Egyptian Politics (Quickly) Explained

So one of the questions I get asked the most by my friends is my opinion on the Egyptian political landscape. Coming from a politics background, and being an Egyptian by birth, people are often curious as to where I stand, what I believe in, and who exactly Sisi, the Brotherhood, and the SCAF are. This is, to the best of my ability, an unbiased piece trying to explain Egyptian politics since the fall of Mubarak in 2011. Now those of you who know me personally, or are familiar with the posts on this blog, know how I feel about Sisi. But perhaps this piece can explain why I feel that way about Sisi. I will, of course, offer the arguments that his followers give, and you be the judge of the Egyptian president. We ready?

Yep. We ready.

December 2010

So the story of the Egyptian revolution actually began outside Egypt: Tunisia. Winter 2010/11 witnessed the Jasmine Revolution, which was the first of many Arab Spring revolutions that year. Long time Tunisian dictator, Zinelabedine Ben Ali was overthrown, and he flew himself over to Saudi Arabia, where he has been living ever since.

The fall of Ben Ali had Egyptian activists calling for protesters to mimic the now legendary Tunisian revolution. This won’t come as a surprise to you, but the initial revolution in Egypt was successful. Hosni Mubarak was overthrown, and arrested.

Here is where things start to get confusing for a lot of people.

Pre-2011 revolution, most political activity in Egypt was controlled by a group called the NDP – Nationalist Democratic Party. The NDP was the ruling party of Mubarak, founded by his predecessor, Anwar Al-Sadat. The NDP was disbanded after the fall of Mubarak, and brand new political parties started emerging.

Now as new parties formed, as the nation began to plan for its free elections, the country was under the temporary rule of the SCAF – Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Unlike most democratic countries, the Egyptian president didn’t actually have much control over the military. The Minister of Defense did, and the MOD chaired the SCAF. Made up of the country’s top generals, the SCAF was a government within a government.

The SCAF government wanted to rush through a revised and temporary constitution, making way for parliamentary and presidential elections. Most political forces opposed this – they had not had enough time to form an actual platform, appeal to voters, and get their names out there. One group of political movements supported this: the Islamists, mainly the Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood was already a well known, and for their years of opposing Mubarak they were also a well respected, political movement in Egypt. Early elections would benefit them the most, as they had the most name recognition.

The SCAF/Brotherhood backed constitution passed, and the elections were held. The Brotherhood swept into power, winning parliament, before having the election results nullified, and barely winning the presidency. Which we have to touch on, as it is of extreme importance.

The Egyptian presidential elections of 2012. The single most important vote in Egypt’s history, a race that had five realistic contenders. They were as follows:

Mohammed Morsi, the leader of the Freedom and Justice Party. The FJP was the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Ahmed Shafik, a military leader and former prime minister of Egypt under Mubarak.

Hamdeen Sabahi. A socialist leader who honestly I have nothing good to say about him. The dude has flipped flopped so many times I don’t know if he’s actually two twins trying to convince the world that they are one person.

Abdel Moenim Abou El Fotouh. A former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, the centrist candidate was criticized for trying to appeal to everyone, and ended up not having a strong platform of his own.

Amr Moussa. Former Mubarak foreign minister, general secretary of the Arab League, and experienced diplomat.

Now I wanted Sabahi to win. I know. At that time, his ideas appealed to me. And I don’t disagree with what he preached then. I disagree with what he’s preached since then. He has gone from a socialist to a fascist and today he’s…I don’t know. I don’t follow him anymore.

But most of the pro-revolution camp was divided between two candidates: Sabahi and Abou El Fotouh. Shafik and Moussa were seen as too close to Mubarak, and Morsi was Brotherhood. That wasn’t actually the problem for him, because the secular revolutionaries had worked with the Brotherhood before. But ever since the Brotherhood sided with the SCAF, it broke the former goodwill that had been between the two camps.

The revolutionary groups couldn’t agree on one candidate to back, with many backing Sabahi and many backing Abou El Fotouh. The final election results were as follows:

Morsi – 5.7 million. Shafik – 5.3 million. Sabahi – 4.8 million. Abou El Fotouh – 4.2 million. Moussa – Under 2 million.

Morsi and Shafik went through to the final round of voting, and although the pro-revolution candidates won over 8 million votes, they divided it among two candidates.

In the election runoff, most pro-revolution groups backed Morsi, fearing the return of the military hard man with a Shafik victory.

Morsi was…weak. Although I openly supported the coup against him (we’ll get to that) he was not the dictator Mubarak was. He wasn’t the democratic Mandela that Egypt needed. He wasn’t a strong leader. He was a bad president. But he was better than his predecessor, and better than his successor. And as awkward as it is for me to say so about the Muslim Brotherhood, I will write the honest truth. Egypt was more open under Morsi than it was under Mubarak and is now. But he was not the ambition of the revolution. People didn’t die for an Islamist Egypt.

And so, they revolted. Again. And here, I believe, was our biggest mistake.

We should have waited. Morsi was an unpopular president that would have lost the planned 2016 elections against anyone. They could have ran an Algerian flag (Egypt’s rival in North Africa) and the Algerian flag would have won. Instead of waiting however, we came out demanding he resign. Which he should have, I’ll stick by that belief. He should have resigned when he saw that he was not wanted as president, but he didn’t. And as “revolutionaries,” we made the same mistake that we hated the Brotherhood for, years earlier.

We turned to the military.

The military and the SCAF were now under the command of a little known man named Abdel Fattah El Sisi.  He was quiet, and little information about him was public. In our desperation to overthrow the highly unpopular Morsi, the Egyptian revolutionary groups that attacked the Brotherhood for siding with the military, sided with the military. And being the hypocrite I was, I supported this move. Now I understand that I had no actual say, I was following this from the United States. But I sold my beliefs. I sold what I held dear because I didn’t like the president.

I stopped believing in democracy and allowed myself to fall into Sisi-mania. Let’s give unlimited power to a man we know nothing about. And Morsi was overthrown.

What followed was worse than anything from my darkest nightmares. Sisi was a monster. In a series of massacres that followed, Sisi went after anyone who supported Morsi. The largest massacre was at Rabbaa Al Adawiya square, where the Brotherhood had organized a rally of half a million to oppose him. Thousands were killed on August 14th, 2013, the largest massacre in Egyptian history. Human Rights Watch called it a worse massacre than Tienanmen Square.

Sisi was no longer a mystery. He was making himself very well known to the world, and it was clear he was no democrat. He didn’t believe in freedoms, in human rights, in choice. He believed in tanks.

In 2014 Sisi officially made himself president, in an “election” where he won 97% of the vote. During the campaign Sisi refused to debate his opponent, Hamdeen Sabahi from 2012, and his opponent wasn’t allowed to criticize him. Sisi refused to release an election platform and refused to give any public speeches. He won the election without campaigning, and without ever telling us what he even stood for.

And as soon as he was the official president, Sisi clamped down on Egypt so hard. Egypt has become notorious for its imprisonment of journalists, clampdown on all critics of the government, and a human rights catastrophe.

So what do Sisi’s supporters say about him? I promised to give their side, and here it is.

Sisi got rid of the Brotherhood. In their eyes, he is a reformer who is the best hope to defeat Islamism and radical terrorism. For some, he is a means to an end. He may not be great, but at least we’re getting rid of Islamism. For others, he is a savior. Saving Egypt from the Muslim Brotherhood, and returning it to its secular glory.

Now here is the problem with that argument.

Sisi isn’t anti-Islamism. He has allied himself with the Al-Nour Party, a far-right, Salafist political party. The Al Nour Party are light years behind the Brotherhood when it comes to politics. They are more right-wing than you can imagine. Here’s how to understand the situation: everything that right wing and ultra-conservative media outlets tell you about the Brotherhood, well, that’s the Al Nour Party. And Sisi allied himself with this group before ever taking office.

He isn’t anti-Islamist, he is anti-Brotherhood. And he’s anti-Brotherhood because they were in his way. In the way of his power.

So here we are today. Egypt’s revolution is dead. It won’t come back. Any hopes for a democratic Egypt will depend on a new movement rising up to challenge Sisi, a man who has turned out to be more brutal and ruthless than any leader in Egypt’s modern history. I don’t know what the future holds for Egypt, but it doesn’t look good right now. We are a people living in a the brainwashing machine that is the SCAF Egypt. Egypt is the playground of the military, and we will never be truly free, until the SCAF is disbanded and the military is brought under civilian rule. Now I’ve skipped over a lot of stuff that happened, trying my best to explain to you the political situation in Egypt. I skipped over the Maspero massacre, a military massacre of Christian protesters. The Brotherhood constitution. The Republican Guard massacre, a military massacre of pro-Brotherhood people praying. The sales of Egyptian islands to the Saudis by Sisi. I can’t write down everything that’s happened in the last six-seven years. But hopefully, this gives you an idea of why Egypt is the way it is today. Why we are in this position. Who Sisi, Morsi and SCAF are.

I’ll end this post with these parting words: don’t give up on us. Egyptians are kind people. They may be living in darkness now, but we’ve endured for seven thousand years. We’ve been on our knees and we rebuilt. We are resilient. Things don’t look good for the future today, but we don’t know what tomorrow will bring. We’ll be back.

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