Author: Muhammad Hudhud, Johns Hopkins
“I salute the thousands of Egyptians who came from Egypt, who came from parts of the United States who are present here to say that the new Egypt is coming…I salute the people of Egypt that made history twice over the past 3 years,” declared a confident, grinning Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi at his UN speech two weeks ago. Since his ascension to power after a military coup that ousted Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, el-Sisi has shed his old rugged military garb, and has adopted the suit-and-tie clean-cut persona of a statesman.
With the backing of the military establishment el-Sisi’s position hearkens back to the very Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak-era structure the Egyptian people worked so hard to overturn in 2011. Political dissent has since been silenced (particularly in regard to the Muslim Brotherhood), journalists incarcerated, and military spending is back to pre-2011 level. Unlike his predecessor, el-Sisi is favored by other Arab leaders, and already has developed ties with world powers like Russia. A deeply polarizing figure, el-Sisi has furthered the split in Egyptian politics, along with that of the rest of the Middle East.
El-Sisi’s first major test as president arrived when Operation Protective Edge unfolded. It should be noted that there are three entries into Gaza: two from Israel and one from Egypt, called the Rafah Border Crossing. As the Gazans are locked by land, sea and air as of 2000 when Yasser Arafat Airport was destroyed, the Rafah Crossing is most always the only means to get in and out of Gaza. Under el-Sisi however, like Mubarak, Rafah has since remained closed. During the Operation however, a handful of Gazans were allowed to cross for medical reasons. As a result, el-Sisi’s administration came under intense fire from Palestinian news outlets for not allowing Rafah Crossing to be opened for humanitarian reasons. Furthermore, Turkey’s former prime minister and now President Reçep Tayyip Erdogan declared el-Sisi a “tyrant,” unfit to broker a deal between Israel and Hamas. Despite skepticism and criticism, el-Sisi’s administration has successfully brokered a deal, while denying any Turkish and Qatari involvement.
Let’s face it, el-Sisi is no Gamal Abdel Nasser. He doesn’t have Nasser’s charm and charisma, Mubarak’s eloquence, or Morsi’s ‘fellahi’ accent that so many Egyptians were drawn to. Rather, el-Sisi’s climb up the ladder has been one of cleverness, slyness, and careful planning. Through the backing of the military establishment he has solidified his position as president; however this doesn’t mean there will be no more tests to come. Although the Muslim Brotherhood has been declared illegal, it has definitely not remained silent. As one of the most dangerous places in the world for foreign and domestic journalists, el-Sisi has had and still must answer why such journalists are being held allegedly without sufficient evidence. In recent months key leaders and news outlets have raised deep concerns about the incarcerations and brought attention to how the Sinai Peninsula has become a hotspot for deadly bombings and shootings. To make matters even better, el-Sisi has since decided to reduce government subsides on gas prices, citing tough times and necessary measures, a “bitter pill.” Albeit with controversial means, el-Sisi has quelled mass protests and has resorted some semblance of stability to the country, even if artificial.
In light of around 41,000 people detained in the past year alone, allegations of torture and sexual abuse in thereof, curtailed freedoms, and over a quarter of the population is below the poverty line, this situation is eerily similar to that of Mubarak’s 30+ years old emergency law. At the end of the day, can we really expect a new Egypt?