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memri
July 28, 2016 No.
6549

Three Years Later: Egyptian President Al-Sisi's Supporters Express Disappointment, Call His Regime Tyrannical

Following the ouster, in late June/early July 2013, of Egyptian president Muhammad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) regime in Egypt after mass protests and military intervention led by then-defense minister 'Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi, Al-Sisi himself became president. His regime, often called the June 30 or July 3 regime,[1]  was initially based on a wide coalition of elements, ranging from liberal revolutionaries to members of the pre-Morsi regime of President Hosni Mubarak, the Coptic church, and Salafis from the Al-Nur Party; what they all had in common was opposition to the MB regime.[2]

As time went on, Al-Sisi's regime emerged as more authoritarian and less liberal than many in this coalition had hoped. While in the early days an atmosphere of shared goals prevailed among supporters of the June 30 Revolution (i.e., supporters of Morsi's ouster), cracks began to emerge among its various components, and its liberal elements turned critical, expressing disappointment with Al-Sisi. Though their criticism is less harsh than that of Al-Sisi's political opponents - such as the MB, the April 6 [Youth] Movement, which have both been banned under the Al-Sisi regime  - it is nonetheless highly significant, and, since it comes from within his own camp, perhaps even more significant than that of Al-Sisi's opponents.


President 'Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi (Image: alwafd.org)

This criticism of Al-Sisi centers on several issues and trends that have prevailed in Egypt since 2013: the curbing of civil society, including by arresting members of the political opposition and human rights activists, even those who participated in the June 30 Revolution; the passage of a law restricting protests; police brutality against civilians; regime reliance on security apparatuses; the gradual return of members of the old Mubarak regime, including in key government posts, and recently the restriction of press freedom and an ongoing crisis between the Interior Ministry and the Journalists' Union following a security forces raid on the union building which sparked widespread criticism.[3]

This report will present excerpts of articles by supporters of the June 30 Revolution criticizing Al-Sisi and his regime.

Egyptian Journalist: Many Of Your Supporters Are Disappointed; If You Go On Like This, You Will Jeopardize Your Political Status

In October 2015, Egyptian journalist Suleiman Gouda wrote, under the headline "The President Is In Danger!" that support for Al-Sisi among supporters of the June 30 Revolution was dropping because they felt marginalized by the regime. He warned that if Al-Sisi continued to run the presidency like an army general, his political future was at risk: "The Egyptians remember well that President Al-Sisi always said during his presidential run that he would absolutely not build the country alone, as that is beyond his capabilities or [the capabilities] of any one person... In every meeting with the public, Al-Sisi would say that he needed the efforts of every Egyptian [citizen] alongside him, and that Egypt could not be rebuilt without [the help] of all its sons - all of them, not some of them... The [presidential] candidate Al-Sisi stressed this and reiterated it again and again, so much so that this concept became one of his [trademark] attributes and commitments, and led millions to support him.

"Now, 16 months after he became president, some Egyptians feel that things are not as he promised, and that he has probably forgotten what he specifically said on this issue - because he is rebuilding Egypt on his own, yes, on his own. This is the feeling of many whom I meet everywhere, [a feeling] that I only want to convey sincerely to the president and to his loyalists who surround him, so they may be aware of the prevailing climate among a not insignificant group, and maybe they will act based on this information.

"One of these people stopped me [in the street] some two weeks ago and told me something I cannot put in writing. [This was] a citizen who voted for the president and who still supports him, but who as a citizen is concerned and feels that what he was told during the elections has no basis at all. If such a sentiment has so firmly established itself in the mind [of a person like this, who supported Al-Sisi], then all those concerned need to wake up... fast!

"If anyone asks me the reason for my concern, I would say that the president announced, and launched, some great national projects, without considering any other opinions. For instance, when I follow what [agriculture expert] Dr. Mahmoud Emara, [professor of management at American University] Dr. Sabry Al-Shabrawy, and [physician and writer] Dr. Mohamed Makhzangi said about the '1.5 Million Feddan' [reclamation] project, the investment in Egyptian [citizens]... and the Al-Daba'a [nuclear project],[4] I find that nothing that they have been saying for weeks, and months, has prompted anyone in the country to stop [and listen] - as though all their efforts are in vain. I am not claiming that these three doctors have a monopoly on the truth, but someone should respond to them and to those like them, saying that what has been said about such and such a topic is wrong and that the country's path is the right one, for this or that reason. That is only logical and natural.

"We are not arguing with the president over matters of security, since he is well versed in them, as are his experts... and he also has undeniable achievements in this area. But we are talking [here] about critical economic and political issues concerning the country's direction, and we sense that in this context, the president treats us, day after day, as if he is a military commander who must be answered, the moment he calls, with a Yes sir!, and whose orders must be answered with an Alright, Sir! - when the situation regarding these issues is absolutely not alright, sir!

"Mr. President, the abovementioned individuals have supported you since day one, and among [those who have done so] is the author of these lines. But [this] support is not absolute - nor should it be. Furthermore, if things continue as they do now, then you, and the country, face political danger. So it is [my] duty to mention this..."[5]

Al-Ahram Center Analyst: Many Hoped Al-Sisi Would Espouse Democracy And Freedom Of Speech - But Were Disappointed; More Regime Supporters Than MB Supporters Are In Prison

In May 2016, Dr. Amr Hashem Rabie, political analyst and deputy director of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, wrote under the headline "Is the July 3 Regime Abandoning Its Supporters?" in which he stated that the Al-Sisi regime was using the same repressive tactics as the Mubarak regime had, and that this infringes on freedom of speech: "When the July 3 regime gained the people's support, its legitimacy was based on ousting the MB regime. Some believed that the [new] regime would quickly establish a foundation for its legitimacy - [but] this never happened.

"Naturally, it was hoped that the [regime's] legitimacy following the removal of the MB would be based on support for the values of democracy and freedom of thought and speech. A close examination of the crisis of the Mubarak regime before it was removed would have made any wise decision-maker do the following: preserve human rights and citizens' dignity; protect equality and fight corruption; base the regime on experts and on the principles of true political accountability; and gather associates from among opponents before [drawing them from] supporters. But most of these [principles] were not realized, despite the good intentions that were manifested by the drafting of a new constitution.

"In recent months, [these principles] have begun to crumble, one by one, and the Journalists' Union[6] events are only one link in a chain of administrative measures aimed at harming freedom of thought and speech - taking [the new regime] in the direction of the Mubarak regime in its last decade. The sights of July 3 [2013] are fading - the supporters [of the revolution] are no longer politically active. Some have been intentionally expelled and banished, and the rest refrained from continuing [their activity] after they saw a massive return [to power] by supporters of the previous [i.e. Mubarak] regime... Instead of bringing back [regime supporters who had stopped being politically active, the regime] turned to its associates. The previous prime minister [Hisham Qandil], who was popular, was removed simply for being popular and the political parties were disregarded... [The regime] deliberately tarnishes journalists' [reputations], claiming that they seek to be above the law, and entrenches itself behind a wall of cheerleaders who are also from the Mubarak school of thought. There is also much to say about the [regime's failure] to manage crises, as illustrated by the Egyptian lira crisis; the surprise of relinquishing the two islands[7] ... the crisis of the [murder of the] young Italian national;[8] the disasters [caused] by police; and more. During [this time], parliamentary elections were held in order to form a trained parliament. As for the civil society [focusing on] human rights, [its members] are harassed and accused of treason by security elements.

"The important thing is that all this is happening in conflict with the press, media, and protestors, while it is they who brought the [Al-Sisi] regime to power... As a result, there are more regime supporters than MB supporters in prison. We expect the regime that rescued Egypt from a fate like that of Syria and Libya, and which still has achievements, to chart a new course: Utilize experts [but] a political prime minister [rather than a technocrat] and political advisors, and an apparatus for accountability that will not go easy on anyone; free the young people from the prisons; and [ensure that] the police maintain safety for the country, not for the regime. I believe we can do this - and if we cannot, the MB will successfully discourage us because of what we do, not because of what they do..."[9]

Egyptian Writer: I Supported Him When He Was Elected, But Am Disappointed With His Policy, Which Has In Some Cases Led To Disaster

Essam Al-Obaidi, a writer for the website of the Egyptian Al-Wafd Party, wrote in an article titled "Have I Become An Opponent Of The President?" that he did and still does support Al-Sisi but has criticism of him on many issues and is disappointed with his policies: "Following a recent increase in my criticism of the [Al-Sisi] regime, I have asked myself, and others have asked me, whether I have become an opponent of President Al-Sisi. [People assumed that this was the case,] so much so that several producers from the state satellite and TV channels were apprehensive about hosting me, as if I vehemently opposed the president.

"In truth, I was one of the biggest supporters of the president; furthermore, I was among the first to call on him to run [for president] in order to finish the job of eliminating the terrorist Satanic Brotherhood [i.e. the MB] that was about to swallow up the homeland and change its identity. After the president began his term, we helped him with all our might, and lionized his successes in a number of areas and the massive projects that were actualized in the first two years of his rule...

"In that case, why has my criticism of regime increased lately, so much so that many believe I am among the opposition? ... I believe that the president's intentions and love for his homeland are sincere - but none of this stops us from disagreeing with him when we feel he has strayed from the straight path. [In such a case,] it is our duty to him to stop and warn him that the ship of the homeland is heading straight for an iceberg... and that if he does not pay attention and avoid it, [Egypt] will sink...

"From the start I disagreed with... how the president ran things, especially how he dealt with those who had robbed the country, those who had stolen land, and businessmen who exploit the crises [experienced] by the people - all he did was urge them [to rectify the situation], as if that were the only weapon he had [at his disposal]. [That is,] he urges them to return what they stole and urges them to donate to the 'Long Live Egypt' fund, and, recently, urged merchants to take pity on the people - an endless stream of urging, as though the president has no [other means for dealing with such things] - when the president has far more serious and powerful weapons to deal with such thieves - [that is,] the sword of the law. Only he can restore [the enforcement of] state laws, stop those who violate them, and deter the thieves and those who trade in the people's food. Moreover, the negative results of this 'policy of pleading' have impacted even the president's foreign policy, and this has become clear regarding Ethiopia's Al-Nahda Dam [the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam]. He treated the Ethiopians with the respect due a brother, and they exploited it in the worst possible way, [and nevertheless] received [Egyptian] legitimacy for the dam without giving us any water rights. This is a disastrous result for the agreement of principles signed by the three presidents [of Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan] in Khartoum [in December 2015].

"Thus, I do not count myself among the president's opponents, unless he strays from the truth or from the interests of the citizens - that is, I am not one of his chronic opponents who object to every one of his policies and attack all of his orders or statements. I do not oppose Al-Sisi as a president - I oppose the policy he sometimes adopts, which we think are not in the country's or people's

Former Culture Minister: Many People Are Withdrawing Their Support For The President - And That Should Be Causing Concern

In an interview with an Egyptian magazine, former culture minister Dr. Gaber Asfour criticized the regime's security apparatuses, which he said imprison people and make them disappear, and added that President Al-Sisi should fear for his popularity among the Egyptian public: "Some are apprehensive that Egypt could once again become a police state, and that police have reverted to how they were during the era of president Hosni Mubarak, primarily with regards to making people suddenly disappear..."

Asked about the difference between the Interior Ministry today as opposed to in the Mubarak era, he said: "In my opinion, there is no difference. Arrests and disappearances continue, as does the improper handling of union protests, such as in the case of the Journalists' Union, and of the Doctors' [Union] before that. [Yet] we are surprised, time and again, that most of these unions, as well as many [others], are taking a stand against the president and withdrawing their support for him, [which should be ] causing concern... Essentially, they do support him, but they are being pushed to oppose him instead...

"Honestly, the president should fear for his public popularity. I say this for the first time - this is the sense of those who completely believe [in the president], because I believe in President Al-Sisi [myself], and if not for my faith in him, I would have never agreed to become a minister. Even after I left the [Culture] Ministry, I still believe in the president and his patriotism, and I support him.

"However, because I love him and support him, it is my duty to tell him candidly that he should beware of many things that are happening around him that he is not noticing. For example, in the matter of the Journalists' Union, the Interior Ministry has no right to storm the union [headquarters]. If there are two criminals in the union headquarters, the ministry [security forces] should wait until they leave [the building] and head home [to apprehend them], or speak to the head of the Journalists' Union. But storming the union [headquarters] like that is a great threat to the constitution and the law..."[10]

Writer Alaa Al-Aswany: "There Is Unjust Oppression In Egypt"; "Anyone With A Dissenting Opinion Is Charged With Treason"

One prominent example of a June 30 Revolution supporter who has become a harsh critic of Al-Sisi and his regime is the well-known writer Alaa Al-Aswany, author of the novel The Yacoubian Building. Al-Awsany, a dentist by profession, was a member of the Egyptian Kefaya movement, which was formed in 2004 and opposed a fifth term of office for Mubarak and the apparent grooming of Gamal Mubarak to succeed his father as president.

Following the June 30 Revolution, Al-Aswany praised Al-Sisi, even calling him a "national hero" who had saved Egypt from civil war and stating that he was entitled to run for president.[11] His attitude towards the regime gradually shifted, however, and he became a harsh critic of it, expressing this in articles and via his Twitter account.

In an interview by the Egyptian daily Al-Shurouq marking the fourth anniversary of Egypt's January 25, 2011 revolution, Al-Aswany explained what had motivated him to oppose Al-Sisi mere months after he took office. He accused the regime of attempting to eliminate any real opposition by fabricating charges against, and arresting, anyone disagreeing with it, by using mouthpieces in the media, and by thwarting opposition party attempts to enter parliament. In the interview, Al-Aswany said:

"My current opposition to Al-Sisi is based on two things: One is that the old, rotten, corrupt, and tyrannical Mubarak regime is trying to hijack the June 30 wave... just as the MB did to the January 25 revolution, with the help of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF]. The second thing is my opposition to [Egypt's] security policy. In my opinion, Egypt is dealing with armed terrorism, and we must align with the army and police. But we must also learn from history, since it is not logical that we should repeat the same mistakes. Terrorism is eliminated by means of justice, not oppression, and today there is unjust oppression in Egypt... For example, one form of oppression is how easily people are tried by the military... The anti-demonstrations law is an oppressive law, and the claim that the sections [of this law] are in all laws regarding demonstrations around the world is a lie... and when international organizations claim that this law restricts freedoms, then [the regime] calls this is a plot...

"Any person interested in public activity today has two options: Support all previous and future decisions by President Al-Sisi, and the media will praise them and their nationalism. Or, say 'I respect President Al-Sisi and see him as reliable, but he is wrong on this or that,' and they will endanger themselves and their families and risk being arrested and becoming collaborators. There is no respect for an oppositionist...

"The current regime aims to eliminate any real opposition... [Mohamed] ElBaradei, for instance, was called an agent, even though he was vice president of the republic. Didn't they know then that he was an agent? Such talk is disgraceful. We have gone from the stage of accusations of apostasy to the stage of accusations of treason... Anyone with a dissenting opinion is charged with treason, and cursed...

"Some sectors of the regime and security apparatuses see the young people of the revolution as enemies... But without these young people's courage, nobility, and dedication to the state and the revolution, President Al-Sisi would not be president and Hosni Mubarak would still be in power. [It is the young people] who paid the price for the change, and their reward [for doing so] must not be being thrown in prison under an inhumane [anti-demonstration] law that subverts the constitution that was approved by most Egyptians. What am I supposed to think about the regime when my son is serving four years [just] for holding up a sign outside the Journalists' Union - which was permitted in Mubarak's time - and when some say that 3,000 young people of the revolution are in prison... This law is rarely used against the MB; it seems to mostly be used to get rid of the young people of the revolution..."[12]

Al-Aswany expressed similar criticism. In a April 2014 interview with the Egyptian ONTV channel, he accused the Al-Sisi regime of silencing and oppressing the opposition, arresting the young people who had carried out the January 25 and June 30 revolutions, and maintaining the mentality of the Mubarak regime.

To watch a MEMRI TV clip of Al-Aswany's remarks, click below: 

 

[1] July 30, 2015 saw mass protests demanding the ouster of the Mursi regime; July 3 saw Mursi's official removal from office.

[3] In May 2016, a crisis erupted between Egypt's Interior Ministry and Journalists' Union after sizeable forces stormed the union headquarters to arrest two journalists accused of fomenting illegal protests and other political charges. See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6415, Egyptian State Newspaper 'Al-Ahram' Following Security Forces Raid On Journalists' Union Offices: 'When The People Rises To Take Its Freedom, Nothing Can Stop It', May 6, 2016; Special Dispatch No. 6427, In Fallout From Security Forces Raid, Pro-Regime Press Seeks To Wrest Control Of Egyptian Journalists' Union, May 11, 2016.

[4] The 1.5 Million Feddan Project is a large-scale agricultural project involving commercial investment in agricultural enterprises in eight Egyptian governorates. Al-Masaa (Egypt), May 9, 2016. The three mentioned in the articles all expressed professional objections to these projects. See, for example, Mahmoud Emara on the 1.5 Million Feddan Project, Al-Watan (Egypt), May 4, 2015; Mohamed Makhzangi on the Deba'a nuclear plant, Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), September 10, 2015; and Sabry Al-Shabrawy on various government projects, Al-Watan (Egypt), January 4, 2015.

[5] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), October 13, 2015.

[6] In May 2016, a crisis erupted between Egypt's Interior Ministry and Journalists' Union after sizeable forces stormed union headquarters to arrest two journalists accused of fomenting illegal protests and other related charges. See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6415, Egyptian State Newspaper 'Al-Ahram' Following Security Forces Raid On Journalists' Union Offices: 'When The People Rises To Take Its Freedom, Nothing Can Stop It', May 6, 2016; Special Dispatch No. 6427, In Fallout From Security Forces Raid, Pro-Regime Press Seeks To Wrest Control Of Egyptian Journalists' Union, May 11, 2016.

[7] A recent marine border agreement between Egypt and Saudi Arabia transferred control of the islands of Sanafir and Tiran to the Saudis. Egypt suddenly announced this agreement during a visit to Cairo by the Saudi king on April 9, 2016, leading many to feel that the regime was "selling" parts of the Egyptian homeland for financial gain.

[8] Giulio Regeni, an Italian doctoral student doing field work in Egypt, vanished in Cairo on January 25, 2016. His body, which showed signs of torture, was discovered about a week later. Many inside and outside Egypt suspect that Egyptian security forces were involved, especially in light of the different accounts provided by the Interior Ministry. See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6367, Prominent Egyptian Journalist-Politician Osama Al-Ghazali Harb Accuses Interior Ministry Of Covering Up Its Murder Of Italian National Giulio Regeni, March 31, 2016.

[9] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), May 9, 2016.

[10] Al-Musawwar (Egypt), May 16, 2016.

[11] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 5525, On The Eve Of Al-Sisi's Birthday, His Personality Cult Reaches Crescendo, November 18, 2013.

[12] Al-Shurouq (Egypt), January 27, 2015.