Sisi Tries to Rule Egypt as One-Man Show

Sisi Tries to Rule Egypt   as One-Man ShowSisi Tries to Rule Egypt   as One-Man Show

The words of the pro-government TV talk show host left no room for debate. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is synonymous with Egypt, he lectured his audience, and Egyptians are either on his side or are enemies of the nation.

“Whoever has a problem living in this country should grab his passport and leave,” said the TV host, Tamer Amin, telling viewers no one should complain about price hikes, power outages or other problems. A year after the general-turned-politician took office in a controversially landslide election win, Sisi largely has silenced political opposition and is trying to run the country as a one-man show, a far cry from the democracy millions dreamed of when they toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak in a stunning 2011 uprising.

A nation of some 90 million people, Egypt has had no parliament since 2012, political parties are quiescent and elections for a new legislature have been repeatedly delayed, meaning there’s little concrete debate on policy. Laws simply are issued by the presidency, Hamza Hendawi wrote for AP.

Police and powerful security agencies act with near impunity against opponents or those trying to engage in unwelcome political activity. Rights activists report a return of torture, abuses and arbitrary arrests surpassing even the 29-year Mubarak era. A strict law against protests in place since late 2013 effectively silenced street demonstrations.

The judiciary also has backed the security agencies’ heavy hand in ways unseen under Mubarak’s rule. Courts hand out mass death sentences, about 1,500 so far by some estimates, against Islamists, thousands of whom are in prison in a nearly two-year-old crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.

 Sisi’s Rise to Power

Sisi became Egypt’s most powerful figure when, as army chief, he led the July 2013 military ouster of the country’s first freely elected president, Mohamed Morsi. A bloody crackdown ensued, killing hundreds of Islamists.

Praised by some Egyptians as a hero for “rescuing” the country from the Brotherhood, Sisi vowed from the start to bring security and repair the economy, saying outright that demands for rights and needless political debate cannot be allowed to undermine those goals. That message vaulted him into the presidency in elections, and he was inaugurated on June 8, 2014.

Some have debated whether Sisi supports the silencing of dissent or can’t impose his will on the many centers of power in the Egyptian state, which he needs for support and which have their own agendas, like the judiciary, the media, wealthy businessmen and the security agencies.

“State institutions are the most powerful and dangerous opposition to Sisi,” read the headline of a column this week by Ibrahim Issa, a prominent commentator close to the government. “What the president says and what happens on the ground are two different things,” Issa wrote in the Al-Maqal newspaper.

Issa’s assertion highlights the strength and resilience of Egypt’s “deep state,” the term many pro-democracy activists use for the powerful state bodies like the military, police and judiciary that have their own independent power and interests. Sisi is no outsider to the deep state, but his repeated demands for change and warnings that prosperity won’t come overnight could run against those institutions’ interests.

 Western, Arab Ties

Egypt’s relations with the United States and Europe have improved after a period of tension, a change attributed largely to Sisi’s stand against extremist groups in the region. Sisi’s Egypt also has moved closer to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait, bringing billions of dollars in badly needed aid.

But security has proven difficult to establish. Army and police are battling militants concentrated in the strategic Sinai Peninsula, and there are frequent bombings, usually small but sometimes deadly, against security forces in Cairo and other parts of the country.

That “war on terrorism” has allowed a freer hand to security agencies and fuels the overwhelming message on television stations that now is not the time for dissent. Die-hard supporters in the media demonize critics, accusing them of treason or being on the payroll of foreign powers. TV hosts, or even shows, seen as insufficiently supportive of the government have been taken off the air.

Non-governmental organizations, which had some leeway under Mubarak, are now under heavy security scrutiny and in some cases have halted any controversial activities. Multiple international rights organizations have left the country.

Prominent rights lawyer Negad Borai was questioned three times by prosecutors over the past two weeks because he and other activists drew up a proposed law against torture and sent it to Sisi’s office for consideration. Two senior judges who were briefly consulted on the draft are likely to be disciplined by judiciary authorities.

“Our predicament is deep. In Egypt, the only crime that goes unpunished is torture,” Borai said.

 Aggressive Prosecution

After one court recently issued a rare acquittal of a group of activists charged under the law, prosecutors immediately appealed in a show of the state’s zero tolerance policy. The activists had been charged because of a small Cairo gathering in January in which one participant, a young mother, was shot dead by “police.”

Further intimidating any critics, prosecutors now aggressively investigate almost any complaint raised by “concerned citizens” against people suspected of supporting Islamists, criticizing the judiciary, the presidency, and all “potentially criminal acts.”

Flashing the four-finger sign symbolizing support for the Brotherhood, now outlawed and labeled a terrorist group, has led to trials and jail sentences.

Sisi’s rise to power was accompanied by a wave of nationalism not seen in Egypt since the country’s wars with Israel between 1948 and 1973.

A populist with a knack for melodramatic gestures, Sisi feeds this nationalist sentiment with personal touches of his own and repeated warnings that Egypt faced a host of existential threats. His slogan “long live Egypt” often concludes his speeches, and has even been painted on his presidential plane.

Meeting recently with party leaders, Sisi said parliamentary elections would be held by the end of the year, according to his spokesman. But he also told them he would be prepared to back a coalition encompassing all the parties, suggesting he does not want an opposition bloc in the next legislature. However, the outlawed Brotherhood seems to be excluded from the prospective coalition.

“The nation’s legislative institution has disappeared, political party activism is suspended and no one is left on the scene except the president,” wrote Cairo university political scientist Ahmed Abed-Rabbo in a recent article.