Egypt’s undemocratic election will reelect a dictator
Presidential elections in Egypt will take place during the last week of March. With all serious opponents eliminated from the race, it seems that the farce will inevitably end with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi being re-elected. His first four years have included the murder of dissidents, mass arrests, torture of prisoners, suppression of LGBTQ groups, turning a blind-eye to the plight of Coptic Christians, censorship of independent media outlets and the expansion of the police-state.
As our government prepares to give another $1.6 billion in aid to Egypt, we Americans have questioned where the money is going, how it’s being used and whether or not aid makes us complicit in the crimes of the dictatorship. In short, the onus is on us.
“UH students, and all university students, are citizens in training. The use of their U.S. tax dollars in Egypt, or anywhere else for that matter, is their concern,” said Emran El-Badawi, the director of the Middle Eastern Studies program at UH.
Since the first military coup d’état in 1952, the Egyptian state has been a police-state.
However, unlike what exists today, what followed the first coup under President Gamal Nasser was a radical shift economically and socially. Under Nasser there was a social contract, where the state gave the next generation of Egyptians a significant shot toward upward mobility while providing serious social reforms. In return, civil society was expected to accept military dictatorship.
After Nasser’s death in 1970, his successor, Anwar Sadat, broke the social contract by privatizing components of the economy and keeping the police-state intact.
In the 40 years that followed, the Egyptian military held an iron grip on state affairs and repressed any potential dissent, all with U.S. financial support. These conditions gave rise to discontent known as the Arab Spring that erupted in late 2010. It represented a major rupture in Arab history as the masses came out in force to denounce the regimes in Bahrain, Egypt, Syria and Tunisia. Each movement had different results, but in that moment democracy had left the halls of power and returned to the streets.
After the Arab Spring, it was possible that Egyptians might be freed from military interference because President Mohamed Morsi was democratically elected. Unfortunately, this hope quickly dissipated after the 2013 coup that swung General Sisi into power and renewed the status-quo with vengeance.
Since the announcement of elections last year, four potential candidates threw in their names while knowing the potential risks. Sami Anan, a former Chief of Staff in the military, was arrested after announcing his candidacy; Ahmed Konsowa was sentenced to six years in prison for announcing his candidacy; Ahmed Shafik was forced by the government to withdraw; Khaled Ali was also pressured by the government to drop out of the race.
The only candidate running against Sisi is Moussa Mustafa Moussa, a former supporter of the president who declared his candidacy 15 minutes before the deadline and functions as a placeholder to make Egypt appear as a democracy.
“No serious candidate has a chance. Egypt belongs to Sisi for now,” Badawi said.
Human rights continue to be a secondary issue within Egypt and internationally.
Within Egypt, tens of thousands of political dissidents have been arrested and imprisoned since 2013. Trade unions, which are the historic backbone of popular movements, are being cracked down on by the state to limit their role in any potential political movements. Even international students are susceptible to repression. An Italian student, Giulio Regeni, studied union organizing in Egypt and was tortured and murdered by state-security forces.
Internationally, Egypt has maintained a reactionary position toward the war on Yemen by siding with Saudi Arabia’s genocidal war against the Yemeni people. Sisi has even offered to send 40,000 troops to fight in Yemen. Against the Palestinians, Sisi has helped maintain the blockade on the Gaza Strip, which has resulted in one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the world. It would not be hard for Egypt to simply keep the border crossing open.
Instead, the state consciously chooses to condemn Palestinians to living in an open-air prison.
“Today, and especially since the Arab uprisings of 2011, Egypt is firmly in the grip of two political institutions: The Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the U.S. Pentagon,” Badawi said.
However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Egypt is openly allied with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Coordinating Council, although not officially a member nor a Gulf country, which has become the equivalent of an Arab NATO. This has resulted in its decision to back the isolation of Qatar along sectarian political lines. In keeping with the Camp David Accords, he is also openly allied with Israel as they continue their genocidal policies against Palestinians.
Sisi needs international backing from these corrupt regimes and monarchies in order to hang onto power. It is for raison d’état (reason of state) that Egypt engages in these policies as it attempts to maintain the crumbling institutions that proved inadequate in satisfying the hopes of Egyptians for a better future.
Egyptians live in a hollow shell of the once-bright future that came with the Arab Spring. It is from this potential cocoon that trade unions, popular movements, underground radicals, women’s movements and the outcasts of society will eventually confront the state and burst forth in a new movement.
Change can only come in confrontation with the state, not from within it. For now, they wait. As the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish once wrote: “Waiting is steadfastness and a stand.”
Opinion columnist Brant Roberts is a history senior and can be reached at [email protected]