Op-Ed: Democracy on Holiday: Sisi's Egypt
It looks as though Abdel Fattah El-Sisi will be elected to the office of Egypt's presidency by a large majority in the upcoming elections to be held on May 26-27.
There are a good many people who see him as the savior who will solve the terrible problems that have beset Egypt over the past three and a half years, ever since the start of the anti-Mubarak demonstrations in Tahrir Square on January 25, 2011.
Egypt's economy is tottering, there is a war going on against radical terrorist groups in the Sinai and the dam that Ethiopia is building threatens Egypt's main artery, the Nile. But the most difficult problem Sisi will face is the opposition from within, or better said, the opposition of the masses.
Heading the list is the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) which opposes the elections. They insist that the legally elected leader of Egypt is Muhammed Morsi who was chosen in democratic elections held in June 2012 and whose overthrow in 2013 was a military coup in every respect, and, in their view, lacked any justification, legal basis or legitimate cause. According to the "Brothers", the present government has no authority, its decisions are not binding, next week's elections are irrelevant and their outcome meaningless.
It is therefore most likely that many MB supporters will not take part in the elections so as to give public expression to their stand on the matter. In fact, several Moslem law arbiters declared that it is against Sharia Law to vote.
The extent of the problem that the MB poses for Sisi goes way beyond the question of participation in the coming elections, as among the millions of MB supporters there exist a sizable number who will use any measure, including violent ones, to take revenge on Sisi and his men for wresting the government from elected president Morsi and throwing him into jail. The past year saw a notable rise in terrorist acts, explosions and destruction in various parts of Egypt. Sisi's opponents blow up cars filled with explosives, attack government, army and intelligence centers, murder policemen and soldiers and burn police cars. This trend is getting worse and becoming more and more similar to the terrible things that go on in Baghdad, Iraq, that can serve as an example of what lies ahead.
Sisi's battle with the MB is going to take central place in Egypt's public life over the next few years..
In order to fight this phenomenon effectively, the government declared the MB to be outside the law, calling it a terrorist group, criminal gang and various other pejoratives. The Egyptian security forces are closing the pincers of persecution, staged trials and mass death sentences declared in a rather incomprehensible trial that was criticized widely in the entire Western world.
Sisi's battle with the MB is going to take central place in Egypt's public life over the next few years, since tens of thousands of Egyptians – mostly those in unplanned, squalid urban neighborhoods who subsist without running water, sewers, electricity and communications – support the MB and agree with their demands.
Sisi faces yet another battlefront. The secular, liberal sectors of Egyptian society, young – as expected – people aged 20-30, are organizing under the banner "Against You" in order to attempt to thwart Egypt's return to a military dictatorship, the form of government they succeeded in overthrowing on January 25, 2011 at a high price in blood. Among the organizations coordinating their activities are "The Revolutionary Front", "The April 6th Movement" "the Ahmed Maher Front", "The Democratic Front" and the "Revolutionary Socialists." All of them are against Sisi, whom they see simply as Mubarak II, and, are going about their activities peacefully, of course, They call for cleaning out the governmental stables of the remnants (what they call "tails") of the corrupt and corrupting "National Democratic Party" which turned the public service center into a hotbed of bribery, survived Mubarak's downfall and are trying to make their presence felt there once again.
The "April 6th Movement" actually organized a demonstration near Tahrir Square in central Cairo to raise public awareness of the dangers the present government poses, no different and possibly worse than those of Mubarak's time – the "Shield for Robbers and Cheaters" as one of the group's leaders, Muhammed Mustafa, called them.
Hitham Muhmadin, one of the heads of the "Revolutionary Socialists", openly accuses Sisi of "lies and hypocrisy", claiming that Sisi has no idea of how to deal with the country's problems in the international arena. His movement will market the idea of opposing Sisi through demonstrations identical to those that saw millions of Egyptians join forces and face off government tanks while unarmed, succeeding, just three years ago, in getting rid of Mubarak.
Objectively, the organizations know they have no chance of deposing Sisi, who will probably be elected by a large majority. All they want is to be allowed to express their protest without having their heads separated from their bodies as a result.
It is noteworthy that the information about the secular movements that oppose Sisi became public knowledge, not due to the judicial system or the government, but through the efforts of Al Jazeera which provides air time and newspaper space to publicizing the fears that Sisi will turn into another version of Mubarak. Al Jazeera expresses the views of the MB, attacks Sisi from the secular point of view as well, all the while attempting to get the Egyptian secular population to oppose him.
It is quite possible that during Sisi's period the economic situation will stabilize, the political system will be relatively stable as well. In contrast, the battle between the government and the MB will be ridden with the blood of both sides and the religious and secular opposition may be silenced, closed and persecuted. If there are economic and security gains, they will be at the expense of civil rights, political freedoms, the right to assembly, to protest and to express opinions.
Under Sisi, Egypt may improve its economic situation, but its democratic rating will regress significantly. All the commentators who thought they saw democracy sprouting in Tahrir Square, especially those in the NY Times, will just have to explain to their readers where and why they erred so egregiously.