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Egypt's choice is clear: Democracy - or chaos under Sisi

A genuine democratic transition will benefit everyone, especially compared with the chaos that will come if Sisi's rule carries on
Small groups of protesters gather in central Cairo shouting anti-government slogans in Cairo, Egypt on 21 September, 2019 (Reuters)

On 25 January, Egyptians will celebrate the ninth anniversary of the revolution. Calls for demonstrations to mark this occasion have multiplied. 

For months, Egypt’s opposition has struggled to reach a consensus on what the post-Sisi period could look like. The Arab Spring values comprise the foundation of this framework, which would enable all political entities to coexist.  

Nine years on, Egypt has become one of the most repressive regimes in the world. Popular anger has reached a turning point, as evidenced by recent protests.

Amid this backdrop, it was disappointing to see UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson roll out the red carpet this week for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at the UK-Africa Investment Summit

Spirit of the Arab Spring

A week after the death of Moustafa Kassem, an Egyptian-born US citizen, in a Cairo prison, US President Donald Trump’s “favourite dictator” took the stage to praise Egypt’s so-called economic performance and political stability.

Yet, with more than 60,000 political prisoners, including more than 300 on hunger strike, repression has reached unprecedented levels in Egypt. Treating Sisi with such honour is both morally wrong and strategically senseless.  

The Arab Spring, which has shaken the region since 2011, has offered a choice whereby human dignity, freedom and rule of law are the fundamental indicators of what is right or wrong, as opposed to religion, nationality, or social or political background.

Whether we are centrists, liberals, leftists or Islamists does not matter in comparison to the values that unite us: democracy, human dignity, justice, equality and freedom

It was in this spirit that the Egyptian National Action Group was formed last month by key elements of the Egyptian opposition. We come from diverse political backgrounds, but have set our differences aside to form this unprecedented group, of which I am honoured to be the spokesman. 

Whether we are centrists, liberals, leftists or Islamists does not matter in comparison to the values that unite us: democracy, human dignity, justice, equality and freedom. After more than six years of Sisi’s vicious rule, the Arab Spring spirit has never left our minds. It has only matured, and we are more determined than ever.

Sisi: Weak and frightened

Last September, despite state repression, thousands of Egyptians took to the streets throughout the country after a series of videos revealed the extent of the corruption at the top of the regime, including among the once-highly regarded army. The protests highlighted how weak and frightened Sisi’s regime actually is. The severe crackdown, including more than 4,000 arbitrary arrests, only stoked popular anger.

All of the ingredients for a new uprising are here. Poverty is rising, with six out of 10 Egyptians either poor or vulnerable, according to the World Bank. In the meantime, opacity and graft appear to be the only governing mechanisms, with a significant portion of the economy belonging to the military.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi speaks at the UN on 24 September (AFP)
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi speaks at the UN on 24 September (AFP)

Egypt also faces two existential threats from neighbouring countries. In Libya, Egyptian troops have morphed into rogue mercenaries, supporting a putschist group against the internationally recognised government. This shameful proxy war is now escalating and poses a major peril on our Western border. 

Separately, Ethiopia’s dam on the Nile threatens the lives of millions of Egyptians who depend on the river for water. Although he gave away Egypt’s sovereign rights over Nile waters in 2015, Sisi is now in panic mode. He has threatened Europe that he could stop controlling the flow of sub-Saharan migrants, but the Europeans might want to consider what 100 million Egyptians would do if their own state fails.

Democratic transition

Egypt is not doing well, and popular discontent is growing. The Egyptian National Action Group aims to avoid the chaos that will likely unfold if Sisi does not leave. The ranks of the dissidents and human rights defenders who channelled the 2011 revolution have been fractured by mass arrests since 2013. 

Egypt protests: Sisi's iron fist is no longer enough
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This is why we developed a consensus document among numerous political figures last month, setting out our common vision of the post-dictatorship era, including a transition period.

A comprehensive and collaborative national project is being designed to address the most urgent questions around the economy, restructuring of state institutions and limiting of the army’s role.

I have no doubt that Sisi and his cronies will fall, and we in the opposition are getting ready for that day. The Arab Spring is not over. What is less certain is how long it will take Western countries to realise how short-sighted they have been in failing the Egyptian people. 

The “strongman policy” has only brought more instability and more support for extremists in the region.

The costs may be much higher than the income from arms contracts. A genuine democratic transition will benefit everyone, especially compared with the chaos that will come if Sisi’s rule continues.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

Ayman Nour
Ayman Nour is an Egyptian politician, a former member of the Egyptian Parliament, and founder and chairman of the El Ghad party.