Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi

July 3 marked 10 years since then Egyptian Defense Minister Abdel Fattah el-Sisi took power in a coup. Over the past decade, El-Sisi has wielded complete authority and repressed dissent while presiding over a deteriorating economy. Mahmoud Hashem, an Egyptian journalist and member of the Popular Alliance Socialist Party, takes a look at the events that led to the 2011 overthrow of former president Hosni Mubarak, the rise of El-Sisi, and the plight of Egypt today.

After 30 years of rampant corruption and repression under former President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak, there were talks of his intention to run again or project his eldest son Gamal Mubarak in the 2011 presidential elections. In response, millions of Egyptians took to the streets, rejecting both Mubarak and his son. 

The massive uprising by the Egyptian people against the Hosni Mubarak regime was not unexpected. Throughout Mubarak’s three-decade reign, there were numerous signs indicating the growing discontent among the population. The regime was characterized by widespread repression, corruption, and a close alliance between political power and capital. Poverty rates surged, privatization policies expanded, and state properties were sold off to investors. However, the final straw came with the killing of Khaled Said, a young man who died in police custody. This tragedy coincided with unofficial propaganda promoting Gamal Mubarak as a presidential candidate, prompting Egyptians to take to the streets and demand a change of power. 

The regime responded to the protests with brutal repression, resorting to violence, torture, and imprisonment. State-controlled media outlets launched a smear campaign against the revolutionaries. Eventually, the regime offered Mubarak’s resignation in exchange for the military council assuming power. At first, the council garnered support from the demonstrators, but it soon revealed its true face by committing massacres against them. 

During this period, the revolutionary youth, civil movements, and political parties formed alliances to confront the regime’s attacks and demand a civilian government led by technocrats. However, their efforts were thwarted by a counter-alliance between the leaders of the Military Council and the Muslim Brotherhood. These two forces, being the most organized and numerous at the time, divided power in the constitutional amendments committee, resulting in an expansion of the military’s authority while preserving the Islamic character of the state. The demands of the civil bloc were ignored. In the 2012 presidential elections, the competition narrowed down to Ahmed Shafiq, the army’s candidate, and Mohamed Morsi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi narrowly won the election. 

However, once in power, the Muslim Brotherhood regime also revealed its true nature. It reneged on its promise to form an inclusive government, favoring ministers with Islamic leanings. The regime allowed leaders of terrorist groups to resurface as public figures and even formed a militia to suppress protests against its rule. It committed massacres against civilians, such as the Ittihadiya Palace demonstrations. The regime’s media interviews were filled with treasonous rhetoric against the revolutionaries. Meanwhile, it failed to bring about any meaningful change in the economic and social aspects of Egyptian life. The regime adopted capitalist policies while maintaining a veneer of Islamic influence. This led to calls for the regime’s overthrow in the hopes of redirecting the revolution’s course. 

Seizing the opportunity presented by the demonstrations against the Muslim Brotherhood regime, the military orchestrated a coup, leading to the removal of Morsi and the subsequent crackdown on his supporters. The military, with the support of certain civilian forces opposing Islamic authority, targeted not only the Muslim Brotherhood but also a wide range of opposition groups. This marked the beginning of a more oppressive and dictatorial era.

Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, then Minister of Defense, announced the end of the Muslim Brotherhood rule and the temporary transfer of power to the President of the Supreme Constitutional Court, Adly Mansour. However, El-Sisi later announced his candidacy for the presidency and amended the constitution to extend his rule beyond two terms, following in the footsteps of his predecessors.

Worsening situation

After 10 years of El-Sisi’s rule, the situation in Egypt has worsened. Initially, El-Sisi presented himself as a leader who cared for the people, but his tone gradually turned more violent and threatening towards those who opposed his decisions or criticized them. Tens of thousands were imprisoned, and the country faced dire economic conditions as El-Sisi resorted to borrowing from international institutions and implementing austerity measures. Inflation skyrocketed due to the removal of subsidies, causing the middle class to fall into extreme poverty.

The regime went beyond economic measures and engaged in widespread human rights abuses. Many citizens were forcibly evicted from their homes, and the government confiscated lands and properties for investment projects under the guise of them being state-owned. Historical cemeteries were even demolished. The regime intensified its policies of privatization, selling off public assets, banks, factories, and national companies to foreign investors. It suppressed working-class demonstrations against these policies, resulting in the imprisonment and dismissal of many workers. Millions of families were displaced, while billions of loan funds and the national budget were wasted on constructing a new capital city, complete with grand mosques, churches, towers, and large facilities. Even buying basic necessities became a challenge for citizens.

To consolidate its power, the regime formed alliances with the United States, European countries, and Gulf states, which provided international support. Domestically, the regime maintained tight security control over the population while the economic situation deteriorated. Citizens faced a choice: either risk their lives and livelihoods by opposing the regime or struggle to make ends meet through daily labor.

The progressive movements in Egypt gradually declined during the ten years under interim President Adly Mansour and President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. Internal divisions and differences in strategies, as well as diminishing presence in the streets, led to disintegration and the emergence of splinter groups. Many leaders and members of progressive movements were imprisoned, and their activities were banned or labeled as terrorist. Press freedom suffered greatly, with journalists being jailed, media outlets closed, and websites blocked.

In an attempt to manipulate the media landscape, the El-Sisi government imposed draconian legislation and incorporated independent newspapers, television, and radio channels into its own media apparatus. Opposition media outlets were shut down under the pretext of violating laws, and even the headquarters of the Journalists Syndicate were raided for the first time in history. The regime interfered in the Syndicate’s elections to gain control over journalists and silence dissenting voices.

The government’s campaign of repression, coupled with internal divisions and the suppression of progressive movements, contributed to the consolidation of the regime’s power. However, the Egyptian people, burdened by the worsening conditions, harbored suppressed anger that could erupt at any moment. In response to the potential explosion, the regime recently initiated a so-called “national dialogue” with representatives from various parties, organizations, and unions, promising to implement a national plan to address the situation. However, the dialogue soon lost credibility as the regime failed to deliver on its promises, leading to objections and withdrawal from some participants.

Throughout the past ten years, Egypt has witnessed the worst period for press freedom, with numerous journalists imprisoned, detained, and killed. The El-Sisi government not only targeted journalists but also enacted oppressive media legislation, forcefully incorporating independent outlets while shutting down opposition media organizations. These actions further isolated progressive movements and limited their ability to operate freely.

July 17, 2023

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