The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged sisi
In Translation: Sisi's road to presidency for life

As I have written previously, everything points towards Egyptian President Abdelfattah al-Sisi seeking to amend the 2014 constitution to remove term limits, enabling him to remain in the presidency for the rest of his days. The 2014 constitution was written at a moment when Sisi's ascendancy was less than certain; it contains not only limits on presidential terms (the sole major democratic gain of the last decade, arguably) but also constraints on the president's relationship with other major institutions, including the legislative and judiciary, and most importantly the army (since the defense minister, by some readings, cannot be removed for eight years – after the president steps down).

The signs that Sisi would seek amendments have been in the air for a while; even before the recent farcical re-election (the Siselection) there were trial balloons in parliament for initiating a change to the constitution either to extend the term length or remove limits. Whether this will fly is a matter of great uncertainty: Sisi has support among a powerful strata of the establishment, some popular backing, a relentless media machine and, for now, foreign backing. On the other hand, there were also signs (including prior to the recent election) of unease within elements of the Egyptian elite, including the military. And some of Egypt's Western allies, at least, might not object to see him being replaced by a less repressive general who could guarantee their interests while worrying them less about long-term sustainability of the all-repressive, all-the-time Sisi approach.

Hence, securing his presidency for life is no done deal for Sisi. We are just beginning to see regime media stalwarts begin to articulate more sophisticated versions of why it might be necessary to have Sisi remain (by more sophisticated, I mean not just based on emotional paeans of loyalty and Sisicophancy). A few days ago, many noted the piece below by Yasser Rizk – veteran political writer, editor of the venerable al-Akhbar state newspaper (with an interlude at al-Masri al-Youm after he was sacked by Morsi in 2012), and one of the most strident opponent of the Muslim Brotherhood – arguing for the removal of term limits. Rizk was also revealed as Sisi's confidante in leaked tapes in 2013, in which the then minister of defense is heard giving instructions on what talking points should be circulated among intellectuals as he prepared his bid for the presidency. 

The pretext given? That Egypt's political scene – repressed to unprecedented degrees under Sisi – has not produce viable alternative leadership. That is, as they say, pretty weak sauce especially considering the fact that several serious presidential contenders were sidelined prior to the election. It seems the pro-Sisi chattering classes have now been given their new talking points – expect this to be repeated ad nauseum over the next few months. 

Our In Translation feature is made possible through support from Industry Arabic, the nec plus ultra of Arabic translation services. Check out their cool Ramadan Fawazeer feature this month, and give them a gander for your translation needs.


Anxiety over the future government, and the risk to the June Revolution

Yasser Rizq, al-Akhbar, 12 May 2018

There is an undeniable anxiety about the future governance of our country, even though President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has not yet taken the oath of office for his second term as president, which is scheduled to begin at the start of next month.

There is also a tangible sense that the June Revolution and its gains are under threat, as we approach its fifth anniversary, which falls next month.

The anxiety is legitimate, and the danger is real!

§

The source of the anxiety is the lack of political forces or party blocs able to produce candidates qualified to assume leading responsibility – forces that enjoy both the support of the people and the endorsement of core and constitutional state institutions.

In one year, you can split the Suez Canal; in four, you can erect a million residential units; in eight, you can build a capital, and in fourteen, a new city.

And yet, you cannot decide to build a political class in the same manner. Nor can you shorten the period of political maturation through directives. Nor can you select leaders on a hunch without a national yardstick, political testing, or executive responsibility.
The source of anxiety is that three years from now is an insufficient amount of time for qualified, visionary political figures to emerge that are youthful and able to assume the functions of the head of state in a manner commensurate with Egypt’s importance and position.

It seems, then, that the political arena for the foreseeable future is dry and barren. While the constitution sets the number of years for a presidential term at four years and bans the president from running for more than two terms, it also prohibits him from returning to the presidency later, even if another president occupies the office for one or two consecutive terms in the interim. This sort of “Putin-Medvedev” scenario is unable to repeat itself in Egypt according to the provisions of the 2014 Constitution, which we say, wholeheartedly, was drafted with the best intentions!

In regards to the constitution, there have been many opinions and suggestions regarding how to amend more than one of its sections. These proposals should be discussed in the media and parliament without the least delay.

§

The danger to the June Revolution actually lies in two distinct camps:

  • The first thinks that the time has come to return to the pre–25 January regime, with all of its deadlock, sterile opinions, and corruption.
  • The second imagines that it can circumvent the 30 June Revolution, take aim at its gains and conspire to stay in power under the cover of reconciliation, either in phases, or all at once by 2022.

The danger lies in Gamal Mubarak’s cronies, who are being reintroduced politically and in the media after washing their faces and hands of what they did to the people and country.

It is also lies with Muslim Brotherhood members, who say that their hands are clean of blood, while at the same time their operatives once again penetrate the ranks of the state and its institutions.1

Perhaps we have not yet forgotten the deal made between the two sides in 2005 that granted the Brotherhood 88 seats in the People’s Assembly in exchange for their support in grooming Gamal Mubarak as his father’s successor. Perhaps we have also not forgotten when the Brotherhood aspired for more and the NDP’s Policy Secretariat imagined that it could take seats from the opposition and the Brotherhood in the 2010 People’s Assembly election “free and clear.” This was the straw that broke the Mubarak regime’s back on 25 January and afterwards.

For all we know, perhaps there is someone engineering another deal for 2022, beginning in turn with the next syndical, local, parliamentary, and finally presidential elections. This would result in the Brotherhood filling up the government and Parliament and Gamal Mubarak as the president.

§

I do not think it a mere innocent coincidence that this image of condolence is being promoted at the same time as the idea of reconciliation between the regime and the Brotherhood.

In spite of the actual circumstances surrounding the event, the image of Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi shaking hands with the brothers Gamal and Alaa Mubarak has already been exploited on Brotherhood websites and Mubarak-friendly social media accounts in order to make it seem as if Field Marshal Tantawi was expressing his apologies for what Gamal Mubarak and his father suffered after the 25 January Revolution during the period that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ (SCAF) governed the country. This, of course, is ironic considering its shameful falsehood.

At the same time, talk of reconciliation has been in in the air at various levels, some of which are directly attributable to the Brotherhood organization, although we have not yet heard a definite, formal response that any dialogue or reconciliation has been denied or ruled out. Perhaps those talks will not be interrupted, but rather renewed and activated instead, especially since the final rulings over several members of the Brotherhood’s leadership (some of whom face execution) have been postponed. This is stoking doubts in public opinion, as well as renewing hopes within the Brotherhood’s ranks that the idea of reconciliation could be pushed through as a springboard for their delusions of returning to power.

Some may say that Gamal Mubarak, like his father and brother, was sentenced to prison in the presidential palaces case, which precludes him from running for any position or from participating in political life until he has been exonerated.

However, it is worth recalling that in a similar situation, when Khairat al-Shater2 wanted an exoneration shortly before the filing deadline to run in the 2012 elections, the doors of the court opened on a Friday and issued him a detailed acquittal. Sometimes the country and its ledgers are really their country and ledgers!

§

However, the greatest danger comes from those who gravely underestimate their opponents and overestimate their delusions of their own abilities, thereby leading people into danger and peril, such as we saw shortly before the 25 January Revolution, or shortly before the Brotherhood exploited its control of the parliament and the presidency.

The greatest danger consists of a political elite that has the memory of a fish, an intellectual elite that revolves around the movement of history like a beast of burden going around a waterwheel, and a media elite that thinks with its tongue and talks with its nerves.

They are the ones who turn illusion into fact and delusion into reality.

This fact must be made loud and clear to everyone: there is no one to make reconciliation with, and there is nothing on which we have to reconcile.

It is also necessary to enact a law that whoever calls for or applauds reconciliation with the terrorist Brotherhood organization should face the same punishment as the one prescribed for those who are actually guilty of belonging to the organization.

Everyone must be aware that even the National Democratic Party in the heyday of the Policy Secretariat3 was not able to gather more than 5% in any elections during its era. And its remnants have not been any better at mobilizing the masses and getting them to go to the polls in any election following the 30 June Revolution. Rather, during the last presidential elections in particular, there was no one – whether the parliamentary blocs, family heads, or tribal strongholds – who could claim that they were behind the large crowds that gathered to vote in the elections. Rather, it was the person of President al-Sisi and the success and hope that he represents to the voters that motivated citizens to gather in front of the polling centers in such massive numbers.

I think that maybe Gamal Mubarak needs someone to whisper a bit of advice in his ear. That person should tell him to raise his hands in praise and thanksgiving that he was not tried politically for what he did to ruin the country and for his attempt to overthrow the republican system, and that he should remain in his home and not make any media appearances feigning ignorance of his father’s reign.

*

In my view, the popular reaction to talk of reconciliation and those who are giving it legs – whether out of carelessness or bad intentions – should be the nail in the coffin for these proposals, whose real aim is to launch a counter-revolution against the 30 June Revolution and its regime.

I also consider the mass outcry to the image of condolence between Field Marshal Tantawi and Gamal Mubarak to be the appropriate response to the succession era, articulated by the patriot Tantawi himself. The people have not forgotten his position towards the Gamal Mubarak loyalists during the Nazif government, especially when he said to them, “You all want to sell the country and the military establishment will not allow it.”

As for the anxiety for the future shape of the government at the end of the president’s second term, I am convinced that President al-Sisi shares this feeling as much as public opinion does, if not more.

It should not come as a surprise to anyone that when I asked President al-Sisi about this feeling, he replied, “I am beset by anxiety even now. No one’s life is guaranteed from one minute to the next. All lives are in God’s hands.” I also heard the president say that one of the most important priorities of his new presidency is to train and select several capable people to run in the next elections.

The parliament and its delegates remain an essential part of the constitutional debate. On the one hand, no one wants to insert absolute rule into the constitution. However, at the same time, no one believes that its provisions should act as a sort of guillotine enforcing the popular will.

The people’s awareness remains a solid shield to defend them against the dangers of the counter-revolution, assaults upon the gains of the 30 June Revolution, and the lies and claims broadcast about its national regime.

And behind the people, the military stands alert, protecting the 30 June Revolution, and defending the people’s will against efforts to return to Egypt’s former corruption, exclusion, and monopolization of power.


  1. This is a reference to calls by some exiled members of the Brotherhood for reconciliation and their distancing with the group’s leadership, as well as similar calls from former members in Egypt.  ↩

  2. Former Deputy General Guide and strongman of the Brotherhood, now in prison  ↩

  3. The Policy Secretariat was a kind of internal think tank in the former ruling party led and created by Gamal Mubarak.  ↩

Sisi's "non-regime"

Already over a year ago Hisham Hellyer has described Sisi's Egypt as a "non-regime". Ashraf Sherif uses the same term in this POMED interview [PDF], describing an increasingly dire situation:

You have written that al-Sisi’s regime is a “non-regime.” What do you mean?

Under Mubarak, the state was corrupt and vastly inefficient, but it was more predictable. It had a coherent decision-making process and some degree of order to its public policies.

By contrast, the system over which al-Sisi presides is too chaotic to qualify as a modern authoritarian regime. It is a complicated structure of competing patrimonial, self-centered, and oligarchic Mafia-type institutions that act more like the gated fiefdoms of the Mamluk age than modern state bodies. Their incompetence and inefficiency is matched only by the viciousness of their conspiracy-mongering discourse.

Sherif doesn't hold back on other political actors, from Islamists to leftists and liberals, either. And the conclusion is bleak. Worth reading.

In Translation: Egyptian minister, the worst job in the world
This cartoon by Amro Selim in Al-Masry Al-Youm (22 January 2017) depicts a mother praying for her son: “My son, may you be not picked as a minister. May God blind them so they do not notice you. May you die in a train accident so they would not pick you as a minister,” as her son stands in the corner saying: “Keep praying please.” Source: Mada Masr Digest.

This cartoon by Amro Selim in Al-Masry Al-Youm (22 January 2017) depicts a mother praying for her son: “My son, may you be not picked as a minister. May God blind them so they do not notice you. May you die in a train accident so they would not pick you as a minister,” as her son stands in the corner saying: “Keep praying please.” Source: Mada Masr Digest.

Poor Egypt. Amidst all of the misery heaped on it in recent years — drastic curtailing of freedoms, terrorist attacks, military rule, unprecedented human rights abuses, a general descent into media vulgarity and irrelevance, grotesque injustices dished out daily, a hapless and disconnected elite, the list goes on and on –– it is in a mind-boggling economic mess. The Egyptian pound has broken all expectations after November’s devaluation and lingers at the LE18-20 to the USD level, compared to LE8.8 at the official rate a year ago and until recently never much more than LE15 on the black market. 2017 will be brutal for ordinary Egyptians of all classes, and the optimistic take that such painful austerity is a prelude to recovery leaves one wondering: where is this country headed? How will this end?

President Abdelfattah al-Sisi, when not coming up with innovative solutions to these economic challenges, faces a dilemma. Like Donald Trump, he knows he is the best man for the job of making his country great again — everyone says so on TV. But he is surrounded by incompetents and saboteurs. So yet again, for what seems like the umpteenth time since he took power in July 2013, a cabinet shuffle appears imminent. Except it’s so hard to find good help these days! For weeks, the Egyptian press has reported that prospective ministers are turning down offers to join the cabinet led by Prime Minister Ismail Sherif (whose job is reportedly safe, although probably just till the next shuffle in a few months). Amazingly in a country where it seems everyone seems to aspire to be a wazir, there are no takers. 

The columnist Ashraf al-Barbary, in the piece below, has a courageous and eloquent explanation why. A little background may be necessary: under Sisi, most if not all key decisions are made in the presidency. A kind of shadow government run by intelligence officers holds the real files. And the president – as seen in the long-postponed decision to devalue the currency – waits until the very last moment to make vital decisions, wasting time, public confidence and opportunity in the process. All of this is well-known. For a writer to express himself so forthrightly in today’s Egyptian press (al-Shorouk being an upscale daily broadsheet) would have been unthinkable a year or two ago, but things are changing fast and people are fed up. The various lobbies (big business, civil society groups, political parties etc.) that would normally influence policy under the Mubarak era have no way in. Decisions are made in mysterious ways. Ministers have little leeway to implement their own vision and see no coherent plan coming from the top. No wonder Sisi’s headhunters are having trouble.

This translation is brought to you by the industrious arabists at Industry Arabic, bespoke manufacturers of fine translations. Please give them your money. 


Blessed are those who turn down ministerial posts

Ashraf al-Barbary, al-Shorouk, 25 January 2017
If there is truth to the reports from government sources that many candidates have excused themselves from taking up ministerial positions, then we are right to ask the government to reveal the names of these people so that we can praise them. 
Someone who would give up a ministerial post — which so many hearts long for — must be one of two types of person: a straightforward person who does not believe that he would be able to tackle the disastrous situation the country has come to due to the irrational policies that we have been following for years, and who therefore chooses to forego rather than to accept a position where he is not qualified to succeed; or a person who is sufficiently qualified to succeed but respects himself and refuses to be made into a mere “presidential secretary” who carries out instructions from above in accordance with our ancient political legacy. 
Of course, the political and media militias loyal to the ruling regime will come out to heap charges of treason and of abandoning the country in a difficult time on these honorable people who have refused to take up these “high-level positions” in order to avoid certain failure, either because they do not have the qualifications and abilities to help them confront disasters they did not create, or because they know that their qualifications and abilities would not bring success amid failed policies they have no means of changing, because they have come from who-knows-where. 
The opposite is entirely true: A person who refuses to play the role of extra at the ministerial level — not knowing why they brought him to the ministry or for what reasons they would remove him — is a person who deserves to be praised in comparison with a person who accepts a ministerial role while knowing that many high-level posts in his ministry and its agencies have been transformed into end-of-service benefits, which some obtain after the end of their term of service, compulsory by law, without any consideration for standards of competence and training. 
The last three years have seen more than one cabinet shuffle. However, the situation has deteriorated at all levels, meaning that the problem may not be the minister or even the prime minister, but rather in the policies and ideas which are being imposed on those who accept these appointments. Accordingly, the insistence on carrying out cabinet reshuffles without any serious attempt to review the overarching policies and decisions that have led the country into economic and social catastrophe — indeed, the current policies — will not yield anything positive. 
Nothing underscores the absurdity and superficiality of the cabinet shuffle and the fact that everything is coming from above more so than the status of the parliament. In theory, the new constitution gives the parties and blocs in parliament the highest word in forming the government; however, we see them waiting for whatever ingenious cabinet lineup the executive authority is so kind as to bestow upon them, just to rubber stamp it even before the lawmakers know all the names of the new ministers — as occurred when they voted to appoint the current supply minister within a few minutes. 
If the authorities had the slightest degree of seriousness about reform or the desire to form a government that had the slightest degree of independence, the prime minister would have gone to the parties at the heads of large blocs in parliament for them to give him candidates from among their members for ministerial posts. This would contribute toward developing political and democratic experience on the whole, and also offer the benefit of ministers who do not owe their presence in the ministry solely to the satisfaction of a higher power, but rather to their parties, who may later seek to form an entire government, as occurs in any rational country. 

 

Sisi plagiarized his "spare change" idea

There has been much hullabaloo in the last couple of days about Egyptian President Abdelfattah al-Sisi's idea that transactions in Egypt's banking system should be rounded off to the nearest pound, with the "spare change" (i. e. whatever is left in piasters) donated to the government to, you know, pay for stuff.

Sure, the idea seems like a silly back-of-the-enveloppe calculation that an out-of-his-depth ruler has casually come up with because he has no economic vision for his country beyond a general sense that people are not sacrificing enough and that there should be more prestigious mega-projects run by the army. Yes, he could be clutching at straws because, while Egypt was in pretty dire straits when he took over in 2013, he has not improved economic fundamentals nor set the country on a path to reform

Of course, I'm not an economist, so all these assessment could be wrong and Sisi may actually be doing brilliantly. Who knows. The only thing I'd like is for Sisi to acknowledge where he got his idea from: 1999's cult comedy Office Space, in which disgruntled employees scam their company's credit union by introducing a virus into the computer system to syphon off fractional remainders of pennies from transactions. This shows he has better taste in movies than I thought, but, come on – credit where credit is due.

(By the way, anyone seen the printer at the presidency lately?)

In Translation: April 6's Ahmed Maher on Egypt under Sisi

Last month, Huffington Post launched its Arabic edition in London to great fanfare. Like other spin-offs of the American website, HuffPo Arabi is a joint venture, not under the direct editorial control of the original. It is not the first Arab world edition to launch – HuffPo Maghreb has French-language Tunisian, Algerian and Moroccan sites – but it is the first Arabic edition one. It has generated some controversy already (update: meant to link to this critical Buzzfeed piece), in part because the site is far from the liberal leanings of the HuffPo mothership, but also because of its pro-Islamist leanings. One of the key people behind HuffPo Arabi is Wadah Khanfar, a former director-general of al-Jazeera known for his support of the Muslim Brotherhood trend. The site has predictably taken the kind of positions generally associated with the Qatari-funded media (i. e. anti-Assad, anti-Sisi, pro-Erdogan, etc.)

Among one of its early coups is to secure an interview with the imprisoned leader of the April 6 movement, Ahmed Maher, sentenced to prison last year for violating the draconian protest law approved by interim Egyptian President Adly Mansour and enforced with gusto under President Abdelfattah al-Sisi. The interview does show some criticism of the Brotherhood, even  if most of the vitriol is reserved for Sisi, and paints an alarming picture of the radicalization taking place in Egypt's over-flowing prisons.

We bring you this translation through our friends over at Industry Arabic – we heartily recommend them for any Arabic translation job big or small. Check out their website to get a quote for your needs.

Ahmed Maher to Huffington Post Arabic: Every Justification Now Exists for a Revolution against Sisi

Moataz Shamseddin, Huffington Post Arabi, 29 July 2015

For more than 20 months, Ahmed Maher, the general coordinator of the April 6 Movement, has been locked up in solitary confinement on the charge of violating the protest law. Despite the possible dangers, he has agreed to answer questions for Huffington Post Arabic and speak about his broken dreams and regrets.

In this interview, Maher states that all the reasons that justified revolution against Mubarak exist for Sisi as well. He believes that the Arab Spring is not dead, and that the period we are going through is the start of change and not the end. It resembles to a great extent the intellectual transformations before the Renaissance in Europe or before the French Revolution.

Maher describes here the harsh conditions of his solitary confinement and what occurs during his occasional encounters with Muslim Brotherhood members. He insists that Egypt’s prisons will be an incubator for radicalism and that the “autocratic” regimes of the Arab world – and not the uprisings of the Arab Spring – are what gave the impetus for ISIS, while casting blame on Western nations for backing these regimes.

First off, we would like to know about the conditions of your imprisonment currently. Have you suffered from any rights violations?

I haven’t suffered any physical violations, but the hardship is increasing day by day because of the increasing psychological pressure on me. Things have gone from bad to worse over the 20 months or so that I have spent in prison. I have been in solitary confinement for around 20 months. This in itself is a sort of psychological pressure. Isolated from the outside world, I live in complete isolation under maximum security and deprived of personal contact and correspondence with anyone, including family and friends. Newspapers, TV, and news sources are forbidden, and sometimes even food, on the pretext of emergencies in the prison or the country. It’s also forbidden to pray the Friday prayer. I was also forbidden from breaking the fast or eating sohour with the others during Ramadan. My personal belongings were also stolen.

Up until a year ago, [prominent young revolutionary activists] Alaa Abdel Fattah, Mohamed Adel and Ahmed Douma were in the same building as me, and despite the fact that we were all in solitary confinement, we would meet for several hours every day and talk. But then about a year ago, each one of us was suddenly transferred to a different prison and I don’t know anything about them. Currently, I’m in intense isolation under maximum security and deprived of the most basic rights. Meanwhile, felons have much better conditions and enjoy rights that I could only dream of, such as TV, letters, newspapers, Friday prayer, and listening to music.

Does Sisi’s regime deserve a revolution or attempts at reform?

From the start of his rule, Sisi rejected any path toward reform, and he rejects any advice. He doesn’t respect democracy, politicians or political parties. He wants to lead by himself like in the army. Anyone who tries to draw his attention to any error is accused of treason because they dare to criticize him.

Sisi is ruling in the same manner and with the same rules as Mubarak. Mubarak was actually more flexible, whereas Sisi is driving people away from him and the anger against him is mounting, even if it is muffled now. Sisi is ruling in the same manner, with the same stubbornness and with the same stupidity as Mubarak – but worse.

What are the chances of and conditions for a reconciliation between the regime and the revolutionary youth?

The current regime, structured as it is around the military and security apparatus, is cutting all ties with youth and treating them with hostility. The current regime is under the control of a number of Mubarak’s cronies who want revenge against young people and especially anyone who had a prominent role in the 25 January 2011 revolution – even though most of these youth also rose up against Mohammed Morsi in 30 June 2013, and I was among them.

However, those in power now don’t want a rapprochement with young people; they just want revenge. The current regime is the one who started the hostility with the revolutionary youth and with everyone. The proof of this is that it imprisoned the revolutionary youth, then harassed them inside the prisons. It refused to repeal or amend the anti-protest law or pardon young people, even though they are not terrorists and did not bear arms. All they did was defend their right to freedom of expression and opinion and freedom to protest peacefully. These are things that the military regime considers a crime.

Is there a chance that the revolutionary forces will come together once again and work to change the situation?

Some groups that played a major role in the 25 January 2011 Revolution are coming together and they still do stand by the demands of that revolution, such as freedom, dignity and social justice. However, the past few years have caused changes, fissures and deep transformations in concepts and positions.

I don’t think that anyone who is calling for a religious state could join the revolutionary youth, nor could anyone who supports authoritarianism, military rule or who dreams of a return of the oppressive Nasser regime join the revolutionary youth. The revolution was not launched for religious rule or authoritarian rule, and so there are a lot of deep divides that have emerged after all these events.

Before talking about rapprochement, we have to re-define who are the revolutionary forces, which revolution are we talking about and what are its goals, so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes that were made after Mubarak was ousted.

Is there anything that you regret on the personal level that you wish you could change?

Of course there are things that maybe I would decide to do differently if I knew the outcome. For example, I think that trusting the military and the Muslim Brotherhood was naïve, because each of them have a plan and their own interests. They each tricked us and broke all their promises. Each of them are authoritarian and think that they have the absolute truth.

When I re-read about the events or read about the history of revolutions, I realize that the radical demands were sometimes excessive, romantic or unrealistic, especially since our camp was not united and did not have sufficient power. Many revolutions only succeeded in agreeing on peaceful transition between two sides or after transitional justice, or after agreement on a gradual transition of power. I’m not speaking about a specific situation, but I think I was very romantic and a dreamer. I think that if I knew that truth about the regime or the truth about certain people, I certainly would have thought differently.

Have any politicians or participants in the revolution lost your respect? If so, why?

Certainly, there are those who have lost my respect. I don’t want to mention current figures, but I have lost respect for all those who claimed to support the January 25 Revolution who now support authoritarianism and repression, who support the anti-protest law, who take part in lying and obfuscation, who distort the January 25 Revolution, who promote sick conspiracy theories, or who circulate rumors against us knowing that they’re false, anyone who justifies authoritarianism and human rights violations, or who used to defend human rights but after the military took power dropped everything they were calling for and started to justify human rights violations in order to curry favor with the authorities. I have lost respect for all young people, academics and human rights activists who have changed their stripes and now started to defend authoritarianism and human rights violations.

Have you had any discussions with the Muslim Brotherhood in prison? Do you see any benefit in dialogue?

Despite the extreme isolation imposed on me, sometimes I am able to speak with some members of the Muslim Brotherhood. In general, they refuse to recognize that they made any mistakes while in power. They are saying that the protests of 30 June 2013 were not due to popular outrage but to a Western Crusader conspiracy against Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood. They are still in denial about what happened. On the whole, I don’t think that there is serious reflection or any flexibility among the Brotherhood. This means that the solution is still far off. How can there be a solution without serious reflection – not just about their practices while in power, but also a reconsideration of the theory itself? This is what they refuse to do. They claim that they did not make mistakes but rather that the world conspired against them.

The Muslim Brotherhood is talking about human rights violations against them inside the prisons – did you see any of that?

Violations against the Brotherhood and the Islamists are taking place every day in all prisons. I met some of them by chance and I heard many stories of torture, maltreatment and harassment in every prison. In general, the treatment of political prisoners is bad, and there is psychological and physical punishment, but the treatment of Islamists is worse.

Has prison become a breeding ground for extremist ideas?

Prison has really become a breeding ground for extremists. It has become a school for crime and terrorism, since there are hundreds of young men piled on top of each other in narrow confines, jihadists next to Muslim Brotherhood members next to revolutionaries next to sympathizers. There are also a large number of young people who were also arrested by mistake and who don’t belong to any school of thought.

Everyone is suffering oppression and punishment inside the prisons. Everyone is accused of being either a terrorist or a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. This is turning the people arrested by mistake who don’t belong to any movement into jihadists. Moreover, Muslim Brotherhood members are gradually becoming radicalized, since they suffer from inhumane treatment in the prisons. The authorities treat the prisoners like slaves, and this inspires a thirst for revenge, not to mention the undignified treatment that the families face when they visit.

The Arab Spring is dead, while ISIS is thriving – who is responsible, in your opinion?

The Arab Spring isn’t dead. I think this phase is the beginning of a change, not the end. It is similar to the intellectual transformations that took place before the Renaissance in Europe, or before the French Revolution. Concepts of democracy are still new in the region, and there are those who are resisting it in order to stay in power.

Meanwhile, ISIS has exploited the situation. The Arab uprisings are not the cause, but rather the bloody authoritarian regimes that resisted change and resisted democracy, true justice, and concepts of tolerance, co-existence and freedom. This is what gave rise to ISIS and continues to drive it.

ISIS found fertile ground because of Bashar al-Assad’s brutality in Syria, Nouri al-Maliki’s sectarianism in Iraq, Iran’s ambitions in the region, and the oppression and authoritarianism that people are suffering from. So long as authoritarianism and sectarianism exist, you will find extremism as a response.

Extremism found a foothold in Egypt because of Sisi’s brutality and authoritarianism. The more the oppression and authoritarianism increased and the more freedom and democracy vanished, the more justifications ISIS and al-Qaeda have. ISIS is saying that your regimes are corrupt, unjust failures and we’re the alternative. This is a disaster, because injustice generates extremism. For this reason, neither the coalition’s strikes nor Sisi’s raids will stop ISIS. Defeating ISIS requires freedom, democracy, justice and a culture of tolerance, co-existence and acceptance of the other.

But I also do not excuse the revolutionary youth from the mistake that they made, since they rose up against oppression without putting forward an alternative project to the authoritarian regimes. We now face two choices, each of them disastrous: either religious fascism or a return to authoritarianism.

The West is warmer toward Sisi despite the violations. Do you have a message for US President Barack Obama and Western governments about this?

Western governments are now warming to Sisi because of economic or military interests. In my opinion, this is short-sighted and a repeat of past mistakes. US support for Mubarak over 30 years did not stop the spread of radicalism or lead to stability. The West’s support for authoritarian regimes and dictatorships is damaging its credibility. The West should not repeat the same mistake of backing authoritarian regimes, since supporting military regimes in South America, Africa and the Middle East has only led to popular outrage against the US and the West. It has only increased radicalism and violence due to the repressive climate. This is what causes instability. I’m saying to government leaders: Don’t support authoritarianism in Egypt just to preserve old economic and military interests with the regime, because the perseverance of authoritarianism and repression is what leads to violence, extremism and instability. The Egyptian government has signed agreements to respect human rights – so why do you reward authoritarians in Egypt despite flagrant human rights violations, especially against young people? International treaties and international values of human rights make clear that basic rights may not be violated, rights such as freedom of opinion, belief, expression, decent and humane treatment, and a refusal to use torture regardless of the emergency or exceptional situation. Thus, the war on terror is not a justification for the violations committed by the Sisi regime. It actually creates terrorism through oppression, corruption and injustice.

It appears that the April 6 Movement has been completely absent from the streets lately. How do you explain that?

I am not up to date on all the details due to my isolation in prison, but in general, the political climate in Egypt is more stifling than during the Mubarak era. It has become easy for the authorities to abduct or kill any young opposition member without any legal accountability. Also, in the absence of a parliament, the post-July 30 regime has also modified the laws so that young people spend years in prison under investigation just for a trivial police report or on mere suspicion. Then there is also the anti-protest law, under which I have been sentenced to three years in prison. Some of my colleagues were sentenced to five years or more just for opposing the anti-protest law. Meanwhile, some were abducted and still have not resurfaced. On the whole, we are going through a period of repression worse than anything under Mubarak. We feel like we’re back to square one and we have to start from scratch and develop mechanisms according to developments.

The April 6 Movement, for its part, will continue to work for democratic transformation, even though the idea of starting a political party and engaging in conventional politics is not feasible right now. The current authorities do not respect political parties, and all means of creating change through parties or conventional political activity are blocked.

The current authorities do not respect the constitution or the law – not to mention the fact that we currently don’t have a parliament. The current authorities, which are just an extension of the Mubarak regime – have arranged it so that the next parliament will not be a source of trouble or an effective opposition.

Was the April 6 Movement organizationally affected by the arrest of its leaders?

Of course the imprisonment of its leaders affected the movement’s performance, but the movement is carrying on despite repression, imprisonment, torture, slander in the media, the spread of false rumors about it and its founders, harassment, terrorism, persecution, and the lack of either local or foreign funding. The fact that it continues to persevere is cause for hope. The April 6 Movement has not been broken despite this dirty war waged against it.

Why have the members of April 6 been singled out for special treatment in the prisons and isolated from everyone else?

The harassment and isolation in the prisons is so that we don’t think together and so that we can’t come up with any new ideas. It’s also so we can’t access any news, communicate with members or plan any new events.

Another reason for it is so we can’t rally together and demand our basic rights inside prison, or encourage others to demand their rights.

Being together made it easier for us, since when we were together our worries were shared. It seems that the authorities want to inflict the greatest possible psychological harm on us, to the point that even meeting people who have the shared interests is now a luxury.

Finally, support for civil, democratic values is the solution. Support for democratic transformation is what will stop the spread of radicalism and jihadism and not the reverse. If authoritarianism and tyranny continue, it will lead to the spread of ISIS’ ideology as an alternative or a reaction.

In Translation: Back to the Past in Egypt

The team at Industry Arabic -- look to them for all your Arabic translation needs -- brings us the latest installment of our In Translation series. Abdullah al-Sinnawi is the editor of the socialist newspaper Al Araby and one of the many public intellectuals who supported Morsi's ouster and the ascension of Abdel-Fattah El Sisi, couching his support in terms of restoring the authority and prestige of the state. Now he harsh words for a regime that he describes as rudderless if not deeply disingenuous. The title used a particularly loaded term: the word "normalization" in Egypt usually refers to normalization of relations with Israel, something much of public opinion does not really accept and much of the leftist intelligentsia has always viewed as a humiliating capitulation. 

Gamal Mubarak, Hosni Mubarak's son -- a free man again -- visited the pyramids recently with his family. 

Gamal Mubarak, Hosni Mubarak's son -- a free man again -- visited the pyramids recently with his family. 


Normalization with the Past

Abdullah al-Sinnawi, al-Shorouk, 6 May 2015

“Why are we protecting Mubarak?....You’re accusing us of being traitors.”

With this unequivocal expression, he tried to dispel any suspicions as to why the Military Council was putting off trying a president who had been ousted by his people.

During the first weeks of the January 25 Revolution, public squares full of anger were calling for the past to be put on trial for its sins. They called for all issues to be opened to questioning and accountability, so that Egypt would not be governed in the future in the same careless manner as before.

This forthrightness was not customary in other leaders and gave the strong impression that the young general who made this statement might be the future of the military establishment.

It did not occur to him, during this lengthy meeting in April 2011 that was attended by six journalists and military figures, as he made this firm response to the questions and doubts raised by the protests, that the question of the past would rear its head again, with greater anxiety and more serious misgivings, four years later when he would be president of Egypt.

It is natural for radical transformations to raise major questions.

It is not a sufficient response for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to say time and again that the past will not return. Pledges must be given shape through policies and confirmed by solid stances. This is what is sorely lacking in Egypt at a time when the public’s anxiety has almost reached a breaking point.

A quick glance at the current mood in Egyptian society reveals that its great gambles have been frittered away and its confidence in the future has fallen; that it does not know what priorities govern politics or where we are headed.

There is no discourse that interprets or explains the causes of crises or the nature of issues.

There is no coherent policy put before public opinion and no free media able to address the public mind.

There is an abject poverty in the public discourse that is unparalleled in Egypt’s modern history.

It is as if Egypt “the sorrowful” is a sail without a ship, in the words of the late Abdel Rahman al-Abnoudi in his last rubaiyat. The crisis of public discourse results from the lack of any vision of the future that determines the main goals.

It is impossible for any regime to advance one step forward and solidify its legitimacy without declaring where it stands and what its commitments are.

The return of the past to the forefront of the political, economic and media landscape is a complete tragedy for a country that launched two revolutions to claim its right to social justice, human dignity, and the transition to a democratic society and modern state.

The country paid a heavy price in terms of its security, stability and the blood of its children, and it did not reap any rewards either time.

The first revolution was hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood, and the second one has almost been hijacked by the party of the past.

Based on past experience, a second hijacking of a revolution will have a steep price, as it will tarnish a regime that bases its legitimacy on the revolution and on a commitment to the constitution that emerged from it.  It will make a dent in the popularity of the regime and exhaust its political capital.

This will lead to renewed political tumult that Egypt cannot bear, and to chaos that will confound any attempts to end violence and terrorism.

Like any crisis of this sort, breaking the cycle takes time.

Any claims to the contrary are ignorant of history and the progress of societies.

The issue is not that Mubarak appeared on a private satellite channel talking about how proud he is of the role he played in war and government, and praising the current president’s wisdom. Nor is it that the media carried coverage of his 87th birthday celebration with the song “May you long live as the leader,” while other media went further afield to follow the social news of his family attending funerals and visiting the pyramids.

The real issue is not about what certain media does as much as it is about the reality of certain policies.

What is the nature of the current regime?

There are two main hypotheses.

The first is that it supports normalization with the past and its policies and figures.

This hypothesis has its logic, as the current economic policies are almost entirely copied and pasted from those adopted by the Policies Committee headed by Gamal Mubarak, youngest son of the former president.

Lots of talk about investment, the private sector and growth rates, without any plan that makes social justice a priority, even though it is a pressing need.

The Hosni Mubarak issue is above all a political one. He was the head of a regime who was overthrown by his people without being held accountable for the mistakes of the thirty years that he ruled Egypt. The issue of Gamal Mubarak is just as serious, since he symbolizes a project to bequeath the republic as an inheritance without the least constitutional basis, as well as policies that married power to wealth in a way that led to the largest plundering of public funds in Egypt’s history.

Certainly, the former president is the preferred example for a class of influential businessmen and his youngest son, their economic leader. Their influence in visual and print media continues to be felt.

Their first and last concern is to whitewash the past and subject the present to the same choices, as if matters had resumed their natural course after July 2013 and as if the January 2011 Revolution were nothing but a “conspiracy.”

Promoting the past lends legitimacy to violence, which is a terrible tragedy in any political or ethical sense of the term.

The most serious crime against this country is that the July 2013 Revolution is being portrayed as a “counter-revolution.”

This is a responsibility borne by the current regime before history.

Power cannot handle a vacuum of vision and direction.

In the absence of vision, the past steps forward to fill the vacuum and enlists the present to its cause.

When the public sphere narrows, politics retreats and security come to the fore.

The most dangerous part of this is that the political vacuum extends to the media in a manner that forebodes a potential collapse. It must not be forgotten that half of politics is talk.

This means that exchanging information and opinions is a vital necessity for any society.

A society deprived of politics and a country with a barren media landscape will descend into crisis at the first dangerous juncture.

Everything is hanging over an abyss; a collapse isn’t far-fetched.

On the other hand, the second hypothesis is that the current regime has nothing to do with all this celebration of the past and with the attempts to whitewash Mubarak’s reputation.

This hypothesis rests on semi-confirmed information that the president is perturbed by this media  coverage.

In this context, the president’s statement that he does not intervene in the judiciary or the media is worthy of note.

The statement in itself is positive, but the president’s responsibilities require that he declare his position and solidify the constitutional legitimacy of his regime.

Slipping into the past – which means opening war on the future – is more dangerous for the country than terrorism’s bullets and explosive devices. If society's discontent starts to reach the boiling point then political equations are likely to be completely overturned.

No one has the right to gamble with the country’s future.

Selling the world on Egypt

Jack Shenker gives a great run-down of the economic conference to tout Egypt's prospects. 

Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF, was among the first to pay homage to the reform-minded credentials of a man responsible for what Human Rights Watch (whose website was blocked on the conference WiFi network) has labelled one of the largest state massacres of demonstrators in modern history; John Kerry, the US secretary of state, Philip Hammond, the UK foreign secretary, and Blair all followed suit as the weekend progressed.
But memories are short. A foreign-investment led, GDP-growth orientated economic model was the hallmark of Mubarak’s dictatorship and received glowing approval from the IMF. The outcome was epic corruption, eye-watering riches for a crony capitalist class at the top and immiseration for everyone else; Bread, Freedom, Social Justice was the revolution’s slogan, though none of Egypt’s post-Mubarak regimes – from the junta that took power immediately after the January 2011 uprising, to the short-lived, aggressively free-market government of Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, to the new military autocracy – have bothered to take the latter demand seriously. The Brotherhood declared last week that Egypt is not for sale, forgetting that exactly the same multinational corporations currently signing deals in Sharm el-Sheikh were fawned over and flogged to by Morsi as well. At Egypt’s economic summit, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
In reality, the conference is about the Egyptian military showcasing a business-as-usual vision for the future, one in which Gulf and western capital works in partnership with senior generals to carve up and commodify the country, and where Egypt’s identity – contested so dramatically in the streets over recent years – is curated solely and safely from the top. But Sisi could not pull off such a feat on his own. Enter an interconnected grid of international consultancies and high-level public relations agencies that specialise in subtly repositioning a nation’s image.


Sisi likes to talk about himself in the third person

WaPo's Lally Weymouth scores another interview with the Egyptian president:

What do you think the U.S. should do?

Support Egypt, support the popular will of the Egyptians.

Do you mean the U.S. should stand by you?

Sissi reflects the popular will of Egyptians.

. . .

You think the U.S. government just doesn’t understand Egypt’s needs?

You can’t get the real picture of what is going on here in our country. . . . We are an underdeveloped country. You look at Egypt with American eyes. Democracy in your country has evolved over 200 years. Just give us a chance to develop. If we rush things, countries like ours will collapse.

You’ve said the word “collapse” twice now. Is that something that concerns you?

Of course.

Nobody else mentions it.

You know why? Because they have a lot of confidence in Sissi. But I am just a human being. I cannot do everything. When Somalia collapsed, didn’t the U.S. leave? Do you want Egypt to become a failed state and then you wash your hands of it?

The interview has a few other signs of delusions of grandeur...

AsidesThe Editorsegypt, sisi
Recordings Suggest Emirates and Egyptian Military Pushed Ousting of Morsi

The NYT on the latest leaked recordings, suggesting Tamarod received foreign funding. If all this is true, one of the ironies would be that the senior ranks of the Egyptian military and intelligence services engaged in exactly what they frequently accuse the revolutionaries of 2011 of doing: fomenting political strife with foreign financing. Generally speaking, when military officers take foreign money to undermine their commander-in-chief, that's called treason.

They appear to record Gen. Abbas Kamel, Mr. Sisi’s office manager and top aide, speaking by telephone with Gen. Sedky Sobhy, who was then the military chief of staff and is now defense minister.

They appear to be discussing a bank account controlled by senior defense officials that had been used by Tamarod, a movement that called for protests on June 30, 2013, to demand an early end to Mr. Morsi’s presidency.

“Sir, we will need 200 tomorrow from Tamarod’s account — you know, the part from the U.A.E., which they transferred,” General Kamel appears to tell General Sobhy in the recording.

General Sobhy’s side of the conversation is not heard. But he apparently brought up the Egyptian intelligence services, or mukhabarat.

“What do you mean by mukhabarat, sir? The mukhabarat guys?” General Kamel appears to say. “Do you remember the account that came for Tamarod?”

He then apparently says to General Sobhy, “We will need only 200 from it — yes, 200,000.” If that sum was in Egyptian pounds, it would have been equivalent to about $30,000 at the time.

If the date on the recording is accurate (and it's not clear that it is, as other reports place it in early 2014, in which case Tamarod would have received financing after Morsi was deposed, not before) it would suggest the wiretapping of Kamel Abbas' office go back a long time, since this would be the earliest recording aired to date.

Sisi: "This love of the people is a new experience for me"

This interview of Sisi in Der Spiegel is worth reading in full.

SPIEGEL: You landed in this office because of a coup. That's what we call it when a democratically elected president -- even a lousy one -- is toppled with force.
Sisi: Your characterization of the situation is not clear and hence your understanding is inaccurate. You judge our experiences from your own cultural, civilizational and developmental vantage point and you cannot remove yourselves from this context. You need to understand what happened in Egypt in light of the circumstances, challenges and threats faced by Egypt.
SPIEGEL: You mean the country's increasing Islamization through the Muslim Brotherhood and former President Morsi?
Sisi: What you refer to as a coup was our second revolution. What if half of the population of Germany, France or Great Britain took to the streets to demand the overthrow of the government? If these governments were to plan the use of force and there was then no intervention …
SPIEGEL: … you mean through the military …
Sisi: … then even these countries would slide into civil war. If we had not intervened, we would not have fulfilled our historical and moral responsibility.
SPIEGEL: You felt summoned by the people?
Sisi: Even if only a million people demonstrate in the streets against a ruler, he should step down. But in our region, that hasn't yet registered in the consciousness of rulers.
SPIEGEL: Instead of preventing a civil war through Morsi's dismissal, you provoked it. Hundreds died and many more were arrested.
Sisi: No. And no, hundreds of people did not have to die. I am saddened by even the loss of a single life. However, let me put this in a different context. Just look at the magnitude of the loss of life over the past 10 years in Iraq, in Syria, Libya and Yemen. Egypt's population is almost equal to that of all of these countries combined. If you look at the number of people who died, you will realize the army protected the Egyptian people.
AsidesThe Editorssisi, interview
Egyptian media: a shameless parallel dimension

Unbelievable. This sentence (among others) in a  New York Times article by David Kirkpatrick about Sisi's speech to the UN:

What viewers back in Egypt could not see was that during the General Assembly, almost all of the diplomats present watched in amused silence as Mr. Sisi’s small entourage did the clapping in response to his chant.
becomes this assertion in Al Ahram newspaper:
Kirkpatrick pointed out that all the diplomats were in a state of silence and enjoyment throughout al-Sisi’s speech.
Show Sisi the money

A great story in Mada Masr about the mysterious, unaccountable funds to which Egyptians are being strongly encouraged to donate.  

Driven by curiosity, rather than patriotic sentiment, I also decided to donate to the Tahya Masr fund. Rather than promise Sisi my vital organs, I settled on a humble LE100 and accepted that I would be outdone by an 8-year-old.

When I arrived at the National Bank of Egypt, one of four banks that accepts donations, I quietly stated that I was here to donate to the Tahya Masr fund. The security guard and the policeman sitting next to him greeted me with excitement and respect.

“That’s it?” the policeman asked cheekily as he handed me a number and asked me to wait my turn.

After my number was called, I walked up to the desk, bolstered by my two new friends at the door, and stated that I would like to donate to the Tahya Masr fund, to which a busy bank teller shook his head and asked for my ID.

First, however, as a contributor to the fund, I had a few questions: how much money has been collected so far, where will the money go, and how soon?

The bank teller responded impatiently with “I don’t know” to every question.

I then asked what the difference was between account number 306306 and 037037. He went into a discussion with his neighboring colleague, and finally came back with an answer: “306306 is called Support Egypt, while 037037 is called Long Live Egypt.”

Both accounts were active at the same time, and people can still donate to either one, I learned.

“Now, are you going to give me the money?” the teller asked, as I handed over my LE100 bill, not knowing where it would end up

 

 

Egypt's next president

Now that campaigning for Egypt’s presidential election is well underway and Field Marshal Abdel Fattah El Sisi has made several media appearances, some observations can be made about the man who is expected to be Egypt’s next president. 

The former military commander is running a very controlled campaign, one in which he does not open himself up to any impertinent back-and-forth. In his media coming-out a few weeks back, he immediately bristled when would-be interviewers Ibrahim Eissa and Lamees Hadidi even gently pushed him, warning Eissa “I won’t allow you to use that word again,” about the apparently derogatory terms “askar” for the army, and admonishing them: “Are you going to talk or you going to listen?” The interview was pre-recorded, and glaringly failed to include what might have seemed like obvious questions (such as, given El-Sisi now oft-professed love of Egyptian women, how he defended forced virginity tests for female protesters two years ago). 

The field marshal’s electoral program remains shrouded in mystery. In an unorthodox move, his campaign has simply decided not to burden themselves with explaining how his vision might actually be implemented. His own campaign manager has told the press that presenting a program at this point “would provoke a discussion and debate that we don’t have the time to react to.”  His few policy proposals (giving young men refrigerated trucks to deliver vegetables to market; encouraging the use of energy-efficient lightbulbs to face the electricity shortage) seem risibly modest, and when pressed on how he would actually implement them, the mushir simply says that the state will “make” people adopt them. 

El Sisi prefers to wax poetic about the extraordinary personal qualities of the Egyptian people, and his boundless love for them, rather than to address specific policy questions. He is clearly well-aware of his popularity with women, which he constantly plays to (although he seems incapable of imagining working women -- his idealized Egyptian Woman is adamantly domestic, anxiously watching over her home and wisely encouraging her man to action outside it). 

El Sisi is charismatic; he is also terribly aware of it. He radiates self-regard. His soft-spoken delivery is that of a man never used to being interrupted. But his veneer of kindliness and patience rubs off awfully quickly, the moment he is challenged. The unspoken message of his entire campaign is that he is actually above competing for the position -- it is already rightfully his, and he is accepting it as a patriotic sacrifice. 

One shouldn’t under-estimate the appeal of his displays of emotion or his paternalism (two sides of the same coin). Many Egyptians are waiting for a strong man to "take the country in hand"; they won’t bristle at the way he amalgamates the army and the state to his own person (rhetorically telling protesters and strikers: “I don’t have anything to give you!”, as if the country's budget and his own bank account were one and the same). But it is hard to gauge the field marshall's true level of support when the entire transitional period has been aggressively engineered to ensure his candidacy an aura of inevitability. 

Both Sadat and Mubarak stumbled into their jobs. El Sisi is coming to the position as a savior. This is a man who doesn't just want to be obeyed; he insists on being loved. This is a man who thinks he's the smartest guy in the room (with some cause: he has outwitted all his adversaries over the last few years).

El Sisi's recent media appearances should put to rest the delusion that there is going to be any relaxation of repression after he is elected. He has much at stake himself, and he heads a nexus of deep and powerful counter-revolutionary forces (both regional and institutional). He defended the protest law and has lectured the media about not advocating for freedom or focusing on the government’s faults. He has taken a great, so far successful, risk since June 30, 2013, but he must be well aware that if were ever to fall out of power, there is much he could be held accountable for. And given the fates of Egypt’s last two presidents, and what we’ve seen of his temperament, he seems extremely unlikely to let opposition pass. 

Bassem Youssef on Sisi's austerity program

Our friends at Industry Arabic (where you can get all your translation needs met) have translated a recent reaction by satirist Bassem Youssef (who was taken off the air recently in case he might "influence" the presidential vote) to presidential candidate Abdel Fattah El Sisi's seeming economic austerity program for the Egyptian people. 

How am I Supposed to Provide for You?

By Bassem Youssef

No sooner did I finish watching Field Marshal al-Sisi's speech to young people than I jumped out of my chair with a determination to go to the nearest gathering of doctors and dissuade them from their partial strike. Al-Sisi has managed to completely change my ideas about Egypt and its ungrateful people who just want to take and not give anything to their dear mother, Egypt.

Al-Sisi tells us in a voice replete with tenderness and affection that only a traitor or foreign agent would quibble with: "You have to give more than you take." He said that this is what he told his officers to encourage them in discharging their duties towards the people. Then he cited the lovely example of poor parents whose son graduates from university and goes on to pay them back. Al-Sisi wished that such behavior would become common.

In fact, I could use this lovely example to convince the ungrateful doctors who just ask, "What will I get from Egypt?" while not one of them stops to consider, "What will I give to Egypt?"

The ungrateful doctor studied and crammed, then went to spend his residency in remote areas, then was appointed as a physician in the Ministry of Health, spending long hours in the hospital. He is forced to chase after dispensaries and decrepit hospitals just to get enough to pay his telephone bill. The state bestows upon him an exorbitant salary, as you know. So to hell with those doctors who dare to ask for anything from Egypt.

I remember how about a year and a half ago, the Muslim Brotherhood doctors occupied the general assembly of the Doctors' Syndicate to thwart calls for a strike. At that time, both men and women occupied the seats and performed Friday prayer in their chairs – without facing the correct direction or segregating the sexes – just to guarantee that the motion to strike would be defeated. At the time, the Brotherhood's line was, "The doctors have to put up with it for the sake of Egypt" and fatwas came down declaring it impermissible to go on strike. This was back when the Brotherhood was buddy-buddy with the regime in power.

Remember this scene today because in the upcoming days the same doctors who stood against the Muslim Brotherhood are going to be accused of being members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and terrorists to boot.

Three years ago, the Muslim Brotherhood organized the "Put me to work in his place" campaign to support the Military Council against strikes and the workers' revolution.

Remember this as well, when strikes break out in the country and the media says that they're all Muslim Brotherhood members.

I changed my mind about going to the site of the strike, since it seems that the argument "What have you given to Egypt?" is not going to work with those ungrateful people.

I went back to finish al-Sisi's speech, in which he asked young people, "Before you have breakfast, did you ask yourself, 'What have I done for Egypt?'"

Hmm, ok that's a powerful question. I could go to workers' strikes in factories and drivers’ strikes in the Public Transportation Authority, and no doubt, no doubt I would find them stuffed on breakfast and the whole thing just some crybaby act to enable them to take from Egypt without giving anything.

The same person who said that Egypt will be as big as the world, in this speech tells young people – with the same tenderness – that young people should think about Egypt before they think about "when I'll get married and when I'll live."

It's as if Egypt were some virtual, mythical being that can only live on the remains of young people who have no livelihood, who don't think about marriage, and who don't have breakfast until they have thought about how to offer themselves up as a sacrifice to this mythological being.

I understand al-Sisi's speech very well. He is encouraging young people not to be selfish, to respect the value of altruism, and to consider that their actions reflect on the country. All this is very nice. However, I wonder: Who is al-Sisi directing his words at? Is he directing them at young people who can't get married or is he directing them at beaten-down workers and unemployed people who don't have the luxury of having breakfast before thinking about Egypt?

Al-Sisi poses the question: "Have any of us considered walking to our university or place of work in order to do help the country save?"

Actually, that's a genius solution to reduce pollution in Cairo. However, practically speaking, does al-Sisi realize that there are people living in Badrashin, Qalyoub and Bashteel who work or study in central Cairo? If the Egyptian people go along with this noble logic, will Cabinet ministers and army officers and generals follow suit, and we'll all do without cars and public transport? Or are we going to count on the poor embarking on this daily exercise on our behalf? This is of course after they go without breakfast because they have a guilt complex that they haven't done anything for Egypt.

This austerity discourse is not new for us. Before al-Sisi it was Mubarak who was makin us sick with his famous sayings, such as: "How am I supposed to provide for you?" Now it's al-Sisi telling us: "Health insurance? Ok but from where?" "Work? Ok but how?" Must we really do wrong by a whole generation or two (or so he says) so that the others survive? We don't even know who these others are! Are they what's left of the people after the next thirty years of injustice (two generations, that is) or are they the ones in the circles of power who wreck the state budget with exorbitant salaries, commissions and allowances – and then we go to the workers and doctors and tell them there's "nothing left"?

Does al-Sisi's economic program revolve around "Put up with it," "Tighten your belts" and "Practice austerity"?

If that's his program, he should direct it at state institutions and not young people and citizens. If ordinary citizens practiced austerity, then you would destroy purchasing power in the country and cause an economic depression.

During the Great Depression, instead of America tightening its belt and calling on citizens to go even hungrier than they were already, Rockefeller and the other captains of American industry pumped large amounts of money into the economy using state facilities, in order to undertake the largest rebuilding effort in North America.

Recessions and inflation are not fixed by belt-tightening but by encouraging citizens and investors to circulate their money in the market. Austerity is something applied to state spending – and it goes much further than a resolution banning mineral water at Cabinet meetings.

Before al-Sisi went and asked us "What have you given Egypt?" maybe it would have been better to ask this question of the army's economic establishments, which control a vast portion of the country's economy without any real accountability or tax liability – through which Egypt could collect its due from those who really did take what they wanted.

Austerity "and that's it" isn't a solution. "Belt-tightening" policies do not build the economies of nations. Nations are built by a healthy climate for investment and job creation, fair taxes for everyone (I repeat, everyone) and an environment that is suitable for attracting capital, by guaranteeing disclosure and transparency – even on the part of the army's economic institutions. But labels like "reducing spending" and "saving" only apply to publicly-funded institutions. If you want to abolish subsidies, then disqualify the rich, the affluent and the factories – all of whom are charged the same rates for electricity as the poor. We need to try that before we consider asking Egyptians working abroad to donate a month's salary or before we try to impose a levy on them in the form of a tax or through sentimental words.

Mr. Field Marshal, Egypt's sons abroad have previously tried to contribute to the country through educational or development project, but many of them went back abroad, either because of corruption, bureaucracy or political inflexibility. And Mr. Field Marshal, the media has treated anyone with a second nationality or even any Egyptian who has lived abroad as a traitor or foreign agent until proven otherwise.

What's strange is that the media that gobbled up the expression "As big as the world" nods its head in approval when listening to claims about belt-tightening, "We'll put up with it" and Egypt's dire conditions. And yet this is the same media that mocked Morsi and Hisham Qandil and their ilk when they spoke about wearing cotton clothing to cope better with the heat and closing shops at night to save electricity. Now, however, the media is the one calling on the people to wake up at five in the morning to go to work. But it seems they didn't catch what al-Sisi said: "People want work, ok but from where?"

The people are not a burden on the nation; they're human potential that needs to be put to use.

Egypt is not some entity that is separate from us and that needs to feed off of us, whereby we die that this entity may live. Egypt is the young people who want to get married and live; Egypt is the worker who wants a humane salary; Egypt is the doctor who wants a dignified existence in order to serve Egypt's ill – who themselves deserve decent health care.

Egypt is "us." Egypt isn't state institutions that are shielded from disclosure, accountability and tax audits under the pretext of national security, while the simple people austerely walk to university or their job (if they have one) and don't think about when they'll get married or how they'll live.

Is this the economic program that the country can expect? More of "Have patience," "How am I supposed to provide for you?" and "Well you see, it's because there's so many of you and you just keep increasing."

It might succeed, who knows. Let's ask the average citizen about the effects of such a program after several years, and I'm sure that he will answer you very cheerily as he thinks about the country before partaking of a non-existent breakfast, and he'll smile at you in satisfaction as he tightens his belt on what remains of his skeleton.

 

 

Egypt in TV

Another entry in our contributor Nour Youssef's avidly followed Egypt in TV column. 

"El Sisi just doesn’t want to disclose any information about his plans. He is not stupid. He is smarter than you and your father," the red-faced, middle-aged woman seated next to me in a restaurant told her son, who coolly alternated between sipping Pepsi and asking if she was done talking, provoking her to throw dripping straws in his face.

What caused the fight across the table was a discussion of the nearly four-hours-long interview Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi gave Lamis el-Hadidi and Ibrahim Eissa on CBC last week, where he repeatedly expressed love, admiration, respect and all things synonymous for the straw-thrower’s demographic.

"(I don’t want) anyone to get me wrong, but I love the Egyptian woman," he told Ibrahim Eissa, who wanted to know why the Marshal’s metaphors are always related to or directed at women. This followed el-Sisi’s request for caution from the public while choosing their representatives in parliament and the president -- the same caution an Egyptian mother exercises when checking the backgrounds of her daughter's suitors.

To be fair, el-Sisi’s flattery was not limited to women. The rest of the population is also exceptionally smart and more patient than any other nation.

When not complimenting the population, el-Sisi ducked numerous questions -- literally. Questions about the nature of his policy towards Hamas and Qatar were met with a lowered head and a close-lipped smile. And when he depended on words to answer questions, the Marshal made certain that they were so vague that I had to re-watch segments of the interview multiple times to make sure I was not missing some vital transitions that would put things in order and reassure voters about our future president's attention span.

When they asked about the weapons deal with Russia and whether or not the next parliament will monitor the military and its budget, el-Sisi dispensed words about "leaving the army alone." After a long pause, he said: "The army is a very great institution, to an extent that Egyptians can't imagine. God willing all of Egypt could be at that level." The two journalists sitting across from him smilingly accepted his answer without further questions.

In a separate group interview, questions continued to bounce off el-Sisi. When Rola Kharsa asked him to explain to the upset people who think January 25 is a conspiracy why anyone should be nice to January 25 activists and supporters, he answered by saying that he was summoned by the public to intervene on July 3 and complied despite not wanting to and that he has values and principles, which he has an annoying habit of honoring regardless of what they cost him, and the public will just have to live with this. He then went on to talk about the public's lack of trust, which Kharsa and the rest of the media should counter, adding that he looks at all Egyptians with love.

"I think that any leader in any position who doesn't (foster young leaders) so they are ready to work for the future," is doing the homeland, and not just the youth, a disservice, the Marshal said in response to Youssef el-Husseini's question about how he will deal with and contain the potentially-growing heterogeneous group of angry people who dislike the government (a sentiment that is understandable, he argued, given that the media often defames and attacks groups without evidence, as was the case of April 6). 

The unveiling of el-Sisi’s short term plan to help the poor via the provision of considerably cheaper frozen meat, however, was saved for the CBC interview.

The meat, he claims, arrives in Egypt with a price tag of 30 pounds. Yet the meat is sold at a price of 60 or more. What el-Sisi plans to do is ask investors to lower it to 40. If they refuse, "Egypt will make them." Once markets come into existence, like that of el-Obour where prices are reasonable, and he will arrange for say one thousand pickup trucks that will travel to the countryside to purchase vegetables and fruits and then transport them to market at lower prices, thereby providing the good to the consumers and forcing the uncooperative investors to lower their prices.

This is also part of his solution to unemployment. After all, these trucks are not going to drive themselves. They are going to need a young man to drive them and two others to assist. Anyway, even if that fails, he intends to give young people some land to farm, solving the problem.

As for the energy crisis, el-Sisi intends to encourage the public to conserve and buy energy efficient lights, which will save us 4000 megawatts of the 6000 we consume for lighting households. But these light bulbs el-Sisi speaks of have been available in Egypt for years and can only save up to 1500, according to the Ministry of Electricity itself. These 4000 mostly non-existent megawatts will then be redirected to industry, saving fuel and money, he told his kind hosts. His rival Hamdeen Sabbahi's interviews were much more prone to interrupting him, but he still insisted on making the following point in response to the accusation that he was too close to the Brotherhood: “I refused to be vice president under Morsi. Your candidate accepted (the position of) defense minister under Morsi."

The rest of el-Sisi’s economic plan include guilting Egyptians abroad into donating money, effusively thanking the Gulf monarchies for their help so far, and carrying out the very same Suez Canal Development Project that the MB tried to do and was mercilessly attacked for it (and accused of plagiarizing it from the Mubarak regime) around this time just last year.

One thing has changed since last year though. Now when TV host Amr Adeeb wants to yell, he warns his viewers ("I'm very angry so you had better lower your TV volume," he says around minute 7). 

The reason for that outburst was the Foreign Minister's statement about the relationship between the US and Egypt being more like "like a marriage, not a fling." 

"Why are you cheapening Egypt this way, ya Nabeel?" Adeeb bellowed before asking the obvious question: "And who wears the pants in this relationship? After a moment of hurt silence, he said: "Whoever pays."

While on the subject of sex, it is worth mentioning that Tamer Ameen thinks nonmarital sex is not happening in Egypt. Ameen's tantrum was provoked by a commercial for condoms on what he deemed to be a "respectful channel."

“Is there a husband who uses a condom with his wife?” he asked, incredulously. The commercial is, he decided, clearly advocating promiscuity since only unmarried couples require contraception and protection from STDS, making it one of the causes of sexual harassment because it reminds viewers of their genitalia and their intended purpose. “Censorship, then censorship and then censorship! This country’s people need to be protected.”

The last but certainly not least tantrum of late was by Mo'taz el-Demerdash, who threw it at a pissed off teacher called Samia, being interviewed on the street. Angered by the decision to ban April 6 and by her best students leaving the country for the better life Egypt cannot provide, Madam Samia felt the need to vent and seized the opportunity to tell el-Hayah’s reporter that the media is full of lies, something the host, el-Demerdash, took personally. "Honey, you cannot monopolize patriotism and love for this country, we all love this country!" he yelled over her, after arguing that "If (they) are all liars, how come (he is) allowing you to say that on air?" The fight ended with him inviting her to join him in the studio later. Presumably to yell at her some more.