“Bread, freedom, social justice”. “No to the inheritance of power”, “no to six more months”. These were some of the slogans chanted by Egyptians in their various squares nationwide over eighteen days of revolution against former President Hosni Mubarak. Yet observers of today’s Egypt would be forgiven for thinking that this population has since been replaced by some other – for what other explanation is there for the eerie silence that has permeated Egypt’s homes and streets, while President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi closes in one step at a time on his goal to change the country’s constitution – allowing him to run for unlimited presidential terms?
I couldn’t stop thinking of this question when I watched Algeria’s President Bouteflika - and before him Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir - retreat from their decisions to run for further terms in office, but the boiling streets from Sudan to Algeria clearly had different calculations.
The questions that would undoubtedly come to your mind can be surmised as the following: are Algeria and Sudan heading to a fate that resembles that of today’s Egypt? Will there likewise come a day where both peoples silently accept what they reject today? And if such a possibility does indeed exist, do Egypt’s youth have the right to give advice to the revolutionaries of Algeria and Sudan?
Are Algeria and Sudan heading to a fate that resembles that of today’s Egypt?
The Egyptian revolution currently lives in-between two fates: “failed” or “yet to succeed”. In any case, there is certainly no clear successful experiment with guidelines that we could put in a gift-box and send to the lands of Algeria and Sudan - but the following lines that I write could be simply conceived as a brainstorm which poses some of the questions that will undoubtedly flow into the minds of Algerian and Sudanese youth at some point or another. And while I’m not entirely certain as to the fashion in which they will come handy, what I do know is that the Egyptian silence is more justified than what many imagine to be the case.
Why have the Egyptians turned silent?
To start off, the security grip which has tightened its hold on the country in the past few years undoubtedly constitutes the main cause of Egypt’s implemented silence; for the mere act of political discussions on social media can lead the perpetrator into the maze of court proceedings, and even prison. What then of the notion of going to the streets to object to current realities?
The unlimited license given to security forces to use all the tools available at their disposal to repress protests serves as a clear deterrent. Yet Mubarak’s security grip was also considerable to say the least; the man stayed on top of Egypt’s throne for a full thirty years, yet when the reality of the everyday citizen tightened to eventually become unbearable, the streets broadened to encompass millions of revolutionaries.
There must therefore be further reasons that prevent Egyptians from going to the streets again – the economic reality being the most prominent of these factors. We need not delve too deep into the details of economic policy - which are not of interest to the citizens and which he/she doesn’t need to understand, for the citizen only feels the tangible results which have ramifications on their everyday needs.
And here, it appears that in Egypt’s age of revolution, prices have flared-up with every ‘chant’; simply, every time Egyptians decided to revolt prices shot-up in turn. Herein lies one critical deterrent: what or who guarantees that this would not happen again? The answer is nothing, and no one.
Perhaps there will be someone who stops at this juncture to mock the ‘ease’ of this answer (for how couldn’t this be the case in a population of 98 million?). And here we arrive at the second reason: namely, the policy of deliberate and institutionalised promotion of political ignorance. It is worth mentioning that political ignorance was not a result of a ‘chaos of parties’ during Mubarak’s era, but a robust and coherent strategy undertaken by the regime, involving harnessing all tools available to implement a veil between Egyptians and politics at any cost. It was therefore extremely difficult for the people to make choices, take decisions, make judgements on proposed candidates, or to bolster the means by which they can be empowered and enabled to govern.
Accordingly, naiveté was the key feature which characterised the vast majority of the revolution’s participants, and me first among them – while fearmongering accusations such as “working for Israel” or “supporting secularism” – which most people on the streets consider to constitute atheism or disbelief – is enough to defame any potential alternative.
And when Egyptians gathered the courage and decided to answer the call of the ‘foreign’ youth to go to the streets and remove Mubarak, it was not long before the people went back to what they knew and were accustomed to: the army – following the failure of Mohammed Morsi’s brand of political Islam to satisfy them during his short rule. Meanwhile, the civil (secular) political forces were dispersed by division into dozens of parties and multiple presidential candidates - as if Egyptians had been practicing democracy for decades.
All of these factors facilitated the return of the citizenry to the arms of their former infatuation (going back to the days of Gamal Abdel Nasser): the Armed Forces. Does this mean that Morsi’s rule was better than the current reality? And more importantly, did Egyptians make a mistake in removing Mubarak in the first place?
Well, there is little doubt that with every new wave of price-increases one can hear the tune of “a day of your days O Mubarak”, and sometimes also “this is [punishment for] the sin of [the unjust treatment of] God’s followers [i.e. the imprisoned Muslim Brotherhood] who you didn’t like”.
But on the other hand, Sisi’s supporters have another perspective that can reassure Algeria and Sudan’s revolutionaries, if things ever reach Egypt’s current state.
Summarising the case of the supporters of Sisi’s regime’s
Conversely, some Egyptians believe that the current economic repercussions are a painful but necessary ‘tax’ in order to fix the damage of decades of economic malfeasance – which accumulated especially during Mubarak’s era. This view holds that the reliance of Egyptians on ‘easy aid’ (subsidies) and the usual economic ‘sedatives’ came at the expense of opportunities to develop the main economic sectors in the country – which reached a significant degree of collapse, notably in education and healthcare.
Accordingly, a continued focus on subsidising citizens without a professional plan to manage the country’s resources can crush the country’s economy in the event of any disruption of its resources – as took place within the tourism sector following the January 25 revolution of 2011 – while the regime’s supporters also offer the example of Venezuela’s current painful experience.
Moving on from the economy onto the domain of security, Sisi’s supporters believe that his unprecedented declaration of war against “terrorism” – whether the targeting of Takfiri extremist groups, or encompassing political parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood – along with the victims of this war who fall from time to time, weigh as a rational and reasonable justification for eliminating this danger which Mubarak failed to confront (instead, according to Sisi’s supporters, pursuing an “appeasement” policy towards Islamist parties, even allowing them to win 88 seats in parliament on one occasion).
Accordingly, amid these circumstances facing Egypt the security grip imposed on the country, while incompatible with human rights, is a necessary evil which will conclude with the successful achievement of the main goals of Sisi’s efforts. These goals will come to fruition, and this is cited in addition to Sisi’s accomplishment of various ‘national projects’ (including building a ‘new administrative capital’ and a new diversion of the Suez Canal) that will also bear fruit in future.
In other words, all Sisi requires is time – thus justifying his attempts to prolong his stay in power and by extension, the silence of his supporters over the methods he chooses to employ to achieve that.
Concluding Egypt’s message to Algeria and Sudan
So, what does all this mean for you? Perhaps nothing right now, but these are things to bear in mind for the near future.
From fearing the entry of extremist movements which will inevitably attempt to forcefully enter the political domain with the goal of achieving the utmost gains, including the presidency itself – to the economic, security and social ramifications which lie in wait and which can disrupt the scene at some point or another.
Ultimately every word that has been written about the Egyptian experience, you yourselves can translate into your own realities and contexts in a way that I cannot. Every justification that has been formulated for the Egyptian silence, you yourselves can search for within your ranks.
This is only some free-but-costly advice which we paid a high price for in Egypt, and nothing remains now except silence… until a later date.
Now, you have a greater scope of time to read the ideas which roam inside the minds of the Egyptian citizen, with their various affiliations, shades and colours, in order to quickly work to make use of them and to reflect on them at length – perhaps to shorten the timespan until the moment of truth, or perhaps to adequately prepare for it; to avoid it, or to accept it. All eventualities are possible – but this is only some free-but-costly advice which we paid a high price for in Egypt, and nothing remains now except silence… until a later date.