Despite the failed revolution, Egypt’s iron-fisted ruler won’t last

February 12, 2016

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) waves during the opening ceremony of the new Suez Canal, in Ismailia, Egypt, August 6, 2015. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Egyptians have always been ill-served, at best, and brutalized, at worst, by their leaders, whether Ottoman, British, Nasserist or under President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule. So instead of asking why Egypt’s revolution of five years ago failed, let’s point a finger at the sorry parade of post-revolutionary leaders who have presumed to lead but failed just as their predecessors did.

Egyptian citizens were ill-served by their first democratically elected leader, President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. Overweening and prone to clumsy power grabs that appeared to have less to do with Islam than stupidity, Morsi was more incompetent than he was evil. He was certainly no “terrorist,” as President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has labeled him and all other Muslim Brotherhood members.

Egyptians were also failed by the liberal and secular politicians whose self-interest took precedence over the hard work of developing strong alliances, parties and platforms. They espoused pluralistic democratic values but applied them selectively — in 2013, for example, they chose to back the violent overthrow of Morsi rather than let him be voted out of office.


Protesters against President Mohamed Mursi in Tahrir Square in Cairo July 3, 2013. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

Consider Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, who played the coy politician for two years, tweeting his fatuous aspirations instead of rolling up his sleeves and building the political process. He then joined Sisi’s interim government, only to resign a month later after the Rabaa massacre, in which some 800 Muslim Brotherhood supporters were killed by security forces.

Egyptians have even been let down by a generation of their own sons and daughters. These young activists often seemed more adept at online organizing and protesting — no matter the cause — than protecting the gains of their protests. After fighting the military throughout 2011 and 2012, many joined the military-backed effort to remove Morsi in the spring of 2013, even protesting when Sisi called for a show of support. Familiar with this pattern, it was inevitable that they would eventually sour on Sisi, which they have.

That said, none of them deserved to be put in prison, where many of them languish.

While covering the protests in Tahrir Square in 2011, I was inspired to leave my television job, move back to Egypt and be a witness to what looked like a promising future. I had lived happily in Cairo as a student studying Arabic in the 1990s and looked forward to working at the American University in Cairo, a campus infused with post-revolutionary energy and potential.

When I arrived in September 2011, the romantic slogans (“The army and the people are one hand”) and alliances forged in Tahrir Square were already fraying badly. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the interim military body that replaced Mubarak, was cracking down on protesters with impunity, most egregiously during what came to be known as the Maspero massacre, in which armored personnel vehicles were caught on camera mowing down fleeing Coptic protesters. When the Muslim Brotherhood swept the parliamentary elections of 2011 and 2012, political demonization become the preferred platform of the feckless secular opposition groups.


Demonstrators take part in a protest marking the first anniversary of Egypt’s uprising at Tahrir square in Cairo January 25, 2012. REUTERS/ Mohamed Abd El-Ghany

Closer to home, I found a giddy array of empowered and politically vocal citizens, a liberated media and a class of public intellectuals sporting shiny new revolutionary personas, and the clothes to match (“revolution chic”). One professor-turned-politician sported long hair, corduroy sport coats and appeared to do a little teaching (sometimes from his car by calling in to a student’s phone that would be set on speakerphone). One former ambassador-turned-dean embodied the values of civil liberty and democracy in elegant suits, then promptly joined the post-Morsi interim military government. A cadre of denim-clad, gel-haired Tahrir activists secretly cooperated with the military to foment a “grass-roots” movement against Morsi.

Even the revolution-anointed leaders were failing Egypt’s citizens. By the time I left Cairo in June 2013, most people I knew at the university supported a return to military rule and seemed to accept as a given the violent and illiberal measures it would take to do so. One self-aware pundit coined the phrase “Egypt’s illiberal liberals.”

Egypt’s current regime, led by Sisi, makes the Mubarak regime look benign. Harsh repression is justified in the name of security and stability, protests are against the law, political groups are banned or emasculated and polarization is promoted by a subservient media.

Sisi’s hold on power has been aided by widening regional chaos. Libya, Syria and Yemen loom conveniently large in case Egyptians forget what premature democracy movements can yield. A spate of recent house arrests and “enforced disappearances” has targeted journalists and civil-rights activists, which has forced the government to acknowledge that hundreds are being illegally detained.

The discovery last week of the body of Giulio Regeni, a 28-year-old Italian PhD student, who was left by the side of a road and appeared to have been tortured, was considered particularly unsettling because the Egyptian security forces typically reserve their brutality exclusively for Egyptians. In spite of continuing efforts by Italian authorities, Regeni’s family will almost certainly never find out what happened to their son, just as tens of thousands of Egyptians never learn the truth about the extrajudicial deaths of family members.

Not much is likely to change in the short term. Sisi will probably continue to perform better outside of Egypt than domestically, and he’ll maximize his role as a line of defense against Islamic State in the Sinai. He will likely maneuver for a place in whatever regional coalition is formed to manage the crises in Libya, Syria and Yemen. He will continue to receive international support and military aid in spite of his authoritarian measures. Ninety million Egyptians will continue to struggle with rising food prices, high unemployment, impossible daily commutes, poor healthcare, worse education and an entirely unaccountable government.

Where is the bright side? It is the simple fact of Egypt’s revolution — not its much-debated outcomes. Egyptians have shown that they can depose leaders who serve them badly, whether they’ve done this righteously, cynically or fickly. Egyptians have also shown their capacity for political accommodation and transient loyalties — bad for democracy but useful for getting rid of governments.

With time, as Sisi’s excesses continue, new alliances of convenience and cooperation will form among unexpected allies. Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers may once again align with secular groups; military factions may find the Brotherhood a useful ally against a rogue president. Voices in the media will begin to speak up. Criticism on social media will begin to build up a revolutionary head of steam. One day, Sisi will be replaced — probably not democratically.

I hope whoever replaces him will finally serve Egyptians better.


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Yes, El Sisi will last, longer than you predict. Why? Because Egyptian believe in him; Egyptians think highly of him.
Yes, there were many failings, but I wouldn’t count the current president as one. As far as Egyptians are concerned, he is doing so much.
See “Dictator, Dictator” It may shed some light on how Egyptians feel. 08/dictator-dictator.html

Posted by sedky | Report as abusive

I think you are right in every word. El-Sisi will not remain in power more than 2 years, since his supporters in the Arabian Gulf are suffering much from cheap oil.
However, I don’t think there is really a hope for this country. I am expecting chaos, famine and huge immigration before the country returns to stability.

Posted by Mohamed_Eg83 | Report as abusive

Sisi will last a lot longer than the usa’s constitution. go back to writing for trailer ppl.

Posted by yobro_yobro88 | Report as abusive

seeing how syria, libya and yemen end up, I doubt Egyptians would revolt against sisi anytime soon ..I mean really look around, the whole middle east is on fire I don’t think they want your western democracy..all they want is stability even if its through a repressive regime..all Arab countries are led by repressive dictators its not anything new for a middle eastern country.

Posted by Denezel | Report as abusive

Im sorry to say, but Egyptians do not deserve anything better than dictator Sisi……….

Posted by No_apartheid | Report as abusive

The author might have gone back as far as the Ptolemaic period in Egyptian history before finding the country free from occupation. Not until Nasser in 1952 did Egypt regain true independence.
As such Egyptians have had to develop cultural mores and value systems that enabled what was essentially an agrarian society to survive under the heel of one oppressor after another.
These values dominate to this day and are in direct contradiction to those necessary for a democracy; if such an entity truly exists in todays predominant plutocracies.
For the present and until Egypt is rebuilt from the bottom up and new generations develop with values and behaviours consistent with a pluralistic society the best the country can hope for is a kind of benevolent Dictatorship.
El Sisi is Egypt’s best hope for now. It is unfair to simply enumerate the deficiencies as seen by a recent visitor and blame all on the existing government and leader indiscriminately.

Posted by pharoah | Report as abusive

El Sisi will last as he is very loved by the majority of Egyptians. There are a group of “paid” journalist who write articles like this to advance the agenda of terrorist organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood. It’s just surprising that Reuters is involved.

Posted by CairoLive | Report as abusive

To everyone who is thinking that CC will last forever, remember what happened with Mubarak. CC will fall quicker than Mubarak despite his iron fist, support from the Army, support from the sick media. all that will not help him, the poor people will rise up someday sooner than you expect and then dont blame them for what they will do. Enjoy the ride CC.

Posted by Redz85 | Report as abusive

This article is really pathetic as anything that originate from the Terrorists Muslim Brothers

Egyptians are now well awake and aware of who their enemies are, why and how to defeat them

Continue to live and get paid by Qatar and Turkey, however, you are never setting a foot in Egypt

Posted by TutAnkhAmon | Report as abusive

As a friend of mine used to say, I broke my crystal ball long time ago so I no longer can ‘see’ the future.

What we are witnessing in Egypt is a typical rise of fascist regime. riding the waves of fear and anguish among the ordinary people El-Sisi supported by a massive military establishment is no different than a typical dictator rising to power after a period of unrest. The strategy El-Sisi is adopting to cement his power is align the loyalty of the establishment with his survivor, so if he falls, they fall with him.

The military establishment, not just the leaders, is enjoying a golden age under his throne, practically every major project, investment, development, and even external aid or financial assistance is pouring into the military first. We are not talking about handful of corrupted generals but rather a vast range of army wings that act today like an enterprise. even Egypt undeveloped lands have been transferred to the military ownership to do with what they please.

The judiciary establishment is another leg of the throne. since 2013 El-Sisi’s regime worked relentlessly to both refine the bench from any judge who do not show full support of the regime but furthermore created a huge financial reward system for those who obey. as a result a judge handed down 492 death sentences in one swift mock trial back in 2014

The third leg of the throne is the security forces which has been absent from the streets of Egypt between 2011 and 2013. since Rabaa mascara the ‘new’ and way more brutal security force is coming down heavily on any dissenting voice in a way that has not been seen in Egypt since the 1960’s at the peak of the Nasser ultra-nationalism era . Disappearing, torturing, illegal incarceration, brutality and a long list of practice are no longer a new news in Egypt but rather an everyday routine

Finally the media which is by large controlled by handful of tycoons and businessmen aligned with the regime and the closure of any and all other media outlets in the country is creating a typical propaganda engine reminisce of North Korea with the central intelligence agency feeding the news exactly what to and not to say, formally as in publicly known and acknowledged fact

Egypt is a country on the brink of descending to chaos, financially and politically. One can only wonder how long El-Sisi, and the military establishment, can hold to the power in almost a bankrupted 90+ million ppl nation

Posted by Arabisc | Report as abusive

this articles a long with “everything is negotiable in Egypt” are two of my favorites articles written by a foreign describing the situation in Egypt.

Posted by Osman10 | Report as abusive

I’m glad you think so. That makes one of us. But I sincerely hope you’re right and we’ll be getting rid of El-Sisi and his crowd once and for all someday soon.

Posted by noranazmy | Report as abusive

I noticed we hadn’t para-dropped any ammunition or TOW missiles to the “moderate” Muslim Brotherhood.

“Protesters threw tomatoes and shoes at Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s motorcade on Sunday during her first visit to Egypt since the election of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi.” usa-clinton-idUSBRE86D07520120716

We did send al Sisi ten AH64 Apache helicopters, they are really really good at one thing.
And just out of curiosity, did the al Sisi government ever release the two Al Jazeera journalists ??

Posted by Laster | Report as abusive

This is not a society that is ready for democracy. Too much of the population is uneducated and Ideologically affixed. The idealism of the left and this writer spends much of their time trying to point out that this situation is not ideal. Duh???? However, this is not Kansas this is the middle east!

Posted by JustFactSir | Report as abusive

It is in the world’s best interest that al-Sisi remain in power. If he is deposed, a tidal wave of unemployed young Egyptian men will demand to emigrate “for a better life”.

We cannot accept another belch of surplus population from radical muslim countries.

Posted by GetReel | Report as abusive

al-Sisi isn’t the first one. He won’t be the last one.

Posted by TK1951 | Report as abusive

I think the author should rename the title of the article. It has nothing to do with reality and the content.
Usual propaganda unfortunately.

With all due respect, passing-by Egypt is not like living in Egypt.
Your views are too biased & irrelevant. Some of them true and most of them too far from reality.

Posted by Moukhtar | Report as abusive