictators and corrupt businessmen. Yet, it took only a few hours for the UAE government to house arrest him after he announced his candidacy against Sisi in November 2017. Shafiq appeared back in Egypt in December 2017, after what he was quickly “persuaded” to not run in the elections. Shafiq was very careful in his announcement and managed to evade criticizing Sisi’s regime. This was not the case of the second big military figure who ran against Sisi, Sami Anan.
Anan was the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces from 2005 until 2012. Anan was the second man in the Egyptian army, and a major figure of the anti-revolution camp. Protests in 2011 and 2012 had a chant against him personally. Anan’s announcement was shocking, perhaps for both camps. Anan came out in a video statement, lashing Sisi’s policy and his “brutal oppression”, he spoke of the two islands and almost accused Sisi of treason. This was actually something a lot of people within the revolution camp had hoped for, even if Anan is an anti-revolution figure. Indeed, numerous revolutionaries believed the only way out would consist of an internal crack within the regime. Speculations erupted after Anan’s announcement about the next step: what would the army do ? Few days later, all Egyptian TV channels stopped broadcasting and announced an emergency statement from the army. The statement was that Anan was corrupt, that he somehow had problems in his service and hence the army would not allow him to run. Then it didn’t take long before he was forcibly disappeared. I almost couldn’t believe my eyes as I watched the whole episode. If this is the treatment of the second man in the army, it seems like no one can stand a chance.
Meanwhile, in the civilian camp, Khaled Ali, a human rights lawyer and a major figure of the revolutionary left announced his candidacy. Ali was in the spotlight as he took a legal fight against the regime for the case of the two islands. He showed impressive courage and managed to earn a court ruling that the islands were Egyptian. The regime immediately arrested members of his campaign. On the 2nd of January, after the arrest of Sami Anan, Ali announced his retreat. Ali is currently facing a trial for offending public decency.
Members of the Sisi parliament started to say that the scene doesn’t look too democratic having him only as a candidate, and they came up with a brand new solution.
We are all standing as one behind our leader president Sisi
– Moussa Mostafa Moussa
These are the words of a mister Nobody, the head of what they call a “party” in Egypt — not much of a real political party, probably closer to a Sisi fan club. Mister Nobody was forced to run against Sisi despite him and his “party” announcing that they already are supporting Sisi for presidency.
A world with no shame
What happened during the elections taught us, Egyptian activists, that this is not the same world as the one before the revolution. Presidents (even the notorious ones) used to have some shame, they used to work hard to make the scene look democratic. But now, a regime can simply gas its own people and leaders elsewhere will still accept it, maybe recognize it as an enemy of the Syrian people but not of the west. It is a world that knows nothing but blunt utter brute force. A kind that breaks peoples souls before their bones. I will never forget the words of a Syrian comrade who told me “they made us an example to all the Arab population”. My brain still can’t understand the logic of brute force sometime, and tries to think rationally. Why would Sisi do that ? It simply doesn’t make sense: he could have directed a much better play à la Moubarak. I still wonder why. But unless some miraculous event take place, it is business as usual in Egypt.