Overcoming tyranny is neither easy nor impossible. The Egyptian people know this very well as Egypt is still living through a decade of hope and disenchantment. In that defining period, Egyptians have deposed a corrupt despot- Hosni Mubarak. They elected their first president—Mohamed Morsi—in a fair and internationally monitored election. And within 365 days, they cheered their military for executing a coup d’état that installed Abdel-Fattah el Sisi, then Egypt’s Minster of Defense, in power; and things have never been the same.
Since July 3, 2013, mass imprisonment and sporadic massacring of targeted civilians became widely tolerated phenomena. Crimes against humanity were committed in a broad daylight at Rabaa Square when the military and security forces killed more than 800 peaceful anti-coup protesters who belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood. It was a horrific mortal campaign that the Human Rights Watch called “one of the world’s largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history, “though the Western ‘guardians of democracy’ mostly took position between apathy and equivocation.
Extreme Manipulation of Power
Sisi consolidated power and developed reputation for extreme ruthlessness. His government assumed absolute control of the flow of information which rendered any and all objective political discourse and power scrutiny of any kind criminal enterprise. Jingoism and contempt toward the Muslim Brotherhood became a national duty.
Mindful of what he has done in order to get to where he is, he relied on projecting himself as Egypt’s sole savior from the ever-present threat of terrorism. As a man who never sought power, but had to act because Egyptians demanded it. So, under the pretext of ‘eradicating political Islam’ by any means, the Arab Spring has withered.
Egyptians had to undergo a long painfully cathartic period to learn a hard lesson and discover the real Sisi- an incompetent, corrupt man of countless broken promises. His publicly most ridiculed promise is his most repeated: he will uphold democracy and would not stay in power an extra second should he fail to deliver and Egyptians see him unfit. Sisi handpicked his own loyal parliamentarians who ultimately amended the constitution for him so he could rule Egypt at least till 2034.
Due to the negative effect of such constellation of false promises and the ruthless nature of his dictatorial rule, Sisi found hyper-militarization of Egypt is his best protection. He has built military barracks in virtually every neighborhood like police stations. He also built over 3 dozen mega prisons. Fighter jets routinely hover over Cairo to remind the public of an ever-present threat and to keep the average citizen’s psyche profoundly submissive.
Spark That Ignited Public Outrage
As Egyptians seemed paralyzed by political depression, there emerged a man who shook up the conscience of the nation. Mohamed Ali who is currently hiding in Spain has set in motion an avalanche of videos that exposed how Sisi, his close generals, and oligarchs have taken government corruption to new heights.
Ali was straight forward with the disenchanted and disgruntled masses. From the outset, he made it clear that he was not a formally educated man, that he was not motivated by moral rectitude, quest for redemption, or the desire to tip the scale in favor of one political party, religious faction, or another. He confessed that he was a construction contractor who has been receiving lucrative contracts from the notoriously corrupt military apparatus for 15 years. These contracts were routinely awarded without any bids to a favorite few who would be willing to play ball with the military.
For weeks, Ali has been releasing spontaneous, colloquially delivered, messages with irrefutable details and figures: Sisi is a hypocrite who was squandering the meagre resources of a nation suffering from mass unemployment, hyper-inflation, deteriorating education and health, and experiencing extreme deprivation resulting from economic austerity. He has commissioned, among other things, the construction of five massive presidential palaces for himself at a time when he was telling the public to tighten their belts because Egypt is a “very poor” nation.
His messages simply resonated with the average Egyptian who had enough of the military taking over almost every industry of the economy. In addition to the construction industry, the military has monopoly on construction materials such cement and paint, agriculture production, packaged foods, and now pharmaceutical industry- a project driven by Mahmoud el-Sisi, the president’s son.
Ali became an overnight folk hero, and his no-holds-barred videos have become popular in Egypt among Arabic-speaking peoples. And Mohamed Ali Secrets channel became the go-to platform for facts and figures. As someone who did not belong to any political, intellectual, or religious group at a time of broad-based cynicism, he became the unifying force that Egypt so desperately needed.
Futility of Resistance
So serious were the charges it compelled the state media—virtually all that are operational in Egypt since Sisi came to power—to switch to a higher gear in delivering their daily propaganda. They went back to their old playbook and set in motion their favorite play, the 3D or deny, discredit, and demonize.
Initially, the impact of the Mohamed Ali phenomenon and the massive protests it inspired in various cities was denied any coverage. Once the international media started to cover those events, Egypt’s state media started to discredit the organizers as cowards who would not show up at demonstrations but would misguide others to march into harm’s way. When that didn’t work, they started accusing the demonstrators as traitors who were funded by the Muslim Brotherhood and foreign elements.
So implicating were these allegations and subsequent public outrage that it compelled Sisi to immediately respond. His message was tri-faceted. To his most credulous base, he had this:“To all elderly mothers who believe me and pray for me, I would like to tell them: your son is honorable.” To the outraged masses, he had this: So what? “Yes, I have built presidential palaces, and will continue to do so”.
The Crumbling Walls of Fear
After six years of iron fist grip, indoctrination, and being counted as people who ultimately succumbed to fear, the Egyptian people have proven to themselves and the rest of the world that they are far from being down and out.
September 20 has gone down in Egypt’s history as the day the tides turned against Abdel-Fattah el Sisi. Outraged masses defied Sisi’s zero tolerance for anti-government expression and protested across Egypt. They chanted anti-Sisi and anti-Military slogans and tore up the pictures of President Trump’s “favorite dictator” in public. This time, the outraged could not be dismissed as a conspiracy led by that all too familiar boogieman, the Muslim Brotherhood.
Sisi’s paranoia impulse started gauging in the red zone. The military and the security forces were ordered to setup strategic checkpoints where people are stopped to undergo strict searches. They are ordered to hand over their identifications, mobiles, and computers so the government forces could check how have they been getting their news, who have they communicated with, and what have they been filming.
Over two thousand people were arrested in what Amnesty International referred to as the “largest wave of mass arrests since (Sisi) came to power.” Many others were kidnapped by pro-government hired hoodlums known as Baltajiyah and the whereabouts are not known. Those arrested include well-known secular academics, journalists, political leaders, and activists. They also included foreign students who were arrested and tortured into a uniformed confession of being Muslim Brotherhood cells on a mission to create unrest in Egypt. Their confessions were televised by Amr Adeeb, one of the most notorious defenders of Sisi. Interestingly, 3 of those ‘foreign saboteurs’ were freed after their respective governments took issue with the false charges. One of them—a Sudanese student—revealed that he was physically electrocuted and psychologically threatened with death.
The following week, while Cairo was in shutdown to keep anti-government demonstrators away, pro-government demonstrators who were mostly government employees, military and police cadets, and paid people were unabashedly bused to the site, all holding up portraits of Sisi.
While that may give the impression that Sisi’s repressive modus operandi is still working and that the anti-government protesters are permanently silenced, it is too naïve to assume that this latest outrage has fizzled. Sisi’s repression and corruption have afflicted millions of households across the political, economic, social, and religious divides.
Egypt is at a turning point, and this time the protesters are equipped with great deal anger, experience, and unity of cause. If Sisi continues his tyrannical rule and good elements within the military remain passive, a volcano of public wrath is likely to erupt in Egypt around January 25-the ninth anniversary of the Egyptian revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak.