Sisi’s mythmaking on January 25th Revolution exposes the regime's fears that it could happen again
The Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi never misses a chance to condemn the 25 January revolution, deriding it as the "conspiracy which almost broke Egypt", and would have left it in ruins - another Syria, Iraq or Libya. He doesn't stop there - again and again we hear him blame the revolution for Egypt's political and economic woes and for the decline in its regional status.
These oft-repeated attacks beg questions as to their basis, and whether they are credible. With a closer look it becomes clear that there is little actual substance to Sisi's claims.
To take the first one: describing the 25 January Revolution as a conspiracy belies the description the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) gave itself in the period it took charge after Mubarak's resignation: "The guardians of the revolution" (Sisi was a SCAF member at the time).
So, if the revolution was a conspiracy, why were the armed forces guarding it? Moreover, how come Sisi didn't step forward at the time to voice his concerns about this conspiracy, and why was he meeting with scores of the young revolutionaries and attempting to rally their support? What changed? Why now, has the revolution been recast as a conspiracy?
"The Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi never misses a chance to condemn the 25 January revolution, deriding it as the "conspiracy which almost broke Egypt", and would have left it in ruins"
One of the lies Sisi has frequently spouted about the January revolution is that those behind it aimed to bring about Egypt's collapse – to see the country become another Syria, Iraq or Libya. However, if we pick this idea apart too, its flaws soon emerge. During the revolution, in the midst of a security vacuum and total chaos on the streets, there was not one sectarian attack; no churches burned.
This somewhat undermines Sisi's statement that the revolution planners were trying to provoke discord, keen to see a devastating conflict tear Egypt apart in the same way it did Iraq and Syria.
Furthermore, with a brief analysis of the Iraqi, Syrian and Libyan situations, deeper cracks appear in this theory. Sectarianism was embedded in Syria, where the revolution transformed into a civil war, its flames fanned by foreign interference.
As for Iraq, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and his regime was brought about by the American occupation – not as a result of a peaceful uprising, as was the case in Egypt, Tunisia and Sudan, for example.
In Libya, the Gaddafi regime was toppled by the military intervention by the NATO-led coalition, who left behind them a failed state. They set no plans in place to help the country forge a democratic path forward, and to build a modern state in Libya.
Moreover, foreign involvement has only worsened Libya's predicament since and deepened its internal crises, as different countries have vied for influence in its future, and Sisi himself has played a role in this through his backing of the retired General Khalifa Haftar.
Sisi is forever invoking these three examples to warn Egyptians of the perils of protesting, the unforeseen evils which could result if they even think about attempting a new revolution, as though these actions will inexorably lead Egypt to share the same tragic fate.
But not only did these situations involve clear foreign intervention – unlike Egypt – but all three countries differed hugely from Egypt, both politically and socially.
"Sisi is forever invoking these three examples to warn Egyptians of the perils of protesting, the unforeseen evils which could result if they even think about attempting a new revolution"
Deflecting blame for Egypt's tanking economy
Sisi has also repeatedly cast the 25 January revolution as the main culprit for Egypt's economic deterioration. So let us look at this in more detail. If we take the depreciation of the Egyptian pound as one aspect of this decline, we find that before the revolution, the exchange rate was set at 5.5 Egyptian pounds to the dollar.
During Mohamed Morsi's presidency, it rose to 7.5 pounds to the dollar. In Sisi's era devaluation has continued – the Egyptian pound dropped in value by more than 100 percent during his six years of rule: currently the exchange rate is around 16.5 pounds to the dollar. This is a result of IMF-imposed economic policies which Egypt agreed to in order to access a $12bn loan at the end of 2016.
At the same time as the Egyptian currency has plummeted in value, the government has completely removed subsidies from fuel and electricity, driving up the prices of basic services, and imposed a value-added tax. Likewise, it has increased customs' duties three times and overseen a hike in the cost of public transport.
Each of these policies contributed to rising inflation rates, which reached over 33 percent in 2018, before the government manipulated the statistics by changing the base year to 2018 instead of 2010. This allowed for the lower, falsified figure of 14 percent inflation to be presented by Egypt's authorities.
Today marks 11 years since the #EgyptianRevolution which called for freedom and dignity. However today, Egyptians are imprisoned for practicing their right to #freedomofexpression. #GalalElBehairy remains in pre-trial detention for his poetry. TAKE ACTION: https://t.co/7etv9gmpWR pic.twitter.com/zIjy2DtJK4— PEN International (@pen_int) January 25, 2022
Disaster looms: The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
When it comes to external crises, and Egypt's decline as a regional power, we once again see President Sisi pinning the blame for the 25 January revolution, which he states is responsible for the weak position Egypt has found itself in a number of regional issues. Perhaps the most prominent of these is the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project.
Sisi and his media machine have spread the message that the dam's construction began as a result of the revolution. However, if you look at the history, this is untrue – the roots of the project go much further back.
In fact, the construction of GERD has been an Ethiopian pipedream for many years - the idea was first proposed by America in response to Gamal Abdel Nasser's plans to build the Aswan High Dam.
It was initially planned that the storage capacity of GERD would be 10 billion cubic metres. This then increased to 14 billion cubic metres and now planned capacity is 75 billion cubic metres. Aside from this, there are three additional dams under construction in Ethiopia, the planning for which started before 2011.
Fiddling while Egypt dries up?
The total capacity for all four dams is around 200 billion cubic metres, which means that if these are completed, Ethiopia will have the power to completely dry up the Nile in Egypt. This would lead to widespread famine, devastation, and severe electricity shortages, because the Aswan dam will be unable to generate electricity if it doesn't contain sufficient water.
In May 2010, six Nile Basin countries (Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi) signed the Entebbe Agreement (Egypt and Sudan rejected it). This stipulated an end to the historical share of Nile waters which Egypt and Sudan had rights to according to the 1959 Nile Waters Agreement.
Then in August 2010, the Ethiopian government finished privately surveying the planned area for the dam (the Benishangul-Gumuz region), and on 5 November 2010, finished construction designs. It declared its readiness to start construction and on 6 April 2011 Ethiopia began building.
So the 25 January revolution bears no obvious relation to GERD: the plans for GERD preceded it, and the main factors leading to the critical situation today lay in falsely assuming good faith on the Ethiopian side and a reliance on promises made by the Ethiopian PM.
It's been 11yrs since the Jan 25 revolution in Egypt sent tremors worldwide.— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) January 25, 2022
In the book 'You Have Not Yet Been Defeated', readers are taken through the trials & tribulations of one of the revolution's main instigators, Alaa Abdel Fattah:https://t.co/2Bd5dQCHFL
It wasn't the revolution that failed to negotiate effectively, allowing Ethiopia to press ahead with the dam's construction, complete the first stage of filling it and start preparing the second stage – it was the current government that did this.
Therefore I would urge President Sisi to stop raging at the revolution and turn his attention to a much more urgent issue - the country could be facing a genuine battle for existence in the not-so-distant future.
Ultimately, it is evident that the real reason behind the president and his government's constant vilification of the 25 January revolution is the fear engendered in them by this people's revolution, which managed to oust the Mubarak regime after it had ruled for three decades.
At the same time, the continuous attacks hide another truth: that the 25 January Revolution was not a passing phase in the history of Egypt and its people – rather its ramifications and impact continue to make themselves felt.
"Ultimately, it is evident that the real reason behind the president and his government's constant vilification of the 25 January revolution is the fear engendered in them by this people's revolution, which managed to oust the Mubarak regime after it had ruled for three decades"
This is why Sisi is trying with all his might to bury the memory of the revolution, denigrate it as an idea, and punish all those who were involved in it: it is out of fear that it will be repeated. And this is what he says, over and over: "The events of 25 January will never happen again in Egypt".
Where he gets his confidence from however, is a mystery – the way I see it, the very policies he insists on enacting themselves create the biggest possible stimulus for a repeat of what happened in Egypt on 25 January 2011.
Taqadum al-Khatib is an Egyptian researcher and academic based in Berlin specialising in Middle East politics.
This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. To read the original article click here. Translated by Rose Chacko.
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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab.