Journalist and political analyst, Abdullah Al-Sinawi, believes that Egypt is going through a difficult phase and going into a dark tunnel.
Although some see that Al-Sinawi has close connections to the presidency, his writings on public affairs are sharp and scornful, criticising the state’s policies.
He explains that as a free writer, it is one’s duty to speak frankly, just like all writers who are loyal to the country. Otherwise, they will be traitors of the responsibility of writing about the critical time that the state is going through.
Speaking about current risks and how to get out of the dark tunnel, Al-Sinawi presented the following dialogue.
Why are we so scared of the coming days?
The general scene in Egypt is disturbing. We are facing a number of crises; some are existential and some prophecy dangers. There is a bottleneck in the political and the media sphere. There are economic and social crises. Difficult days are yet to come.
The baby formula crisis was one of the first indicators, as well as the workers’ demonstrations and the return of bread queues. These indicators are introductions to social turbulence that we must face seriously. We must acknowledge that the current policy has failed and needs to be corrected.
Which is more dangerous to the country from your point of view: the economic crisis or political suffocation?
Although the general situation in Egypt is bad and although there is no political opposition that has clear programmes, perceptions, and cohesion, the economic crisis is more serious than political and social opposition.
The danger here is that there is no political head and the state lacks the ability to establish political consensus. Therefore, everything is up to coincidence, random clashes, and the pressures of public anger.
Where do you see the media in that?
We are suffering from media suffocation or the lack of media as a whole, preventing it from playing a role and building an agenda. Priorities raised for public discussion are not determined by the media or the authority, but rather by the alternative media through social networks.
There are issues that the TV and newspapers cannot deal with, but these issues arise on social networks, such as the army’s role in public life.
But are there those who see the importance of the army’s role now?
I understand and appreciate that the army intervened in some cases to face a difficult and intractable situation, but to interfere in every crisis leads to the erosion of trust and exposes it politically in front of an angry public opinion.
The army will be held responsible for the failure of the administration to act and solve problems.
What do you think of Egyptian political discourse?
There is no Egyptian political discourse. There is a difference between political talks and political discourse, as political discourse is cohesive in its vocabulary and semantics.
Political discourse also reflects the attitudes and social biases raised to public opinion to persuade, inspire, and invite public opinion to be patient to find the light at the end of the tunnel.
Do you not see any ray of hope in the near future?
The problem is that Egypt is entering a long, dark economic and social tunnel.
I think that these are signs of danger and the risks exceed the regime, the current president, and even the safety of the community.
Is the regime in danger?
Despite talks about bringing down the state, the main issue is that the community’s cohesion is threatened.
Do you think that ignoring political powers is a deliberate move?
There is a state of disregard or contempt of the political opposition. Egypt has no real political parties with declared programmes and leaders capable of influence.
Public and national interest requires strengthening these parties, not to weaken them. It also requires to call all parties to the scene and to be a part of the political partnership.
But the regime sees that the security solutions are successful. What do you think about that?
Security is not an alternative of policy; the outcomes would be disastrous, and those results have begun to clearly emerge as the regime’s popularity has fallen. The president always says that he has no political support and some people want to eliminate his popular support. Of course, there is no popular support without a political backer.
We are talking about the one-man state?
It reflects the idea of the domination over state institutions or limiting the power to the president, as he is the only one who thinks, decides, and speaks. The one-man show would harm the president himself, because he will neither find a political backer nor popular support. When the president loses his patience with the media and different views, then the foreign channels affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood will be the only effective media outlet, alongside social media. The era of the emergence of uncontrolled satellite channels does not suit the nationalisation of the media. Demolishing the political life, fighting political parties, and mistrusting political elites will increase the problems of the regime and will prevent the change.
So are we awaiting new changes?
The change is necessary in all times but the question is whether to bring about this change through normal channels or alternative methods. There is a possibility that the change will happen through irregular methods and this has happened more than once. However, it seems that no one learns from the lessons of the past.
But don’t we have a large number of political parties and a parliament which gathers a lot of those parties?
When the parliament was elected, many political parties joined the Egypt Support Coalition, Then, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi said that he had no political backer, as if he sentenced this coalition to death or complete failure.
But this coalition controls the parliament and its decisions. What do you think about this?
There is a difference between giving security or administrative instructions to vote in favour of a resolution or law, and the ability to raise controversy and agreement which can convince the public opinion. The parliament’s decision to ban the broadcast of its discussions and deliberations made it an Ali Baba cave.
That way, you do not know what happens inside the parliament, which political forces dominate it, and who makes the final decision─the security or other parties? Who are the other parties and what are their visions and programmes?
What is your opinion about Al-Sisi?
The issue is not my about the president. The point is the president’s stance on the dangers facing Egypt.
The duty of the journalist is to warn and alert as much as possible, in order to avoid dangerous pitfalls.
The danger facing society is huge, and there is no rule to protect public consensus. The possibility for dialogue should be opened, especially since the community is under imminent threat that requires clear and transparent talking.
The current situation in Egypt is neither correct nor sustainable, and Egypt cannot tolerate anarchy or a new failure. Our responsibility is warning, but the president is the one who will bear the responsibility before people and before history.
He sat down with the senior intellectuals and writers, and he listened to them. There should be an associate team who reads what they say, and provides a vision to the president.
According to what was just mentioned, where is the political kitchen of the presidency’s institution?
I do not think there is a political kitchen in Egypt, and I wrote that two years ago:
“The president is lonely, and unfortunately, he will bear the responsibility alone.”
Perhaps the centres of power are hampering the attempts of reform?
The president’s mistake is letting the security enter the public life. The security’s role is determined by laws and the Constitution, which they greatly influenced, and this lowered the president’s popularity. The president should initiate a national dialogue to listen, allow, and seek to make political ends meet. He needs a protective political network.
How can he establish this network?
Firstly, by releasing the unjustly imprisoned young people. The president has talked more than once about the need to release them, but those statements weren’t accompanied by positive movements on the ground. Releasing young people will lead to a reconciliation between these young people and the state.
The National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) was promised to meet with the president, but the events of the Press Syndicate prevented that from happening. The meeting was scheduled to provide a list of 1,000 prisoner cases. I think that this meeting will probably bear positive results.
Secondly, the state should free the media. The hands of the state have become too involved in the media, and talk show programmes turned to variety shows.
Thirdly, managing the Nile water file needs a lot of honesty and strength. The president has pointed out the importance of expanding water stations in order to face any expected lack of water. However, honesty is necessary. Egypt is a pivotal country and should not be treated with disrespect.
But all the dialogues and the state’s speech reveal that the crises you are talking about actually exist.
The state’s speech is too confused─press wise and politics wise. The state is talking about carrying out procedures to reform the economy which is approaching bankruptcy. The state says that there is no alternative for the loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but it is not a solution. This is merely a step to prevent a potential economic collapse. This, however, will result in social unrest that requires being addressed with economic experts and patriots from all economic fields inside and outside Egypt.
When the president and the government ask people to sacrifice, they must show them the light at the end of the tunnel and acknowledge their responsibility for the policies they made. Priorities must also be determined, and the state of austerity must be imposed first on the government and the presidency, before it is applied to the people. More strict procedures must be imposed to face corruption, and regulatory agencies must work on uncovering corruption.
In terms of distributing burdens, there must be justice. If you take a good look, you will find that it’s the poor who pay the price, while the rich do not pay. This is why I demand imposing a tax on wealth, as suggested by Samih Sawiris and Farid Khamis.
There must be real achievements in order for citizens to feel a change.
Where does the Egyptian elite stand on these thoughts?
Some public figures thought of issuing a report on behalf of the intellectuals and sending it to the president. However, the idea never became a reality.
What do you think about power centres and their role in hindering reform projects?
Power centres arise in the joints of any authority whenever rules are absent from institutions. The regime has given a lot of power to the security forces after the 30 June uprising. The result was that power centres were established at the expense of political affairs, with alliances happening between some security officials with businessmen and media figures. The result was that many mistakes were made, and a lot of phone calls were broadcasted on TV, which was the power centre’s first sin. This has led to massive slander at many points, most prominently of the president. No one and no institution was safe from the violations.
Moreover, freeing the hand of the security has led to slandering the 25 January Revolution, and therefore, picturing the 30 June uprising as a coup by another party, although those who participated on 30 June 2013 represent the blocks of the 25 January Revolution. Both revolutions were hijacked and 30 June has been used to slander 25 January. In spite of the fact that the president’s discourse about the 25 January Revolution is positive, it should have been accompanied with determining points of view, especially of the 30 June supporters.
There is a slogan being promoted now, saying “with bold reform, we can shorten the way”. What is your take on that?
Meaningless. What is the bold reform and what way do we want to shorten the way? Egypt is in need of serious talk because the present time is very dangerous. We need to talk about the core of problems, which, in return, will lead to national coherence.
Social media is talking about the militarisation of state institutions. What do you think?
This is very dangerous talk and those who say it should stop saying it. The army has a real popularity, but dealing with it as a political body and blaming it for the general failure is eroding its popularity, which is dangerous for Egypt.
And what is the solution?
The solution is for the army to return to its normal role as soon as possible, and for civil society to quickly fill the void it will leave. Moreover, the army should put a plan to withdraw from the scene. I remember that Al-Sisi said at the time of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that the return of the army to its normal missions will greatly increase its popularity.
What about the calls on reconciliation with the Muslim Brotherhood?
The reconciliation is an idea with bad reputation and almost impossible in the foreseeable future, given the blood shed by the two parties. People should admit that eradicating the Islamic current is an illusion that will not occur. The state has failed in that issue, as well as in the issue of terrorism. The issue needs to be handled under the slogan of ‘no eradication, and no reconciliation’.
Will Al-Sisi run for a second term?
The shape of Egypt in 2018 cannot be predicted. The state is suffering and prices are increasing, but Egypt’s situation by the end of the current presidential term cannot be predicted. If Al-Sisi manages to get everything under control, he will not face real competition in the elections, but if things are uncontrolled, the coming situation will not be foreseeable.
Given the president’s personality, if he finds that his popularity had shrunken, he may decide to leave the scene or things may become uncontrollable.