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Fleeting moments

September 30, 2019

Protests in Egypt


September 30, 2019

During the G7 summit in France recently, when President Trump, looking for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, called out ‘Where’s my favourite dictator’ everyone seemed stunned, reported the Wall Street Journal.

Trump’s favourite dictator is now facing public protests in many Egyptian cities. Thousands of protesters have been arrested. The detained know it’s just the beginning and that great movements start from small protests.

Recall the Arab Spring 2010 onwards that began with a series of skirmishes and small-scale protests until it evolved into a revolution that resulted in the overthrow of deeply entrenched dictators in Tunisia and Egypt.

The ongoing unrest in various Egyptian cities began on the instigation of a former military contractor, Mohamed Ali, who has been constantly campaigning against the Sisi regime by uploading videos on the social media. Living in self-exile in Paris, he has kept the public informed about Sisi and his family’s alleged corruption and squandering public money on building palaces.

Surprisingly, the regime instead of denying the allegations seemed to confirm them. President Sisi in an urgently arranged Youth Conference responded to the allegations: “Yes, I have built presidential palaces, and will continue to do so” reported the Aljazeera Network.

Public anger over high spending by the president and the military on construction of palaces, including a 7-star hotel in a non-tourist area is but natural. Especially, when one-third of Egyptian population reportedly lives on less than $1.50 a day. How such a large segment of population meets its health and education requirements is anybody’s guess. Because of the sharp disparity between the privileged and the underprivileged, reminiscent of the French Revolution, the suffering public is forced to react and, in return, face ruthless treatment by the state.

Since large-scale arrests have to be made, there must exist an extensive network of prisons. At the time Sisi came to power the prison population is reported to have been 62,000. In the last few years of Sisi’s rule, the incarcerated have increased in number. Some disappeared altogether. A strange rule of Egyptian prisons is that the jail authorities are absolved of the responsibility of providing food to the prisoners. Prisoners’ families have to manage the provisions. So the state is generous in keeping prisoners as long as it wishes in most inhuman conditions. Some die because of overcrowding.

When the recent protests raged in Egypt, President Trump hearing about it commented: “Egypt has a great leader; he’s highly respected. He’s brought order, before he was here {in power} there was very little order – there was chaos – and so I am not worried about that {protests} at all.” So much for Trump’s regard for public opinion.

Nevertheless, Egypt for all practical purposes is typically a military state with a wafer-thin dressing of democracy. To understand how the state functions, it’s instructive to read ‘Militarising The Nation’ by Zeinab Abul-Magd. The first few lines of the introduction explain it all: “Upon the graduation of new cadets in the summer of 2015, the director of the Egyptian war college proudly asserted that these young officers were the country’s future leaders…the ministers, governors, ambassadors, presidents and managers.”

While President Sisi and his coercive state apparatus come down heavy on the protesters, who knows how many generals and air marshals wait in the wings to replace him. If President Sisi could bag 97 percent votes in two elections so could any of them on getting an opportunity.

The writer is a freelance columnist based in Lahore.

Email: [email protected]

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