The government of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is cracking down in Egyptby Wendell Steavenson / June 16, 2015 / Leave a comment
The military regime in Egypt poses a sharp dilemma for western governments as they try to help stabilise the Middle East. Since Abdel Fattah el-Sisi seized power in 2013, overthrowing the democratically elected Islamist government of Mohammed Morsi, he has targeted opposition groups. Veterans of the 2011 Arab Spring have been arrested and in several cases imprisoned. Yet as Wendell Steavenson argues in this article, ordinary Egyptians crave the security that Sisi appears to promise. And in a region roiled by violent jihadism, he offers stability and a bulwark against the threat of Islamic State.
“It’s nice in Cairo now, the weather is perfect.” This was the first thing Lina Attalah, Editor of the news website Mada Masr, which is one of the very few independent voices in Egyptian media, told me waking up on a Monday morning. I could hear birdsong across the Skype connection. Lina is an old friend. I made a face at her. Really? What about the last two years of repression since General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi took over? Forty-thousand people arrested, hundreds of NGOs closed, protests and strikes banned, torture and deaths in police custody.
Lina sighed. “Well I know we could just complain about the situation all the time, but after all we live here.”
After the Arab Spring and years of roiling Tahrir Square demonstrations, ancient imperturbable Egypt has returned to its quotidian cares. Once again a general is the President. Return of the strongman. Everything back to normal. I asked Lina about the bombs that go off all the time these days. She said that to some extent they had become background noise.
“Over the last few days people have been talking about the rise in the price of tomatoes. No, seriously. Just in the past few days they’ve gone up to 10 Egyptian pounds a kilo.” (According to the Central Bank of Egypt, the price of vegetables rose by 6.55 per cent in April. )
I lived in Cairo for a year and a half, from the 2011 protests on Tahrir Square that toppled Hosni Mubarak, to the presidential elections in June 2012 in which the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi beat a former Air Force general. I was back in Cairo a year later when 18m Egyptians took to the streets to protest against Morsi’s government; many more than had ever come out against Mubarak. People said it was the largest demonstration in human history. It was an extraordinary repudiation of political Islam in the country of its ideological origins. But was it revolution or counter-revolution? The military, Egypt’s rulers since Gamal Abdel Nasser deposed the King in 1952, took swift advantage of a protest movement they had encouraged behind the scenes all along, and reasserted control.