On Friday, September 22, 2019, protests broke out in Cairo, Alexandria, and Mahalla el-Kubra against President Adel Fattah el-Sisi who rose to power in a 2013 coup and is now famous for repression techniques that have “silenced critics, curtailed free speech, and ended any semblance of democratic politics.” The protests, which began as a result of citizens’ frustration with the economic condition of the state, threaten Egypts’ internal legitimacy.
Comparison to Revolution of 2011
The protests occurring in Egypt today can be contrasted with the protests that occurred eight years ago during the Arab Spring due to their differing motivations. Following the successful ousting of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, Egypt had its own uprising. Despite facing violent repression from the police, citizens all over the country protested for three weeks until President Hosni Mubarak stepped down. While they had economic reasons as well, the protests mainly had political motivations: the citizens of Egypt were tired of Mubarak’s repressive regime. After facing decades of his harsh, authoritarian practices, the people, drawing inspiration from Tunisia, decided to take matters into their own hands.
The protests in Egypt today, however, had mainly economic motivations. Mohamed Ali, a self-imposed exilée who lives in Spain, prompted the protests by releasing facebook videos in which “he called on the defense minister, Mohamaed Zaki, to arrest Mr. el-Sisi [and] urged Egyptians to take to the streets.” An ex-government contractor, Ali has been sharing information online about his shady dealings with the government, culminating in his calling for the protest. Already frustrated, it did not take much for Egyptians to pick up his call to arms and take to the streets.
Egypt’s Economic and Political Climate Today
According to official figures, “nearly one in three Egyptians live below the poverty line, on less than $1.40 a day.” As a result of a 2016 loan from the IMF, Egypt implemented several austerity measures such as tax reforms and budget cuts intended to curb government spending. Consequently, Egypt’s currency has been devalued and the price of basic goods and services such as fuel, electricity, and subway tickets have all risen. Although the economy as a whole is doing better as a result of the austerity measures, the cost of living has risen and the already struggling lower class is growing.
Ali’s claims have mostly consisted of allegations of corruption against the state. As an ex-government contractor himself, he has told stories of lavish palaces that he built for el-Sisi and other government officials using public money. Another example of the misappropriation of public funds by the el-Sisi regime is the “$58bn scheme el-Sisi launched in 2015 to build a new capital [that was] originally meant to be funded by developers, but [resulted in the government borrowing] $4bn from China for the first phase of the city’s construction.” The blatant corruption of government officials combined with the poor standard of living are the main causes behind the protests today.
El-Sisi first came to power in a military coup that overthrew the democratically elected Mohamed Morsi. After ruling for a year as a military leader, el-Sisi transitioned to being a civilian leader. Although he was elected in 2014 and re-elected in 2018, his regime is considered to be a de-facto authoritarian one as opposed to a democratic one because of the minimal participation and insufficient competition in these sham elections. His authoritarian regime lacks legitimacy due to its inability to provide economic wealth, and because of its lack of legitimacy, his regime is now losing its internal sovereignty.
El-Sisi’s Response to the Protests
This new round of protests have not lasted long enough to fully understand how the el-Sisi regime will combat this attack on its legitimacy; however, so far, repression is being used. Tear gas and live rounds were used in Suez on the second day of protests and “a heavy security presence was also maintained in Cairo’s Tahrir square,” the main protest site of the 2011 revolution. This reaction is not surprising considering that el-Sisi’s regime has been marked by police brutality against dissidents since the beginning. The protests in Egypt on Friday and Saturday were actually particularly surprising due to a ban that el-Sisi implemented when he first came into power that has quelled most major protests against him. According to Aljazeera, “Since the summer of 2013, more than 60,000 people have been arrested, many for protesting illegally; and hundreds of others have been forcibly disappeared. In detention centres and jails, there has been routine use of torture, including rape.”
Despite, the 606 peaceful demonsters who were jailed over the weekend, there were no casualties, an improvement on Mubarak’s reaction to the protests against him. According to Egypt’s Health Ministry, there were 846 casualties along with 6,467 people being injured over the course of the eighteen days between when the protests began and Mubarak stepping down. Although el-Sisi has not yet responded to the protests with the same magnitude of sheer brutality as Mubarak, it seems likely, given his track record that the situation could become progressively more violent should the protests continue, as Ali has called for.
The big question right now is how far will these protests go. Will the Egyptian people continue the protests this weekend with the same fervor as nine years ago? Or will the protests die out due to repression and apathy? Although the Revolution of 2011 was successful in ousting Mubarak, the general welfare of the citizens has hardly improved and in some aspects (such as the economic), the country is backsliding. If a revolution of that magnitude could not change the country for the better, what difference will having one today make?