During the first FOX News GOP debate of the 2016 campaign, Ted Cruz, the possible (but hopefully wildly unlikely) next president of the United States expressed to a record-breaking audience of millions of American viewers that he supports President Sisi of Egypt.
If you’ve spoken to a Sisi supporter recently, you’ll notice how they wholeheartedly defend him and hardly ever criticize anything he says or does. They have an immediate and premeditated response to any slight criticism expressed about their highly regarded leader.
Their unwavering support is a product of a prevalent sense of hyper-nationalism and pro-military patriotism publicized through state-sponsored mass media. No wonder Ted Cruz is a fan. To many easily brainwashed Egyptians, who naively consume Egyptian state propaganda, President Sisi is their savior, who promised them stability and peace, and who will save them from the “monstrous” and purportedly violent Muslim Brotherhood. That, however, hasn’t been the case in Egypt, where instability and insurgency still remain since the ouster of President Mubarak in 2011.
Explaining to a Sisi advocate why I don’t support him is frustratingly difficult. They immediately shut me down and bombard me with numerous accusations, including most famously, “You don’t live in Egypt, therefore, your opinion is invalid.” As if I have to live in Egypt to understand freedom and democracy, and be able to distinguish it from authoritarianism. After growing frustration every time I tried to discuss Egyptian politics with a Sisi crusader, I decided to assemble a list of reasons why I don’t support Egypt’s newest dictator.
1. Forced Virginity Tests
Before becoming president, Sisi supported forced virginity tests conducted on 17 female protestors, who were detained by the army in March of 2011. He defended his stance on the issue by claiming that the vaginal tests were administered to “protect” the army from potential rape accusations. His argument demonstrates that his larger concern is maintaining the army’s reputation over safeguarding the welfare of Egyptian citizens, arguably characterizing him as a military strongman.
2. Stricter Protest Laws
A few months into his presidency, Sisi established a law that bans any protest not approved in advance by the police. The law allows the interior minister and senior officials to postpone or cancel protests at their discretion, essentially granting corrupt Egyptian authorities broad powers to ban or disperse demonstrations. This measure illustrates the extent to which Sisi would go to silence any domestic dissent to maintain his authority. Following the issue of this measure, 23 activists, who were peacefully protesting the new restrictive law, were detained then sentenced to 3 years in prison and fined.
When millions of Egyptians found solace and courage in Tahrir Square in 2011 to demand liberty, social equity, and the ouster of President Mubarak, the international community looked on in awe at their profound bravery. Now, the international community looks on in pity as Egyptians see their right to freedom of assembly forcefully taken from them.
3. Crackdown on Journalists, Activists, and Dissidents
The military-backed government launched a frenzied campaign to crackdown on any political opposition by indiscriminately jailing journalists, activists, and ordinary citizens. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports, “Egypt has the highest number of journalists behind bars since CPJ began keeping records.” There are currently 18 journalists in jail in Egypt for their reporting. The most notable crackdown on journalists in Egypt has been on those belonging to the Qatar-based network, Al Jazeera.
Thousands of Egyptians have been arrested since the military overthrew Mohammed Morsi. The Washington Post claims that 21,317 people were arrested and detained since the coup administered by Sisi in July of 2013. Many of the detainees are subject to physical and psychological abuse. This systematic mass incarceration serves as a fear-mongering technique to crackdown on freedom of speech.
4. Increased Violence and Instability
Violence and instability have only intensified in Egypt ever since Sisi took office and declared war against the Muslim Brotherhood. It has been exceedingly difficult for analysts and experts to collect measures on how many Egyptians have been killed, injured, or imprisoned because of the regime’s deliberate opacity. According to the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, there have been 353 terror attacks in Egypt in 2014, the year Sisi officially became president. So far in 2015 alone there have been 331 terror attacks in Egypt. This proliferated violence is a direct product of the regime’s expanding repression against the Brotherhood, where over 300 members have been given death sentences in unfair trials, which also lends insight into the graft within the judiciary. If the Sisi regime continues this crackdown, Egypt is likely to experience more radicalization.
5. Mass Economic Corruption
In early 2015, Mekameleen, a Turkish-based TV channel, released audio recordings of Sisi, then Defense Minister, discussing with two other army officials the aid Egypt receives from the Gulf states. The recordings indicate that the trio deliberated how the Gulf states can deposit $30 billion, which is meant to rebuild the economy, in the army’s special bank accounts without the public’s attention and away from the civilian government’s control. These leaked recordings were recently said to have strong credibility, according to a respected audio forensics company, JP French Associates, reports The New York Times.
Since the 2013 coup orchestrated by tyrant Sisi, the military is perhaps the only institution that has profoundly expanded socially, economically, and politically. Because the military keeps its financial activity largely private, experts cannot identify precisely how much of the economy the military controls. It is contested that the military controls about 40-60% of the Egyptian economy.
The military’s projects range from manufacturing water bottles and furniture to larger energy plans. Perhaps the military’s largest project was the “new” Suez Canal. Because the military is untaxed, they offer lower prices for projects, making it increasingly difficult for the public and private sector to efficiently function in Egypt. It’s budget and numerous economic projects are untaxed and unaudited, making it accountable to no one.
Army generals have abused their power by positioning their allies into vital economic posts to safeguard their interests. Foreign Affairs recently conducted a year-long investigation on corruption in Egypt. They found that Egyptian officials hid nearly $9.4 billion in state funds in numerous unaudited banks across Egypt. And just like Mubarak kept his sons deeply embedded in Egypt’s political affairs, Sisi’s son Mustafa is an officer at the Administrative Control Authority, an anti-corruption institution.
6. Mubarak is Free
This speaks for itself. Anyone with some sense will understand the correlation between Sisi, a former Defense Minister, being in power, and Mubarak, also a former Defense Minister, being set free after a 30-year reign stained by social and political injustices. Mubarak’s release blatantly symbolizes a return to a military-controlled government that has existed in Egypt since the overthrow of King Farouk in 1952. It’s a complete slap in the face to the revolutionaries who risked their lives demanding justice, and to those who died unjustly.
Despite my criticism of Sisi, I should explicitly state that I am also not a Muslim Brotherhood advocate for an entirely different set of purposes. There’s a common misconception in Egypt that if you’re not pro-Sisi you’re automatically pro-Brotherhood. You can’t simply be neither or neutral, which only contributes to the political polarization within the divided nation.
I am not writing this to offer a solution to Egypt’s numerous political, social, and economic problems that continue to mount under decadent regimes. Rather, I am writing this to ask Egyptians to respect opposing opinions, to think critically, and to question their leader’s words and actions before wholeheartedly and credulously supporting him.