Monday will mark the fifth anniversary of the first wave of protests in Egypt’s version of the Arab Spring, the first of 18 days of protests that ended with the resignation of former president/dictator/jolly old hill troll Hosni Mubarak on February 11, 2011. This time of year is fraught with emotional resonance for current Egyptian president/dictator/cycling enthusiast Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, because while Mubarak’s ouster was an essential step to Sisi’s ultimate rise to power,
it’s also a time of heavy symbolism around things like “freedom,” “repression,” and “Egyptians fighting for freedom from repression.” You can see how that might cut a bit close to home for someone who was named one of Thugocracy International’s “10 Totalitarians to Watch” for 2013, 2014, and 2015.
Sisi was apparently already feeling anxious last month, when he went on TV and said this to his critics:
“Why am I hearing calls for another revolution? Why do you want to ruin the nation?” Mr. Sisi said late last month, addressing his critics in a televised speech. “I came by your will* and your choice** and not despite it.***”
(Full disclosure, I added the asterisks)
So this is probably not going to be a great weekend to be in Cairo, what with Sisi feeling uneasy and already reportedly arresting people for running Facebook pages that he doesn’t like (watch out, um, “Addicted to Green Tea,” you may be next) and beefing up security all over the city. It’s also not going to be a great weekend in Cairo because of the very real threat that ISIS or its affiliates/fans will take advantage of the tension and the concern over popular demonstrations to launch some terror attacks. Clearly that possibility does exist:
At least nine people, including six policemen, have been killed in a bomb explosion during a raid on a militant hideout in the Egyptian capital, Cairo.
More than 13 others were injured, including the local police chief.
Security sources say the blast went off as officers raided an apartment in Giza, near the Pyramids.
The government has tightened security ahead of next week’s fifth anniversary of the uprising that removed long-time Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
The so-called Islamic State said it was behind the blast, while Egyptian authorities blamed the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood movement of former President Mohammed Morsi.
Note that last bit, because it’s basically a green light for ISIS to attempt attacks over the next week or so, then watch as Sisi uses whatever it does to justify further crackdowns on Muslim Brotherhood supporters. This works to ISIS’s advantage, both because of the chaotic environment it will create and because the harder Sisi clamps down on the Brotherhood, which is the less violent alternative for disaffected Islamists, the more disaffected Islamists will turn to the more violent alternative, which is ISIS. And Sisi doesn’t mind this, because the stronger ISIS gets within central Egypt (I’m trying to distinguish Cairo and the Nile region from ISIS’s Sinai Province affiliate), the more Sisi can conflate his political opposition with global enemy #1, and thereby justify snuffing out that political opposition by whatever means necessary.
While we’re on Egypt, and speaking of low voter turnouts, I was remiss in not marking the seating of Egypt’s first parliament in three years, something that happened just a couple of weeks ago. The elections to fill the new parliament were held last November and December, and were the final step in Sisi’s “Roadmap to Democracy.” Or, rather, his “Roadmap to ‘Democracy,'” since the elections were just a little bit compromised by violence against journalists, the aforementioned low turnout, and the fact that nothing resembling a real opposition can be found among the new legislators:
This time, the electorate voted in 568 representatives, 75 of whom are former police and army officers. As the constitution allows, Sisi then appointed another 28 representatives to the parliament himself. In their campaigns, candidates flaunted their lack of allegiance to any political parties and bragged that they had no platforms other than supporting and executing president Sisi’s policies. Meanwhile, the president, the state apparatus, and the state-run media have regularly denounced the opposition, including independent civil society organizations and political activists, as unpatriotic or even treasonous.
So it’s no wonder that Egypt’s new parliament is packed with pro-regime legislators. Most of its seats were determined by individual races, but about a fifth were reserved for the winners of a competition among party-like “lists” of candidates. The victorious list, “For the Love of Egypt,” itself consisted of candidates from multiple political parties, and so had no unifying ideology. But many of its members are Mubarak-era officials, and the list was understood to support Sisi’s regime, and to enjoy the regime’s support in return. Recently, a key former campaigner for president Sisi alleged that the presidential administration and the intelligence services had helped select the list’s candidates. Kamel also told an Egyptian newspaper that security forces were pressuring candidates to join the list.
“This list supports the June 30 Revolution and the results of the revolution, and supports the political and economic projects of President Sisi,” says Mahmoud Nafady, a campaign manager for a pro-Sisi legislator, and a supporter of the list. He dismisses the need for a parliament made up of opposing parties who support different platforms, arguing that such partisanship would lead to unrest and conflict. What is important, he insists, is for everyone to support the president.
Democracy: where differing viewpoints are dangerous and what’s important is for everyone to support the president. The system works.
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