by Ayman Ahmed (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 49, No. 6, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1441)
The military regime of General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt is mired in multiple crises, all of its own making. Tensions with Ethiopia over the Grand Renaissance Ethiopia Dam are rising with no end in sight. There is risk of war breaking out with its southern neighbour as well as clashes with Turkish forces in Libya. Any eruption of war would have catastrophic consequences for the entire North African region. All these developments are occurring while Egypt’s economy is tanking due to massive corruption and gross mismanagement.
Instead of addressing these pressing problems to bring relief to the long-suffering people, the regime continues with persecuting political opponents. While not surprising, it is still mind-boggling that the murshid (Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood), Mohamed Badie, was sentenced to 138 years in jail on July 14. Yes, you read that correctly: 138 years! For what ‘crime’, one may ask? The Court of Cassation, the highest appeals court in Egypt upheld the life terms handed to Badie on charges of ‘violence’ and ‘murder’. How many people has the 77-year-old Ikhwan leader murdered in his life?
But Sisi’s military regime is not done yet. The Ikhwan leader awaits ruling in another 47 cases, according to the group’s spokesperson, Talaat Fahmy. Writing on his Facebook page, Fahmy pointed out that “ironically, the same court had acquitted the former Egyptian Minister of Interior Habib Al-Adly, and fined him 500 Egyptian pounds ($31).”
Al-Adly was interior minister from 1997 to 2011 under the now-ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak. He presided over not only the arrest and torture of tens of thousands of detainees, some of whom died in prison, but al-Adly was also involved in embezzlement of interior ministry funds.
Ever since Sisi overthrew the Ikhwan-backed democratically elected government of Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, Egypt has been on a downward spiral. Morsi died in a Cairo court room on June 17, 2019 when he suffered a massive heart attack but the regime’s minions refused to provide him medical help. He had been denied proper medical care in prison where he was held in appalling conditions since his ouster seven years ago.
For its 102 million people, Egypt is like a vast prison. It is not just the oppressive summer heat but also the stifling political atmosphere that is choking people. Anyone who dares to mention human rights, democratic rule or development ends up in the dungeons of Egypt where tens of thousands have languished for decades.
“An estimated 60,000 political prisoners languish in jail, while the risk of imprisonment looms over even the apolitical, from businesspeople to doctors, lawyers and students,” reported the British daily, The Guardian on January 24, 2020.
Dictators do not brook any opposition, even from former colleagues. This is what two of Sisi’s army comrades, Sami Anan and Ahmad Shafiq, both former generals, found out. When they announced plans to contest the March 2018 presidential elections, the former was detained while the latter was forced to withdraw. Only Sisi can be the Pharaoh, forever!
The only other candidate allowed to participate in the ‘election’ was Moussa Mustafa Moussa, leader of El-Ghad Party. Instead of campaigning for himself, he was actually cheer-leading for Sisi. Moussa is truly wise. Had he not campaigned for Sisi, he would have ended up in jail and perhaps disappeared.
We are told Sisi won 97.08% of the vote. A popular joke doing the rounds of cafes in Cairo was that the Mukhabarat (intelligence service) was looking for the other 2.92%. Such is the nature of democracy under the pharaoh.
After his resounding ‘victory’, the potato-faced Sisi announced, with tongue-in-cheek, that he would stand down in 2022. There was immediate clamour, all contrived, from hangers-on for Sisi to stay. The Egyptian parliament approved a constitutional amendment in April 2019 extending Sisi’s term until 2024 and allowing him to run again in 2030. Others have called for Sisi to remain president for life. The parliament could have saved itself the bother. Sisi will do as he pleases.
Despite massive infusion of funds, estimated at $30 billion between July 2013 and August 2016 from Saudi Arabia and the Arabian potentates of the Persian Gulf, Egypt’s economy is in terminal decline. In 2016, it was forced to seek a $12 billion loan from the IMF. Remittances, estimated at $35 billion annually, from Egyptian workers in Saudi Arabia, UAE etc., have also plummeted due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Gross inequality is a perennial problem of most Middle Eastern countries but with no natural resources, Egypt has a particularly grim record. Poverty is widespread. According to the World Bank report published in April 2019, 60 per cent of Egypt’s population is either poor or vulnerable and that inequality is on the rise. Lack of housing has forced many poor people to live in graveyards! Cairo, the capital city, has potholed roads and there is traffic congestion all the time.
Focusing on the Greater Cairo Municipality Area (GCMA), with a population of 19 million people (nearly one-fifth of Egypt’s total population) a World Bank study of 2010 makes grim reading. “Traffic congestion is a serious problem in the GCMA with large and adverse effects on both the quality of life and the economy. In addition to the time wasted standing still in traffic, time that could be put to more productive uses, congestion results in unnecessary fuel consumption, causes additional wear and tear on vehicles, increases harmful emissions lowering air quality, increases the costs of transport for business, and makes the GCMA an unattractive location for businesses and industry,” said the World Bank report.
Is the Pharaoh on the Nile listening? True, the report predates his grab of power in a military coup but has he done anything about it? Perish the thought. Sisi and his minions are busy plundering whatever money comes into the country’s coffers while the people are left to suffer. The military has its claws in almost every business venture. The thugs at the top are making money but everyone else is left to fend for themselves.
Pity the Egyptian people.