Today, remembering Egypt's revolution is a form of resistance

Sisi might be erasing the victories of Egypt's revolution, but their memory must live on
6 min read
24 Jan, 2020
Comment: Almost a decade after the January 25 revolution, the problems that fueled it have been wildly exacerbated under Sisi's tyrannical rule, writes Sam Hamad.
In recent years, Tahrir Square has been heavily policed to deter any anniversary protests [Getty]
It has been nine years since Egyptians, inspired by the spark lit by Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunis, as well as the martyrdom of Khaled Said at the brutal hands of the Egyptian security forces, rose up and overthrew Hosni Mubarak. 

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of marking the anniversaries of our revolution, is not simply the fact that every single gain that was made back then has been reversed, but that the gains themselves are at risk of being forgotten. 

It was with a sense of numbness and despair that the murder of Mohamed Morsi - Egypt's first, and as yet only democratically elected president - in an Egyptian dungeon last year passed Egypt and the world by with barely even a stir. 

That is not to say that there isn't resistance within Egypt. 

The regime of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has not concerned itself with almost six solid years of the most vicious and relentless counter-revolutionary terror for nothing. 

Unlike Mubarak, whose brutality was more often than not kept in the shadows, Sisi's logic is to make the violence as public as possible, with every victim a grotesque warning beamed viscerally into the minds of Egyptians: If you resist us, we will destroy you.  

But you would be mistaken to think that Sisi's seemingly ceaseless terror emanates from a regime that is stable. In fact, though it's wishful thinking to imagine it is on the verge of demise, the 'Palacegate' protests that erupted in September last year provided a glimpse of the main contradiction that Sisi faces: Not only have the problems that fueled the January 25 revolution not been resolved, but they have been wildly exacerbated. 

The regime can't afford to continue to lock people up, its dungeon complexes are already bursting at the seams

For all of Sisi's attempts to pre-empt and stifle anything close to a rerun of 25 January, the September protests erupted due to a series of videos detailing the scale of the corruption at the top of the regime, including Sisi himself, and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). 

Once again, social media, which was used so effectively to expose the Mubarak regime and organise the protests of the 25 January revolution, was, despite Sisi's attempts to nullify it, used effectively against the regime. 

Sisi's entire strategy has been a form of "shock and awe" - the massacres at Rabaa and Nadha that followed his coup in 2013 were not just a means to eradicate a large pro-democracy protest movement, but to deter anyone from dissent.  

There weren't supposed to be mass protests under Sisi's watch, but once people took to the streets in September, the regime did what it does best, with the arrest of thousands of more people

In a show of the fear and paranoia that fuels Sisi, it wasn't protesters, including over 100 children, who were arrested, but the lawyers sent to represent them also found themselves detained. Journalists, attending to cover the protests, were also targeted. 

This is a country that already holds well over 60,000 political prisoners, with hundreds of those engaging in hunger strikes against the regime. In the same week as Sisi was welcomed to the UK, one of these brave hunger strikers, Mustafa Kassem, died in the notorious Tora prison.

The regime can't afford to continue to lock people up, its dungeon complexes are already bursting at the seams.  Within their walls, all different kinds of anti-regime ideologies, ranging from the moderate to the extreme, thrive.

The protests hinted at something that haunts Egypt whether the regime understands it or not. Even by their own tyrannical standards, all is not well in Egypt.

According to the 
World Bank, 60 percent of Egypt's population of 100 million were either "poor or vulnerable," with 30 million Egyptians surviving on just $2 per day.

Corruption is so rife nationally and locally that public funds are pilfered, meaning public services, such as state schools and hospitals, are crumbling and decaying.

Sisi's logic is to make the violence as public as possible, with every victim a grotesque warning

The cost of living has risen exponentially, with wages stagnating, which has had the twin effect of pricing consumers out of buying mid-range goods, and so forcing small business to shut their doors.

One menswear retailer from Mansoura told me that things got so bad this summer, he only kept his doors open by turning his business into a makeshift repair shop for clothes, taking buttons from his own goods to sell to the public. 

One of the key aspects of the 25 January revolution was the of the necessary need for an expansion of qualified workers that came with Mubarak's economic liberalisation "reforms". This allowed for an increase in the amount of Egyptians who gained higher education qualifications, but given Egypt's system of patronage, where employment at higher levels is often determined by who rather than what you know, this created an overspill. 

It led to millions of Egyptians with the necessary qualifications but without the right connections to secure a job in their chosen field. Even those who did get jobs in specialist fields, the wages were so low that you had biochemists moonlighting as waiters and shopkeepers. These people formed a key demographic among those who toppled Mubarak. 

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And for them, things have only deteriorated. With Sisi shoring up the kleptocracy of the ruling elites and maintaining the system of patronage, unemployment for university graduates in Egypt has reached an astonishing 45 percent. 

Even the Nile, the main artery of Egyptian civilisation for millennia, faces being cut off due to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, leading to a situation where Egypt could face "absolute water scarcity". Drought and famine are now a very real prospect in Egypt's future.

Vast swathes of the Sinai remain veritable no-go areas, with no end in sight to the insurgency of Wilayat Sina - an offshoot of the Islamic State - and Sisi's needlessly brutal and self-defeating "scorched earth" tactics are only prolonging the crisis.

Democratisation is the only chance Egypt has

There's nothing to suggest that Sisi is able to provide any of the necessary solutions to these problems, namely because the solutions to these problems are the same as they were in 25 January. 

Democratisation is the only chance Egypt has. And it's nowhere to be seen on the horizon, but, then again, neither was the 25 January revolution.  

As much as the major powers in the world, including the US, EU, UK and Russia, all laud and reward Sisi for his "counterterrorism" efforts and, especially in the case of the EU, his function as a policeman at the gate of Fortress Europe, Egypt runs the very real risk of becoming a failed state

When I contrast the Egypt of today with the Egypt of nine years ago, the thought that fills me with most dread, is not what has been lost, but rather what has been transformed. 

What once was the optimistic struggle for liberty against tyranny has now, through the unceasing terror, corruption and single-minded avarice of the regime, become a struggle for the very survival of Egypt as we know it. 

Sam Hamad is an independent Scottish-Egyptian activist and writer.

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