Egypt is set to explode. When and how is dependent on who pulls the trigger and why. Those who had the opportunity to peruse the previous article came to quickly understand that Egypt has galloped to a 3, on a danger scale of 1-5, in 2.5 years of de jure Al-Sisi rule. A combination of human rights abuses, security failure, and economic failures have each contributed to increasing pressure on a regime that history may judge as, potentially, the most brutal in modern Egyptian history.
Even though Nasser, Sadat, Mubarak and Morsi were anything but lovers of democracy Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has managed to make those who preceded him look like Gandhi. By heading, with speed and certitude, towards Maximum Threat Level, Al-Sisi poses a mortal danger to the Egyptian nation state.
If you have come here looking for specifics – in terms of day, week, or month – of the onslaught you have come to the wrong place. The best we can hope to achieve in this ongoing discussion of a murky Egyptian domestic scene is to strip down a more linear diagram of the protagonists, causes and where they will lead us. As Al-Sisi gallops towards Threat Level 4, desperation has become the dominant currency.
Egypt awoke Sunday to a flood of news that provided a political snapshot of the confused cabal at the helm of the Egyptian political apparatus. Still dazed by daily accusations of security forces torturing and killing Italian graduate researcher Giulio Regeni, Minister of Interior Magdy Abdel Ghaffar had no problem spinning up a fantastic tale which in an attempt to distract from the Regeni murder.
While claiming Regeni’s arrest was a rumour regurgitated by Western media to stain Egypt’s reputation, he simultaneously levelled outlandish accusations in the direction of Turkey, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Hamas. A tripartite of enemies, real and imagined, plugged into an all-too-convenient theatre of the absurd, narrated by the man installed as Al-Sisi’s domestic enforcer.
“Orders were issued by the escaped ministry of health spokesperson [during the Morsi era] who heads up terror elements within the Muslim Brotherhood to execute operations. Simultaneously Hamas was ordered to carry out the operation [Hisham Barakat assassination]… elements were trained in explosives and assisted by tribal [Bedouin] elements to enter Egypt via Sinai’’. Credit must be given for imagination – however, one must stop and ask what this story says about Egypt’s power bloc?
This ‘’look at the birdie’’ manoeuvre has long been the modus operandi of Egypt’s security apparatuses towards those whom they protect. Stop to think: what if this was an accurate retelling? Wouldn’t this imply that the army has not only lost control of Egyptian borders, thereby endangering Egypt domestically and uncovering an Egypt incapable of fulfilling the Camp David accord? We are left with a troubling binary: The rulers are either stupid or they are desperate, each avenue darker than the other. Hisham Barakat’s ‘killers’ were supposedly “eliminated” in a gun battle in Maadi Gardens, as they prepared for another attack, utilising a car with diplomatic licence plates last week. So who are the young men on this video admitting to the assassination? Someone is lying.
The leadership, sadly, has started believing its own untruths. Despite nearly daily proclamations of Egyptian military control over Sinai, news of the killing of three people – two military personnel and an ambulance driver – in a two-stage attack on Sunday discredits such claims. Militants ambushed and killed three on board. Receiving little coverage, since it is part of a daily barrage in an out of control Sinai, the attack nonetheless exposed strategically flexible militants and a flat-footed military.
A day earlier, five bullet-riddled bodies were found in a mass grave some hundreds of metres away from a well-known army base in Sheikh Zuweid. State-controlled Cairo press simply said five unidentified bodies found killed. But local journalists reported that “a hummer disposed of the bodies in plain sight, and among the murdered were a child and a deaf and mute victim”. An endless tit-for-tat. As the situation deteriorates in Sinai and bombs explode near Cairo, next to the Oman Consulate, in an IS-conducted attack, desperation grows, and the danger metre points, evermore, to Threat Level 4.
But, again and again, the deep state continues to undermine itself with fairy tales. “There are no enforced disappearances in Egypt”, claimed Minister of Interior Magdy Abdel Ghaffar on Sunday, only 24 hours after the publication of a seminal, deftly researched article strongly linking the National Security Apparatus, which falls under the interior ministry’s umbrella, to both enforced disappearances and systematic torture. To deny the charge when one of the nation’s most revered human rights organisation, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), in its 2015 year-end report, reflects that disappearances could vault to three per day is laughable. When 90 families per month cannot locate sons and daughters but the minister has the gall to call enforced disappearances a falsehood, we have an issue. Arrogance begets implosion and that begets revolt.
National implosion is where Threat Level 5 lurks, behind the foggy political reality, ready to attack. An economic time bomb has the potential to produce a faceoff, the likes of which the Middle East has yet to see. Whereas lack of security, massive human rights violations, lacking political direction, police impunity, and nearly 60,000 political prisoners continue to drive Egypt to the threshold of danger, the rise of the value of the dollar to EGP 9.75 may push it over.
Traditionally, when you hurt people’s pockets, they will hurt you. Few factors have struck the economy like the sudden rise of the dollar against the Egyptian pound. In mere weeks, it has zoomed from slightly under EGP 9 to EGP 9.75. This sort of rise in the parallel markets will likely force the government’s hand in devaluing the dollar. Devaluation is closely linked to price rises and subsidy removal. Just remember the bread riots of 1977.
Rationally, no one can expect investors to flock to Egypt if bombs are going off consistently. With the hotchpotch of economic issues discussed here, the billion dollar question becomes: what will be the trigger?
The possible sparks for uprisings, revolutions and or civil wars are infinite. Revolution, at its most basic level, is an emotionally explosive and chaotic entity; accordingly, virtually unpredictable. But facts are facts:
- Uncertainty about reigns of governance with an economy in shambles.
- Freedom of speech under constant attack by a counter-revolutionary regime.
- Numbers of disappeared political prisoners and torture victims are mushrooming.
- A politicised judiciary and a parliament of ‘Yes Men’.
- Speeches showing a president coming apart at the seams (think Gaddafi 2.0).
- Terrorist attacks have tripled since the commencement of Al-Sisi’s presidency
For increasing numbers of Egyptians, the situation, as it stands, is untenable. Not all, but many analysts, both within and without, are coming to the conclusion that Al-Sisi’s tenure will not reach its constitutional conclusion. But those analyses presuppose Al-Sisi’s survival for the medium term. This, I strongly believe, is optimistic.
Aforementioned pressures, coupled with decreasing Gulf support, multiple power struggles, and popular support decreasing daily, suggest that a singular event can tip the scales in favour of confrontation. But this time, there is no way of telling whether this will be a revolution, an economic uprising that burns all in its path, or even worse: an armed uprising that divides the nation.
Initially, Al-Sisi worried about two camps: the Islamists and the 25 January revolutionaries. That has all changed. Increasingly, intellectuals, journalists, and many of those outside Al-Sisi’s core support group can be counted in the ranks of dissidents. Should these camps organise, or the economic buzzsaw galvanise alliances across classes powered by lower classes and youth unemployment, and if economic goliaths join ranks with important military cadres, or the Mubarakists turn the screws, Threat Level 5 will become the next deadly reality.
When push comes to shove, the Egyptian police have shown they will run and abandon the street, as they did on 28 January. But Al-Sisi is no Mubarak. The desperation he exhibits makes him combustible. During his most recent speech, he made no secret of his blood-stained outlook. “By God I will obliterate from the face of the earth” those who threaten Egyptian stability. Juxtapose this sentiment with a faceoff with dissidents, and there is a little doubt Al-Sisi would call the army to the streets to defend power at any cost. From his first days of his de facto rule, stretching back to Rabaa in 2013, Al-Sisi has waged a war against opponents without fearing the consequences. His political strategy has lacked strategy. With anger rising, along with arms in Sinai, the Western Desert, and an active arms market in the south of the country, there is no shortage of kindling to ignite Al-Sisi’s failing presidency.
I have shied away for months from spelling out this descent into the Egyptian inferno due to cognitive dissidence. But we may be two summers away from Egypt returning to the front pages for all the wrong reasons.
Al-Sisi has brought the impossibly destructive closer to political reality.
Amr Khalifa is a freelance journalist recently published by Ahram Online, Tahrir Institute, Muftah and Mada Masr.