Seven years of Sisi has rendered Egypt a client state that has abandoned all previous constants of its foreign policy.
Seven years ago today, the then Defense Minister, now President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el Sisi, led a coup against Egypt’s only freely elected president, Mohammad Morsi.
The coup had been preceded by a massive wave of public protests, led by a the so-called Tamarrod (“rebellion”) movement, which initially gave the impression to the world that this was a popular movement, even an extension of the January 25th Revolution.
It quickly became apparent, however, that it was no such thing, and that while popular grievances against the government of Morsi were plentiful and not all without merit, the Tamarrod movement itself had close connections to the Egyptian security establishment, if it was not simply a front.
In connection with the weeks of protests that had preceded the coup, opposition media was rife with conspiracies accusing President Morsi of betraying the national sovereignty of Egypt as he pursued the secret agenda of the real power behind the throne – Mohammad Badie, the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The extraordinary action of removing an elected president – even though parliamentary elections were anticipated before the close of the year (that is, unless the Supreme Court of Egypt intervened a third time to prevent them) – was justified on the grounds that the threat Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood posed to Egypt’s sovereignty was so great, so imminent, that ordinary democratic means of opposition could not work.
After seven years, we are in a position to assess whether the putschists did indeed rescue the Egyptian state. Leaving aside the horrific record of massacres of its own people, mass-imprisonment of the political opposition, Islamist and non-Islamist, it is beyond doubt that the Egyptian state is at a nadir in its effectiveness, whether viewed from the domestic perspective of a capable instrument for the pursuit of the common good, or from the international perspective of pursuing Egypt’s standing in the world.
First, there is the ridiculous figure of the Field Marshall Sisi himself, a real-life imitation of Sasha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator, who gives himself the highest military honours but whose only victories are massacres of his own people.
So insubstantial a figure is Sisi that President Trump has taken to referring to him, mockingly, as his “favorite dictator,” as if Sisi, and by extension – Egypt – are Trump’s personal pets, to do with as he wishes.
Second, the contempt the putschists have brought to the Egyptian state has enfeebled it to the point that it cannot pursue what had been invariable constants of Egyptian foreign policy since the end of World War II: support for the Palestinians in their struggle for self-determination, greater regional integration, and opposition to foreign interference in Arab affairs.
Instead of being the leader of the Arab world which, given its population and history, is its natural role, the putschists have abandoned Egypt’s responsibilities both to itself and the region, and instead Egypt has become content with serving the agenda of its foreign paymasters that keep the Egyptian state on life support, primarily the United Arab Emirates, and its megalomaniacal leader, Mohamed bin Zayed.
Third, there is the catastrophic mismanagement of the economy. Shortly after seizing power, Field Marshall Sisi embarked on a bombastic, chest-pounding extension of the Suez Canal, the kind of megaproject regularly pursued by previous Egyptian leaders, more designed to confirm his personal than to further any tangible economic goal.
Sure enough, the project consumed much of Egypt’s scarce hard currency reserves, but the anticipated windfall of increased Suez Canal revenues never materialised, just as many experts had warned at the time. It was not long after this great success that Sisi agreed to a loan from the International Monetary Fund that imposed many painful conditions on Egypt, including, removal of energy subsidies and a 300 percent devaluation of the Egyptian pound against the US dollar.
While many of these reforms were long overdue, Sisi failed to provide a sufficient safety net for Egypt’s most vulnerable, or ensure that spending on public goods such as education and public health would be maintained, and indeed, today’s Egypt spends less as a proportion of its budget on these two items than did the troubled Morsi government in 2013.
But the sacrifices endured by the Egyptians did not lead to economic renewal because Sisi’s government failed to implement, alongside these policies, the kinds of changes to Egypt’s economy that could help it become more competitive on the global stage, instead ceding much of the domestic economy to companies controlled by the military. Now, Egypt has again, hat in hand, gone to the IMF for another bailout.
The putschists claimed they wanted a strong, modern Egypt. The coup, however, has done everything to enfeeble the country and render it a non-actor internationally, and a failure domestically, with a single-minded focus on regime survival.
But modern experience has confirmed that it is only weak states that must resort to force to compel obedience, and only democratic regimes can earn the free support of its citizens in sufficient numbers to allow the effective pursuit of the common good.
One can only hope on this, the seven-year anniversary of the coup, that Egyptians have begun to learn this lesson.
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