Sisi and IS in Egypt: an illusion of stability

Sisi and IS in Egypt: an illusion of stability
6 min read
12 May, 2016
Comment: 'Stability' has become a code word for the end of the democratic aspirations of Egyptians and the reinstitution of a western backed anti-democratic regime, writes Sam Hamad
The instability of today's Egypt is the outcome of decades of tyrannical stability [AFP]

When Sisi first seized power in Egypt, one of the main justifications was that 'security' would be restored through his leadership. The restoration of security is perhaps the most sinister concept conjured up by despots, tyrants and mass killers alike during the so-called Arab Spring, but also throughout history.

This fetishisation of 'stability' is a fundamental part of what might be called the 'world order'. This is a concept that has been invoked within the context of the Arab Spring since practically the moment Mohamed Bouazizi set himself and the region alight, igniting the long-standing tensions that had been bubbling away amid the brutalities and daily injustices under what the US and the world considered to be 'stable' regimes.

In fact, on that very day - January 25 2011, when the spirit of Bouazizi burst to life on the streets of Cairo - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had famously stated that 'our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable'.

This reveals the most terrifying aspect of a world in which those fighting against tyranny for democracy, find themselves being brutally repressed and exterminated.

When Clinton called Mubarak's government 'stable' what she meant wasn't simply that he was unlikely to go the same way as Ben Ali, rather that his regime would do what was necessary to ensure he didn't go the same way as Ben Ali. Far from the US rhetoric of 'supporting democracy' and 'human rights', anybody who even has a passing knowledge of Egypt knows that this meant cracked skulls and dead bodies. 

Those who thought the violence would be confined to the Sinai are mistaken

It's here that you might glimpse just how malignly counter-productive this notion of 'stability' really is. It's precisely because of the cracked skulls and dead bodies that these tyrants can only ever engender 'instability'. Though Bouazizi lit the spark, it was people like Khaled Said - whose skull was literally smashed in and his body mutilated by the Egyptian police prior to January 25 - who were the martyrs fueling the flames. Indeed, there is no 'stability' in brutality. 

Though tyranny might provide relatively long periods during which business can continue as usual at the price of liberty and the lives of people like Khaled Said, Hamza al-Khatib or Mohamed Bouazizi, it is, in reality, arranging its own funeral. Nothing remains static, no matter how grand or brutal, and the Arab Spring, which is a wave of what the US would call 'instability', occurred precisely because of the manner in which 'stability' is maintained by the tyrannical powers that rule the region.

This brings us back to Sisi and today's Egypt, where the context of counter-revolution against democratic forces necessitates seeing through this justification of tyranny by invoking 'stability' all the more prescient. 

On 8th May, eight police officers were executed in the Cairo suburb of Helwan by a group of militants claiming to be affiliated to the Islamic State group (IS). This is part of what has been a long standing IS led insurgency since the coup that has seen sovereign Egyptian territory fall into the hands of the Caliphate. In addition, IS has also been able to execute unprecedented attacks on security forces, as well as attacks on passenger planes and foreign workers. Those who thought the violence would be confined to the Sinai are mistaken. 

January 25 saw the birth of an imperfect and fragile democracy, one that brought with it both the usual problems of governance associated with this system as well as the expected, though often dangerous, shockwaves that  accompany the attempted creation of a new society following decades of tyranny. Combined with deliberate economic and state sabotage, this was used as a pretext for Sisi's coup and counter-revolution.

the Arab Spring, which is a wave of what the US would call 'instability', occurred precisely because of the manner in which 'stability' is maintained by the tyrannical powers that rule the region

This is exactly what 'stability' means – a code word for the end of the democratic aspirations of Egyptians and the reinstitution of a regime that is necessarily anti-democratic, an order where liberty is smothered and human beings are merely bodies to be dominated, exploited and, if necessary, crushed. 

On the international stage, this violence of 'stability' is implicitly or explicitly accepted and materially supported on the basis that Sisi is somehow good for US-Western interests. 

In today's times, everything else in the region is subordinated to the perceived threat of IS to the West. This means 'fighting terrorism' (something emphasised by Sisi at every turn). Or it might simply mean ensuring they pose no threat to a regional order where economic and geo-strategic interests rely on the tyranny of 'stability', unlike a democracy being built in the Arab world's largest country. For who knows where this might have led the region? 

But it's here that the imperialist necessity for 'stability' in the region reveals its desperation. For those eight policemen allegedly killed by IS were not killed in some dusty long-forgotten outpost in the Sinai, but in Cairo, right in the heart of the Nile Valley.

Even if you subscribe to the savage rationale behind the West supporting Sisi and his brutal dismantling of democratic forces and all dissents based on the idea he's protecting the West from IS, then you might want to consider that since he took power, IS has grown in Egypt in a manner that was simply non-existent under the Morsi government and that short period of democracy. 

IS thrive on active repression and brutality of any kind, but they benefit even more from situations where the main target of the repression by allegedly 'secular' tyrannical regimes is forces described as 'Islamist' (such as the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters).

In a situation where 'Islamist' proponents of democracy are being crushed on a daily basis, it would not be far-fetched to see IS gain a foothold in the Nile Valley, similar to the one they currently enjoy in the Sinai. In an ironic twist of fate, the primary obstacle there for IS breaking through to the Nile Valley, is the fact that the salafi jihadi forces there remain loyal to al-Qaeda. 

In today's times, everything else in the region is subordinated to the perceived threat of IS to the West

With the attacks on the policemen, we see IS growing bolder, even beyond their base in the Sinai. Planes from Egyptian airports have been hijacked and blown out of the sky. In addition, Sisi - the President who was supposed to restore not just stability but 'national pride' to Egypt - has lost sovereign Egyptian land in the Sinai to IS, while he gives away sovereign land to those other Wahhabist theocrats in Saudi Arabia. 

Lastly, we have seen the Egyptian economy - ravaged by a complete lack of planning and kleptocracy - constantly circling the drain, as Sisi cedes more sovereignty to the UAE in order to stop it from flatlining completely. 

And Egypt is only one part of the story. In Syria, the war has reached genocidal levels of violence perpetrated by Assad and his allies, tacitly supported by the US. In Yemen, Saudi's intervention simply punishes ordinary Yemenis while further entrenching the Houthis and locking the country into indefinite conflict.

In what remains of Iraq, IS remains undefeated, while their opponents are proving to be just as bad, as the fragile, corrupt political system faces collapse. In Bahrain, the regime carries on with business as usual, imprisoning human rights campaigners and violently suppressing critics.

Those who think all of this equates to 'stability' are not just criminal, but increasingly and terrifyingly desperate.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.