Egypt under Sisi: ‘Criticism is not accepted’
Political freedoms have been tightly circumscribed, a move Sisi claims is necessary to restore stability to the country.
One year since taking office as Egypt’s president, Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, has taken a clear course: Casting himself as a guarantor of the country’s stability, while sharply curbing political and media freedoms.
Sisi’s first year in office, according to analysts, has been dominated by the ideology of fighting terrorism, conceding even before he became president that it will take Egypt 25 years to achieve what he termed “true democracy”.
Before his inauguration, Sisi firmly defended Egypt’s Protest Law, a controversial piece of legislation enacted in November 2013 that allows for detention of protesters for up to three years if they fail to obtain police permission for their demonstration. “There are millions of people and families who can’t earn their living because of the protests,” Sisi said last May.
Reflecting on the deep polarisation that has gripped Egypt since the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, Egyptian social media followers have described Sisi’s presidency with two opposing hashtags: #Youryearisblack, and #ayearoforder. When asked how he would assess his first year in office, Sisi told reporters it was “a hard mission”.
According to several analysts, this is “one of the many manifestations of instability”. “We have not seen politics, we have not seen contestations, we have not seen political debates about issues,” said Samer Shehata, an associate professor of Middle East studies at the University of Oklahoma in the US.
Shehata noted that “criticism is not really accepted” by the Egyptian government. “Those issues that constitute the core of democratic politics are completely absent. Today, Egypt still has no parliament or official opposition,” Shehata told Al Jazeera.
Shehata also argued that Sisi’s anti-terrorism tactics are not working. “Every time someone is killed in these
Egypt has provided no indication that it will stop its practise of violently crushing peaceful protest.
raids or is sentenced to death or given a life sentence, their whole family, their whole community becomes radicalised. Rather than eliminating terrorism, you produce potential terrorists. It hasn’t succeeded, and it won’t succeed.”
Since Morsi’s ouster, it has been reported that more than 40,000 Egyptians have been arrested in Egypt for political reasons. The country has also witnessed a sharp rise in mass death sentences. Last month, a court handed down death sentences to Morsi along with 105 others on charges over a prison break in 2011.
Joe Stork, Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa deputy director, told Al Jazeera that anyone tried in Egypt in a mass trial should be “released or retried” as the mass sentences “violate international law”.
“HRW found that prosecutors relied on the conjecture of national security officers to make their case against Morsi and others and that the mass trial failed to assess individual criminal responsibility,” Stork said.
INSIDE STORY: Has Egypt’s Sisi delivered on any of his promises?
Before Sisi’s visit to Germany last week, a joint letter was sent by five human rights organisations to German Chancellor Angela Merkel urging her to raise Egypt’s human rights record during her talks with Sisi.
The letter stated that relations between the two countries should “depend on the Egyptian authorities taking prompt and concrete measures to put an end to government policies” that violate international human rights laws. According to Stork, there are no signs that the Egypt government will follow through on such requests: “Egypt has provided no indication that it will stop its practise of violently crushing peaceful protest.”
Some Egyptian politicians, however, insist that Sisi’s successes in his first year outweigh his failures. Anwar al-Sadat, chairman of the liberal Reform and Development Party, a pro-Sisi opposition party, told Ahramonline website that: “Most Egyptians agree that he has achieved a considerable degree of stability after one year of the chaos and violence that erupted after the removal of Morsi from power.”
A survey conducted by the Cairo-based Baseera Center for Public Opinion Research found that 85 percent of Egyptians were satisfied with the president’s performance after one year.
On the economic front, Sisi has made efforts to attract foreign aid to revive Egypt’s flagging economy.Earlier
this year, Egypt held an economic development conference in which Sisi said his country needs up to $300bn for development.
Mohamed el-Dahshan, an Egyptian economist and a fellow at the US-based Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, told Al Jazeera that if this figure is only based on foreign investments, then the government will “fall short” of its target.
“Even at the closing ceremony, the president suggested that this conference should be held every year – but you’re not going to have that kind of global goodwill again,” Dahshan said.
The highlight of the three-day summit was the plan to build a new Egyptian capital, an ambitious project estimated to cost in excess of $45bn. Details on the funding for the new capital have not been revealed.
“I’m pretty sure that within the government itself there are people who realise that this is a beautiful project on paper, but it’s not the government’s actual priority because they can’t afford it. I don’t think it will ever happen,” Dahshan said.