It’s been over four years since the peaceful uprising that toppled Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak after three decades in power.
Since then, the international community has gone from praising for the courage of the Tahrir revolutionaries to a full blown endorsement of the return to naked dictatorship in Egypt.
The 2012 election of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi was unsettling to governments in the West and millions of Egyptians took to the streets in 2013 to demand his removal after only one year. When the Army seized control on July 3rd, 2013 many believed that the military was acting on behalf of the protestors. It soon became apparent that Egypt’s new military government under General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi was not acting in support of the revolution but was moving frantically to strangle it in the crib.
The facade of the civilian caretaker government after the coup was followed by General Sisi taking the presidency though a fraudulent election in which only one other candidate was allowed to run and 96% of the vote went to Sisi. Now Egypt’s government is defined by a cult of personality fit for North Korea.
The leadership of global powers outside Egypt are shamefully culpable in this return to the status quo and have stayed silent as repression of all dissent has become the norm.
Last week’s death sentence against Egypt’s first democratically elected president Mohammed Morsi is the latest in a long series of decisions by the so-called “independent” judiciary that seem to not-so-coincidentally benefit the new president. Morsi’s leadership was questionable at best, but this doesn’t change the fact that the charges against him are fabricated. The verdict is a message against dissenters and an indictment against the concept of democracy.
Buried behind the headlines about Sisi’s actions against ISIS (and militants he pretends are ISIS) is repression against ardent secularists in the name of fighting terrorism.
The sensational news that Morsi is to be executed came on the same day last week as the announcement that the Ahlawy Ultras, hardcore soccer fans, have been labeled a terrorist organization by the Egyptian government.
To many, the Ultras were the foot soldiers of the peaceful revolution that unseated Mubarak in 2011. The young activists helped repel assaults by Mubarak thugs on the Tahrir protestors as the regime unraveled. The Ultras were subsequently among the strongest opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood leadership under Morsi and are known for having great contempt for Islamic fundamentalism. Of course, none of this has stopped the Sisi government from labeling them a terrorist organization alongside the brotherhood.
This follows a series of repressive measures which include the imprisonment of activists for “illegal gathering” and violating an anti-protest law that would make the leaders of Soviet Russia blush.
True democrats have paid the price for dissent, losing their freedom and lives. Shaima al-Sabbagh, a young mother, who along with other secular activists was commemorating the 2011 revolt by bringing flowers to Tahrir square, was shot dead in January by Sisi’s security forces. The propaganda machine immediately went into overdrive, insisting that somehow the Brotherhood had infiltrated the area and fired the fatal shots. In line with the great tradition of victim blaming, this indefensible position was quickly dropped and replaced by the notion that she was “too skinny” to survive the otherwise harmless shotgun blast.
Sisi has the good fortune of global ignorance. There is a stereotype that Egyptians are susceptible to the propaganda of dictators. This is ironic because no one has been more gullible than Western politicians.
Sisi’s wikipedia page is a nauseating whitewash, which focuses on how early he wakes up, how devoted and hardworking he is, and claims only 8 percent of the country disapproves of him. Sisi’s rhetoric about fighting terrorism doesn’t stand up to scrutiny — for example, it is not widely known in America or Europe that the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS are actually mortal enemies.
It is easy to lose track of the conspiracy theories that one needs to believe to excuse Sisi’s junta. One conspiracy, put forth by Egypt’s media, indicts America as the force behind the Muslim Brotherhood. Another claims Morsi is a Palestinian. Perhaps the most ridiculous theory is that America caused the Arab Spring, motivated by desire to hurt Egypt. This conspiracy points to “evidence” found in a 2001 episode of The Simpsons. Egypt’s media takes particular joy in parroting the conspiracy rhetoric of the American right which tries to imply a connection between Obama and the Muslim Brotherhood.
General Sisi has bribed and threatened the world into compliance. It is fitting that so many world leaders love him, because in a way, Sisi represents the living personification of hypocrisy in the region. Hard rhetoric and symbolic actions against ISIS have gained him the starry eyed admiration of the American right wing, even as he continues to disseminate conspiratorial anti-American propaganda.
France has been bought off with a massive deal to finally sell their Rafale jets. Netanyahu loves him because of his brutal scapegoating of Palestinians, rhetorical opposition to Hamas, and above all, his collaboration with the Likud government in starving the population of Gaza with a blockade. Iran and Syria love the president because of his harsh targeting of Syrian refugees inside Egypt and for reopening diplomatic relations with Assad. Vladimir Putin is a fan of Sisi because he has made life easier for Assad and has threatened to move away from America’s influence — the two dictators had a romantic dinner earlier this year.
President Sisi is a chameleon. He is whatever we need him to be so long as no one asks too many questions. When speaking to the West, Sisi is a staunch secularist and feminist who brings flowers to rape survivors. Despite his photo op, his security services routinely use rape as a political tool against dissidents.
To religious audiences, Sisi emphasizes that he is a mystic, who carries a sword and speaks to god in his dreams while he dictates who can practice religion and how. But once again, none of these contradictions should come as a surprise.
The Sisi system is one in which voting is the biggest threat to democracy, free expression is the biggest threat to education, feminists are the biggest threat to feminism, and secularists are the biggest threat to secularism.
If you believe the rhetoric, all of his measures of repression are coincidences, and all his successes are a result of his genius.
Under the Sisi system, it is a mere coincidence that Bassem Youseff’s satirical show went off the air. If you believe Sisi, the Al-Jazeera staff were imprisoned against his will, by accident, and the famous and brilliant revolutionary artist Ganzeer is in exile not because he fears imprisonment, but because he feels like it. If Sisi has his way, soon there will be nothing left of Egyptian culture — just his face on billboards and Islamists lurking in the shadows.
As much as Egyptian media portray him as the very pinnacle of health and reason, the emperor has no clothes. Abdel Fatah el-Sisi is a vain and petty tyrant, a Mussolini for Egypt.
World leaders are guilty as sin for tolerating him.