March 1, 2014

The Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi, Sisi, and the future of Egypt

    Saturday, March 01, 2014   No comments

A. F. al-Sisi
by Jared Ethan Krauss 
IN a move that surprised everyone not in Sisi’s circle, the cabinet has resigned.
The move comes as, in recent weeks, criticism and protests of the interim government have grown.  Egypt has seen no economic improvements since the revolution, and violence has only increased since the ouster of Morsi. While the fervor whipped up by Sisi just after the coup—where he was seemingly given permission by Egyptians to ‘fight terrorism’—was enough to sustain popular support the first few weeks or months, it was not enough to do away with the harsh realities of life for many Egyptians.  

Egypt has barely been held above the water by billions in grants and loans from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Rising domestic gas demand has overshot domestic production which has peaked and is now falling, and the heavily subsidized fuel is now becoming another drain on the coffers of Egypt, which is already in debt up to its neck (eighty-eight percent of the GDP, exactly).  

Food production and availability is below subsistence, or too expensive, for many Egyptians, housing is inadequate, infrastructure is outdated, or dilapidated or inefficient—not to mention transportation is paltry, ineffective and regularly shut down either by striking workers or for security reasons. And tourism, essential to Egypt’s economy, has, since the revolution, continued to decline and will likely continue to do so, especially in the wake of the bombing in Taba a week ago. 
Many in Egypt saw President Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government as seeking to empower themselves and craft a government and constitution solely in their image, while excluding other opinions.  It appears Sisi is embarking on a similar path in a more delicate manner. At the same time, the popular sentiment went, Morsi, focused on foreign affairs, ignored the fundamental issues facing many Egyptians.  However, Sisi knows the power of narratives, and perceptions, and public placement of blame. The perceived lack of attention to Egyptians’ daily problems was the backbone of dissent against President Morsi, and will continue to be important to Egyptians. However, Sisi has used the media and the government to induce fear in the population and deflect attention away from the worries which brought down Morsi. Within this narrative, support for Sisi seems to equal support for Egypt, and criticism of Sisi seems to equal criticism of Egypt. Thus any criticism becomes reprehensible, and punishable.
With the resignations, interim-President Adly Mansour asked former Housing Minister, Ibrahim Mehleb, to become the interim-Prime Minister and form a new cabinet. Mehleb says he will form the cabinet in three to four days, and is reported by al-Ahram as being a former member of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, and an ex-chairman of the Arab Contractors, regarded by al-Ahram as being one of Egypt’s leading construction companies.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Mehleb said, “Security and stability in the entire country and crushing terrorism will pave the way for investment.” This rhetoric is the same as that used by General Sisi since Morsi was deposed, and reflects a synergy of ideas between Mehleb, who will become the head of the legislature, and Sisi, whom can now run for the Presidency. Under the newly ratified Constitution, no minister can also be President.  When General Sisi resigned his post as Defense Minister, it opened him up to announcing an election bid. If elected, Sisi will be in control of the executive branch, with a loyal and like-minded Prime Minister.
These sorts of political maneuverings show Sisi is a better politician than was President Morsi. Just a few weeks ago it was announced that Presidential elections will be held before parliamentary elections, which if it seems odd is because it is odd. That was not the plan put forth when Sisi instituted the overthrow of Morsi. The plan was to form an interim cabinet and install an interim president (which were Beblawi’s cabinet, and President Mansour, respectively) pass the or a constitution, elect a legislature to elect a prime minister and cabinet, then elect a president. With the turnout during the constitutional referendum, and the calls for a Sisi presidency, it’s unlikely Sisi would lose in a presidential election as things stand.
What does all this mean? Sisi has orchestrated events in Egypt in such a way that when he becomes President he will be nominally just the President, yet, he will control the military, and the legislature. This allows him to control the physical response of the country to protests or ‘terrorism’ using the military, and, through the executive powers of the presidency, the security and police forces. With the legislature, and a hand-crafted constitution, he controls which laws are written, how they are enforced, and how they are interpreted. 
The room for dissent is cinching tighter, as more critical journalists are intimidated, arrested, detained, or charged—sometimes beaten, or their families threatened. Many media outlets have been shuttered since Morsi was overthrown (such as the print edition of Egypt Independent), even popular critics like Bassem Youssef (known as the Jon Stewart of Egypt) have been quieted by the pressure put on his employers, and himself personally, through indictments and court charges. Meanwhile, the mainstream media in Egypt has begun to uphold Sisi as the savior of Egypt’s woes. This shows an attempt by Sisi’s power structure to control the national narrative as well. Sisi only wants loud, supportive, voices.
Furthermore, under the new constitution, there was no change in civilian prosecution—civilians can be, and are still, prosecuted in military courts, which means he does not need to control the civil judiciary to enforce the actions of the police and security forces.  And with the fear-mongering regarding terrorism vis-a-vis the Muslim Brotherhood, an emotional narrative has been crafted for the Egyptians which supports his aims: weaken any institution that can challenge his power, critique his actions, or question his motives, while positioning himself to be purely in control.
Sisi’s interim government has had the support of Saudi Arabia and their allies, certain parts of the US government have been supportive, with President Obama effectively silent, while Putin is happy for Egypt to have a leader in his image.  Israel, always happy to have an Egyptian government tough on 'terrorism', especially in the Sinai, will likely be supportive as well. 
The daily struggles of many Egyptians have not been adequately addressed, nor have they had a government representative of, and working only for, the Egyptian people. The problems Egypt faces are borne out of autocratic governments similar to the one Sisi is forming, which empowers and enriches the already empowered and rich. 
If Sisi’s tactics continue to work he’ll end up in an autocratic position of power under the guise of democracy, with an Islamist insurgency, and an economic situation that is a Gordian Knot incarnate.  But, he will have done what President Morsi couldn’t: He’ll have stacked the government with loyalists, crafted a constitution to his liking, quashed the major institutions capable of dissent, criticism, or challenging his power. Who, then, in Egypt, will be left to criticize?


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