Sisi a better alternative? Tell that to the Egyptians

Sisi a better alternative? Tell that to the Egyptians
3 min read
02 Jun, 2015
Comment: Austria's foreign minister recently said that Abdel Fatah al-Sisi was a better option to what came before him. That position ignores all that he has done, says Teresa Mayr.
Sisi is a divisive figure internationally [Getty]
The Austrian foreign minister recently said that Abdel Fatah al-Sisi was a much better alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Sebastian Kurz was speaking on Austrian state TV after meeting his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry and Sisi, days after more than 100 people, among them the former president, Mohamed Morsi, were sentenced to death by an Egyptian court.

Kurz's statement will make a lot of people wonder whether he has been following what is happening in Egypt since the ousting of the former Morsi, the brutality of Sisi's rule and his turn toward authoritarianism.

Kurz said Sisi was a real partner in the fight against the Islamic State group.

Kurz said Sisi was a real partner in the fight against the Islamic State group. He also said he had brought up the issue of improving the human rights situation in Egypt, and that talking would be the best way of achieving that. He also mentioned that he had clearly communicated the position of the EU and Austria against the death penalty.

All of these statements are rather vague. They ignore the underlying problems in Egypt: an unfair judiciary, unjust mass trails and limits on press freedom. Understandably, the West is on alert because of the developments in the MENA region - especially with regard to the IS - but that should not be used as a justification for siding with an oppressive regime.

Extremist or oppression?

Western support for an autocratic regime might even fuel the rise of extremism as it gives those movements more legitimacy.

More than 41,000 people have been jailed by Egyptian authorities since Morsi was overthrown.

Despite parliamentary elections, which were originally planned for March or April 2015, there has not been any progress in this direction. Egypt has remained without a parliament ever since the military coup in July 2013.

According to an article by the Cairo based news website Mada Masr, Sisi has used this opportunity to issue 310 new laws since being sworn into office in June 2014.

Most of these laws have been criticised for increasing Sisi's power over all forms of political activity. Egypt is ranked 159th out of 180 on the World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders. The organisation was also critical of the limitation of press freedom under Morsi.

Widening the circle of oppression

Muslim Brotherhood affiliates are far from the only ones being targeted by the state. In its World Report 2015, Human Rights Watch said that in 2014, the campaign of arrests was expanded "to include secular and leftist activists".

More than 41,000 people have been jailed by Egyptian authorities since Morsi was overthrown. About 29,000 of those jailed are linked to the Brotherhood. No one has been held to account for the deaths of more than 1,000 pro-Morsi demonstrators in mid-2013, which Human Rights Watch calls "one of the worst mass killings of modern times and a likely crime against humanity".

Reports of torture and ill-treatment are surfacing, with at least 90 people dead in police stations and security directorates in the governorates of Cairo and Giza alone.

To the families and friends of imprisoned activists, the journalists, lawyers and students calling Sisi a partner must be an unbelievable affront.

Kurz's support for Sisi is not endorsed by everyone in the West. Germany's Bundestag president, Norbert Lammert, cancelled a meeting with Sisi on human rights grounds, citing the prosecution of opposition groups, mass sentences and death penalties.

For many in the West, Sisi seems to be a bitter if not a better choice.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.