Are Egyptians currently better off under a military regime?

Seven years after Abdel Fatteh Al-Sisi assumed power in Egypt, are Egyptians better off under a military system?
6 min read
29 June, 2021
Egypt's revolutions against autocratic rule shone across the Arab region as a permeating example of civil power. Unfortunately, this light would flicker briefly. Seven years on, with Sisi still in power, are the Egyptian people really better off?

When the Muslim Brotherhood group assumed power in June 2012 following the first-ever democratic presidential election in Egypt’s history, many Egyptians who had no Islamist affiliations bitterly accepted this option as the only valid alternative to a military rule that had been running the country for the preceding five decades.

Millions of citizens who overthrew longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak after an 18-day uprising back in 2011 were obligated to be ruled by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) for the months preceding the 2012 poll.

That is why it was a logical option for them to choose a civilian to run the country, even an Islamist one. But little did they know at the time out of their greatest despair, that their choice of the Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi would eventually lead to point zero. 

Opposition against Morsi grew after he had issued a constitutional declaration on November 21, 2012, granting him presidential immunity from judicial accountability and allowing him unilateral authority

For 'all Egyptians'?

Morsi was known for being a mediocrity in the group's leadership, only enlisted to run as a substitute candidate to the top choice, billionaire businessman Khairat El-Shater, who had been disqualified by the elections committee.

After winning a narrow election where less than a quarter of the population voted for him, Morsi said during his inauguration in the iconic Tahrir square that he had duties to fulfil, mainly the January 25 revolution’s primary demands: “bread, freedom and social justice.”

Nevertheless, millions of Egyptians believed these aspirations had never been realised during his short-lived turbulent presidency, which prompted them to rise against his rule.

Perspectives

Even though Morsi publicly vowed to head a country for “all Egyptians,” his government and its administrations were shortly afterwards monopolised by the Brotherhood members and its supporters in what analysts described as the ‘Ikhwanisation’ (Brotherhood-isation) of the state.

Politically, seculars, liberals, socialists and other political groups, human rights activists and religious minorities found no solid ground for themselves in an Islamised community at the time when Morsi failed Egyptians, whose living conditions deteriorated on social and economic levels during his tenure.  

On the other hand, women felt that their rights were diminished as they were looked upon as inferior to men or so perceived by religious fanatics dominating the social and political scenes at that time.

Rising fury

Opposition against Morsi further grew after he had issued a constitutional declaration on November 21, 2012, granting him presidential immunity from judicial accountability and allowing him unilateral authority. Such a move sparked days of protesting, followed by other demonstrations against similar measures over the coming months resulting in bloody confrontations between Morsi's supporters and anti-Morsi protesters.

Tahrir Square -- AFP
Tahrir Square became an embodiment of Egyptian revolutionary ideals and was the site where both Hosni Mubarak and Mohammad Morsi were deposed from power [Getty Images]

A few weeks earlier to the constitutional declaration, liberal coalitions pulled out of writing the document in protest, leaving the Islamists to finish the task. Rights groups had multiple concerns about the final draft, which also enshrined into law the power and privileges that the army had enjoyed under Mubarak.

“Women, Christians, intellectuals, all these were side-lined in the new constitution. They would say, ‘You can have the liberty of expression, freedom, etc. — if it is in conformity with [Islamic] Sharia,’” Mona Makram Ebeid, a former member of parliament from 2011 - 2012, stated back then in objection.

Whether or not the security apparatus was behind the nationwide protests against Morsi on June 30, 2013 – as some would put it, marking one year after his inauguration, there was an actual state of dissatisfaction among the public fuelling calls for an early presidential election.

On July 3 the same year, the army led by then-defence minister Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi overthrew Morsi and put him under house arrest, taking over the country.

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The definition of what took place after June 30 remains a subject of debate. While Sisi and his allies still labelled it as a “revolution,” pro-Brotherhood and anti-regime activists insisted it was a military coup. However, by means of political definition, it was a soft coup.   

Meanwhile, Brotherhood members, their affiliates and sympathisers have ended up being detained, on death row, executed, imprisoned or self-exiled outside Egypt, which has stirred the outcry of local and international human rights organisations.

"Sisi talks more about new projects and infrastructure and less about democratisation, which strikes a chord for poor Egyptians who [need] better public services and financial security rather than freedom of the press and democracy"

Free media no more?

After June 30, the narratives of Egyptian media, even independent and privately-owned outlets, have turned from being anti-government, into being totally pro-regime and even controlled by institutions, either affiliated or loyal to the authorities.

Freedom of media was pretty much seized after the January 25 revolution, specifically from 2011- 2013. Had the Brotherhood remained in power, they wouldn’t have allowed it to continue as it was anyway,” Naila Hamdy, associate professor of journalism at the American University in Cairo, told The New Arab.

According to Hamdy, the idea of freedom of media and press in Egypt has always been “relative”.

“If we look into the history of media over the past decades, which I personally survived, we will find it undergoing a state of fluctuation, only enjoying a margin of freedom starting in the mid-1990s after satellite TV channels and independent media started to emerge in Egypt and the Arab World,” Hamdy explained.

“Before that and during the Mubarak era, the narrative was mostly pro-regime like the case now. So I’m not surprised with how things ended up after June 30,” she added.

Described by the Committee to Protect Journalists as one of the world’s “worst jailers of journalists”, Egypt has in recent years witnessed the worst records of restrictions imposed on media in decades with dozens of journalists detained or received prison sentences and hundreds of websites blocked, including that of The New Arab.

More poverty, fewer liberties

Seven years on, and after being temporarily ruled by a civilian president, are Egyptians better off now under a military-controlled regime?

In fact, society is believed to have tremendously changed after June 30, both positively and negatively.

Perhaps women are the only segment that seems to have benefited from the current regime with eight ministers serving in the cabinet as well as a 25 percent quota of the parliament. Women have also been appointed as governors and deputy governors for the first time in Egyptian history.

Perspectives

However, some poor and lower-middle-class women are still struggling with poverty, unemployment, domestic violence, high divorce rates, sexual abuse and discrimination at the workplace.

“We have witnessed more assertion of Egyptian nationalism, further rejection of political Islam and more assertion among women to take off the veil and speak out about sexually-based offences and gender violence,” Egyptian political sociologist Said Sadek told The New Arab.

Even though civil rights, freedom of speech and expression have turned from being violated during the one year of Morsi’s tenancy to being at their worst records during the regime of President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, people seem to have quit fighting for their rights, being busier with fighting for their bounties.

“The impact of neoliberalism, as well as the rising poverty rates, drove many to look for their immediate material interests rather than discuss and promote lofty political ideas about democracy,” Sadek reflected.

“Democracy is important for some intellectuals, media personalities and political activists but not for the majority of poor Egyptians who have more material priorities,” Sadek added.

“Sisi talks more about new projects and infrastructure and less about democratisation, which strikes a chord for poor Egyptians who [need] better public services and financial security rather than freedom of the press and democracy,” he concluded.

Horriya Marzouk is a pseudonym. The author resides in a jurisdiction where the publication of their identity may create security or freedom of movement issue