Many assume that a revolution or a mass political uprising, here meaning a broad initiative to topple a government through various means of protest, is simply an act of will. I know of no particular reason for the prevalence of this assumption. For some, it may be a kind of bragging meant to reflect a brave self-image. It may also be a consequence of how the media presents events, reducing them to clichés along the lines of “then the Egyptians went out to remove the tyrannical regime and save Egypt.”
Even though I experienced what they try to describe in such ways, I still find myself trying to imagine something that fits their language. Every time, an absurd image, like something out of an animated movie, forms in my head—something that marks the moment the people decided to stage a revolution or to remove the government and toss it aside. These ideas and doubts cross my mind whenever I hear statements like “people need a break” or “people are just exhausted now.” It gets me wondering when people in general, and the hardworking, downtrodden Egyptian people in particular, were ever at rest or not “exhausted.”
Those who say “people are exhausted now” imagine that mass uprising are an act of luxury, as if people go out to protest or get into politics as a form of entertainment in their free time. Most stereotypical, they conjure in the minds someone whose hobbies include Facebook and going to protests. I, on the other hand, believe that people move when they are tired or when the government fails them. They also move when a regime exhausts its own tyrannical structure and causes it to collapse, as was the case on January 28, 2011. Finally, and perhaps most reliably, people move when they get cornered—when their backs are against the wall.
The current Egyptian regime, like those in most Arab Spring countries, is dealing with its people in the same way that Israel has dealt with the Palestinian issue—cornering the other side in restrictive duality. Here, the new duality involves the illusion of security in return for accepting tyranny and the abuse of rights and freedoms. Field Marshal (or President, as we still do not know which title he would prefer) Sisi even said as much in his television interviews, remarking that the state and its security and future are more important than rights and freedoms. This makes for a miserably degrading situation that will only become more miserable when everyone realizes that Sisi is not able to deliver.
This failure to deliver will not even hinge on the broader promise of safety and security for you or your neighbors or your daughter who gets harassed walking down the street. Sisi’s promises of safety and security are only for state institutions—for Sisi, their buildings and personnel are Egypt, and their security is the country’s security. Consequently, everyone else will be pushed back against the wall—worse, we may all end up facing the wall, hands in the air.
With the law regulating Parliament now emerging from the government, it is clear that another opportunity to corner and contain people is coming. Regardless of the details, Sisi will face the challenge of attempting to coordinate the composition of the new parliament through the elections process.
When thinking of crafting a parliament, we ought to raise our hands in prayer for the soul of Kamal al-Shazli. He was the master of balancing elections and competing powerbases. His last great achievement came in 2005, when he, Mofid Shehab, and the cavalry of the old regime formed a parliament that lasted an entire five-year term. It was a show of power, but not force—it was not a display of strength against people or cornering them. It was rather, as Adaweya immortalized in song, a case of “you let go and so will I.” The crafting of such a Parliament in Egypt requires following a recipe that gratifies the inter-related businesses, families, and support networks that form the spectrum of Egyptian society.
In the 2010 Parliament, Mubarak depended on Ahmed Ezz, who did not know how the recipe went. He decided to run the show using the philosophy of “survival of the fittest and power to the strongest.” The result was that he cornered a lot of people, leaving them no options and no way to interact with the existing system. The result? Seeing them kicking and screaming all the way to January 25.
Now, in his meetings with political parties as a presidential candidate, Sisi was on the attack, asking them where the youth were and why they were not in leadership. Meanwhile, the youth of which he spoke are in prison, with the number of arrests after the blessed June 30 revolution reaching 40,000. Sisi is not even partial towards any of the parties that support him, all of which represent networks of mutual benefit, society groups, and businessmen who see in themselves the people behind June 30 and the cheerleaders who pressed Sisi to gallantly agree to become president. They all await the parliamentary elections to participate in the ruling class and reap the benefits that it offers. Sisi, however, is offering no promises. It is clear that he does not have the capable people or the political backing that would enable him to cook up the correct recipe for the upcoming parliament.
Meanwhile, Sisi is demanding that businessmen provide a 100 billion EGP fund for various projects. After his meeting with them, a number of businessmen publicly announced plans to liquidate their businesses and leave the country. Others quietly and discreetly started moving their money abroad. A third group had the courage to reply openly, telling Sisi, “We have been paying since June 30.” His reply, according to newspapers, was “And Egypt has paid you back manifold.” The problem is not whether the businessmen will eventually pay or not; rather, the problem is whether the payment will be legal and according to a clear economic vision or whether it will be through force or intimidation (perhaps featuring the hoarse voice that Sisi uses when he wants to appear scary).
Sisi currently has no allies other than the institutions of the state and a media apparatus the weaknesses of which were revealed during the elections. The media’s behavior during the elections may even have required a bit of strong-arming of the businessmen who own the TV stations, newspapers, and related websites. On his own, Sisi is evidently refusing to take the hands extended towards him, and he is in turn refusing to extend his hand to others. He is cornering everyone already— pushing them against the wall—starting with the youth and extending all the way to those seeking political and economic power. It is as if he seeks to rule Egypt all by himself—the question is, though, can he hold everything together on his own?”
This article was translated by Amir Beshay