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…

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

One of my favourite scenes from Office Space so decided to upload. ENJOY! Song: Ice Cube - Down for Whatever tags: office space virus scene michael bolton initech samir peter gibbens virus floppy disk

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.