Egypt’s January Revolution collapsed for many reasons. Some are to do with the structure of power and role of the military in political life. Others with mistakes committed by the new forces in the management of crises in the post revolution phase, failing to rise above ideological differences and forge strong alliances to curb the army’s dominance and limit its influence. While the pro-revolution camp spent its energy in internecine feuding and blame slinging, the counter-revolutionary machine, oiled with the Gulf monarchies’ petrodollars, set about making ordinary Egyptians’ lives a misery. Through manufactured chaos, manipulations of fuel and food prices, obstructions of government by the old bureaucracy in the judiciary, administration and intelligence services and a media wedded to SCAF and the old oligarchs, Egyptians were convinced their country was teetering on the verge of destruction.
Salvation came in the person of General Sisi. In one of history’s darkest ironies, facts were reversed and terms stripped of meaning. With the usurpation of power, symbols were also usurped, as Tahrir Square, emblem of popular revolt against authoritarianism, was turned into a gigantic open air theatre where the old regime was euphorically greeted back. The brutal military coup was a “corrective movement” and the counter-revolution was dubbed the “glorious June 30th revolution,” nothing less. The coup staged against a democratically elected president, freely chosen by a majority of the people, was in defence of democracy and an embodiment of the people’s will.
From the outset, Sisi was cast as a selfless defence minister nobly rising to the call of duty for his nation’s sake. He was a servant of the people, altruistically bowing to the popular will. His legitimacy rested on a direct mandate from the people, who yearned for salvation, order and stability. His was a “historic responsibility” he declared. “We will build an Egyptian society that is strong and stable, that will not exclude any one of its sons.”
Two years after this televised address, Egypt looks nothing like this promised heaven of stability and cohesiveness. Scores of Egyptians have been murdered by an ever more rampant police, sentenced to death in kangaroo courts, or jailed in the most inhumane conditions where torture is routine. Dissent is not tolerated, with the media and the press reduced to the role of state propagandists singing the General’s praises and parroting his words.
Neither was Sisi’s tyrannical rule able to yield stability, with an insurgency in Sinai, attacks in the capital itself, sustained civil conflict and martial law. Sisi’s security credentials have been as abysmal as his democratic record.
Is it any wonder then, that voting stations have been deserted over the last two days of Egypt’s parliamentary polls?
In what observers have described as “elections without voters,” turnout has been as low as 3% in some polling stations. In a movement of mass silent opposition, people defied a state propaganda which ranged from passionate entreaties and fervent appeals to patriotic sentiments and religious faith, to veiled and open threats to abstainers of fines and denunciations for treason. Egyptians have simply refused to be part of the farce designed to drape Sisi in a democratic cloak he still desperately needs to rub away the stain of his blood-drenched military coup.
While the new forces that suddenly rose to power in the revolution’s aftermath, without forging common alliances, proved incapable of surmounting the mighty obstacles on the way, the counter-revolution spearheaded by the military is in crisis today too. In spite of all the repression and persecution, the old guard have been unable to mould the Egyptian landscape as they see fit or dictate the course of events. Protest to their rule is ongoing and expanding, taking on open and silent forms. From defiant weekly demonstrations in different parts of the country, to voters staying in and resolutely abstaining from polling en masse.
Sooner or later, Sisi will no doubt come to realize that his magical recipe of oppression and mass anaesthesia through media and religious propaganda will not transform him into a present-day Nasser. For beyond his self-aggrandising illusions, the truth is that he is neither a hero nor a national saviour, but a reckless military adventurer and the leader of a counterrevolution that may last for a few years, but will eventually wither away.