Uncertainty about where Sisi’s Egypt is headed

Sunday 19/06/2016
An Egyptian protester clashes with a President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi supporter during a demonstration protesting the government’s decision to transfer two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, in front of the Press Syndicate in Cairo, last April.

Cairo - Egyptians are deeply di­vided on evaluating the performance of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. His backers say he has honoured pledges of preserv­ing Egypt’s security and stability. His opponents say they are worried about the future of freedoms and human rights.

Sisi says he has done for his coun­try in two years as president what his predecessors failed to do in 20, especially when it comes to secu­rity and stability. His detractors say conditions have become far worse.

When he campaigned for presi­dent in May 2014, Sisi promised that Egyptians’ conditions would improve in the first two years of his leadership. Two years on, some economic, social and political promises are yet to be fulfilled.

His focus on infrastructure pro­jects can explain why pledges have taken time to materialise. These projects are long-term and their returns need a long time to be felt.

Since taking office in 2014, Sisi has launched a number of na­tional projects, including housing projects for slum dwellers, imple­mentation of Egypt’s long-awaited nuclear power project and mod­ernisation of the army.

Still, he is sometimes blamed for failing to assure the people. The number of national projects, they say, has impugned morale since citizens see prices for basic com­modities at record highs.

“Political weaknesses in the past period affect the whole scene and outweigh the achievements made,” said Abdel-Aziz el-Husseini, depu­ty head of the leftist Karama (Dig­nity) Party. “Successive crises neg­atively affected people’s trust in the value of these achievements.”

He noted that Sisi’s latest ad­dresses showed that he lacks the political vision to achieve specific goals. “He is convinced that his projects can make up for his fail­ings,” Husseini added.

Some observers fault Sisi in that he fails to acknowledge problems in his general performance. He is intolerant to criticism and does not have a clear plan for reforming state institutions, the observers say.

Sociologists attribute this to his military background, which is manifest in how he runs the coun­try.

The issue of the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir, the killing of Italian researcher Giulio Regeni and the Russian plane bombing were cases in point, the sociolo­gists said, adding that mismanage­ment made these crises spin out of control as state institutions sought to hide facts and acted in a con­fused manner.

The islands’ crisis, for example, altered Sisi’s relation with the peo­ple, even as the president was quick to realise this. He expressed fear that pressures can change Egyp­tians’ attitudes.

The case of the islands widened rifts between Sisi and Egyptian young people. These rifts started before he became president, when the protest law was passed, caus­ing scores of youths to be jailed for staging protests without govern­ment permission. Later policies widened the gap.

Sisi knows he needs to reconsider his relations with young people; however, he does not seem to have formulated a vision in this regard. He downplays the problem, always saying that youths stand by him. He even called 2016 the “Year of Youths”, apparently in an attempt to turn his rhetoric into tangible facts.

“He faces problems in running the state,” said Mohamed al-Saada­ni, an Alexandria University law professor. “This is true after he met challenges he did not anticipate, including a slowing economy, com­plicated social issues, and the ef­fects of political and security prob­lems on Egypt both internally and externally.”

Sisi always tries to appear calm. He chose to appear in a televised in­terview on June 3rd — just short of his second anniversary as president — to talk about his record, raise his popularity rating and assure Egyp­tians about the future.

Political sociology Professor Said Sadek said it is normal for gov­ernment officials to detail their achievements after some time in office and noted that Sisi promised to present a record of his work after two years.

Sisi’s popularity holds and his backers are confident about it since there is no obvious alternative who can lead. They know Egypt’s politi­cal forces are weak and do not have leadership experience.

In his interview, Saadani said, Sisi did not mention failings and when he came near them, he attrib­uted them to what he called “evil forces”, even as he did not say what these forces were.

“He did not come up with solu­tions to problems,” Saadani said. “He also failed to mention the measures he takes to restructure state institutions, some of them in complete paralysis.”

Some state institutions appear to be out of service. Sisi did not men­tion a date for stability to return to Sinai, where battles with extremists rage.

Sadek, meanwhile, says the pres­ident focused in the interview on the positives, avoiding thorny is­sues, such as the dam Ethiopia is building on the Nile and the lack of a national counterterrorism strat­egy.

“I understand why he focused on some issues and avoided others,” Sadek said, “but I hope that in the next interview he will talk about the things people do not know.”