Now that Egyptians have earned the president they worked so hard to get, and celebrated their choice with gusto, it’s time to get down to work. It’s no secret that Egypt is swamped in problems that have been amassing during the last three-and-a-half years since the Arab Spring uprising in 2011.
Foremost among them is the breakdown of security and the failed economy.
In his speech during the inauguration ceremony President Sisi called upon Egyptians for hard work and “responsible freedom without chaos”, a clear reference to the much-needed security.
“As for those who shed the blood of the innocents, there will be no place for them in our path. And I say it loud and clear, there will be no soft stand with anyone who resorts to violence or whoever wishes to delay our march towards the future that we want for our children.” The allusion was taken to mean the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) whose member, Egypt’s previous president Muhammad Mursi was overthrown last July.
Those who bomb their way to power
The MB have since vowed to bomb their way back to power despite widespread Egyptian rejection. Mursi had been elected to office a year earlier, in June 2012, by a very thin margin in elections that are still being contested in court. He went on to prove that his loyalties lay not with Egypt but with the MB pan-world project of an Islamic caliphate of which Egypt would be a mere province that would tow the line. He also decreed decisions that gave him sweeping powers and wiped off all measures of democratic practice. The Egyptian people rebelled and, exactly one year on Mursi in office, took to the streets in the 33-million-strong peaceful protest which became famously known as the 30 June 2013 Revolution. The army, led by then Major General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, issued an ultimatum to Mursi to heed the people’s demands or else the military will have to come up with a roadmap to a way out of the crisis. Mursi scorned the ultimatum and, on 3 July, Sisi announced the Roadmap which had been jointly drawn by the military, representatives of the various sectors of Egypt’s civic community, al-Azhar, and the Coptic Church. Mursi was effectively ousted and, the following day, the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) Adly Mansour was sworn in as interim president, as stipulated by the Roadmap. In January 2014 Egyptians approved with a 98 per cent majority a Constitution that has been described as the best in the country’s modern history, and now has a new president elected by a landslide 97 per cent in a turnout of 47 per cent, an unprecedentedly high one in Egypt.
No giving in
The world has been at loss to label the overthrow of Mursi as the result of a coup or a revolution since, technically, it can strictly qualify to neither; perhaps the most accurate has been what some in the western media termed a ‘couvolution’. Egyptians insist it was their popular revolution of 30 June that threw Mursi out, the military having simply finished off the job; but the MB and Islamist supporters claim it was a coup. They have since waged a war of terror against Egyptians, which the western media portrays as a police crackdown against the MB. But everyone in Egypt clearly remembers that the so-called police crackdown began when the MB supporters viciously attacked the Egyptians who were celebrating the overthrow of Mursi. Matters later escalated but, contrary to western media reports and as proved by human rights and fact-finding reports, it was the MB who without exception started the fighting, and who targeted civilians and police and military men.
The terrorism robbed Egyptians of their security, and drove away the tourists and the investors. As Sisi had so aptly put it in during a talk a few days before the Revolution with the MB leading figure Khairat al-Shater who was then threatening hell and fire against the Egyptians, who were opposed to the MB: “Must you rule over us or kill us?” The terrorist attacks made the people—the wide majority of whom are Muslim—more adamant than ever that no MB should ever hold power over them.
President Sisi’s words last Sunday thus resonated with the sentiments of the wide majority of Egyptians: security first and foremost, and no giving in to the MB.
“Strong, safe, just nation”
President Sisi talked in detail about reviving the economy, citing state-sponsored mega-projects to create jobs, and business-friendly policies to encourage investors.
He spoke of expanding Nile provinces into the desert to make way for development outside the densely populated river valley, and vowed to ease the crisis with Ethiopia over the Renaissance Dam it is building over the Blue Nile which Egypt insists threatens its direly-needed water supply.
“It is honesty,” the President said, “not shining hopes that will establish the social contract between the people.” He said he sought to build a “strong, just, safe nation”. Sisi promised that his presidential term will be inclusive and that he will listen to the ‘other’. “We’ll be sure to have disagreements,” he said, “but it will be for the sake of the nation, not competing over the nation.”
The following day, Monday, the interim prime minister was asked to form a new Cabinet. Ibrahim Mahlab, a former construction magnate, has served in the post for five months. In a customary step, he submitted his and his government##s resignation after the swearing-in of the new President, but Sisi asked him to return and form a new Cabinet.
Egyptians on the street directly felt a tangible difference. A crackdown has been launched against sexual harassers, and road discipline has been enforced by tracking traffic violations.
I swear by God…
Earlier in the day on Sunday, Sisi was sworn in for a four-year term as president before the SCC panel of judges. The ceremony was televised live. Maher Sami, deputy head of the SCC, lauded Mr Sisi as a man who had [last June and July] embraced the will of the people. Sami said Sisi’s election marked the reawakening of Egypt following three years of turmoil, and that his rise to power was not the product of “a military coup, but a revolution of the people, who were sick of all the troubles they had lived through, and all the injustice they had had to take … The army embraced the people and listened to the heartbeats of the Egyptians who were burning with anger.”
Sisi took oath in one short, crisp sentence: “I swear by God to defend the republican system, to respect the Constitution and the law, to safeguard the people’s interests, and to preserve the independence of the nation and the unity of its lands.”
After being sworn in, the President was greeted by a 21-gun salute as he arrived at the presidential palace in the eastern Cairo suburb of Heliopolis. Sisi reviewed a military honour guard.
He welcomed dozens of local and foreign dignitaries, including the kings of Jordan and Bahrain, the emir of Kuwait and the crown princes of Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi. The five Arab nations backed the overthrow of Mursi, and Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Emirates have since provided billions of dollars of direly-needed aid to Egypt.
In contrast, the United States and other western countries were represented by low ranking officials, in an indication that they recognised the new transfer of power in Egypt but were not enthusiastic about it. Russia, however, was represented by the Chairman of the State Duma Sergey Naryshkin.
The people’s aspirations
Over a thousand guests from Egypt and abroad were invited to the inauguration event. Among the attendees were interim Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab, al-Azhar Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayyeb, Coptic Pope Tawadros II, prominent politician Amr Moussa and Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, former head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).
Sisi and Mansour signed a document for the official transfer of power, almost a first in Egypt’s history. President Sisi saluted his predecessor, former interim-president Adly Mansour, and thanked him for his role during Egypt’s critical transition period. He presented Mansour with the Nile Medal of Honour, Egypt##s highest award, for his efforts.
In his farewell address a few days before the inauguration of the new president, Mansour, 68, said instability in the region is engulfing Egypt from all sides, referring to the civil war in Syria, lawlessness in Libya and unrest in other neighbours. He said Egypt has faced conspiracies and plots to destabilise it. “History will inevitably uncover the truth one day, and then you will realise the gravity of the designs and plots against Egypt, the difficulty of this phase and the critical juncture Egypt was passing through” he said.
During last Sunday’s inauguration ceremony, Mansour gave a speech in which he said: “Today as an Egyptian citizen, I trust that we have taken steps towards the road of democracy. The road is hard, but it is the right one.” Addressing Sisi directly he said, “You will succeed in achieving the people’s aspirations with the support of the people.”
The people of Egypt, for their part, felt redeemed and joyful as they proudly witnessed the first of their aspirations materialise: the president they had chosen was now in office. Time to go to work, hard work.
…Amid the celebrations
The only thing that marred the joyful mood was the string of sexual assaults on women as Egyptians celebrated their new President. The worst was an attack on a 19-year-old student who was pushed into a side street across Cairo’s Tahrir Square, stripped naked and mass-molested. The police rescued her and she was moved to hospital.
Seven men were arrested in connection with the assault and police are investigating 27 other complaints of sexual harassment against women. The social media has been full of horrified remarks on the incidents which many insist are the work of the MB. “Why is there never any sexual assault against MB women who regularly take part in their violent demonstrations? The MB are out to get us,” a young woman commented. MB or not, however, it must be admitted that harassment is a social ill that plagues Egypt, and has escalated to unprecedented levels on the streets during the last three-and-a-half years owing to the breakdown in security in the wake of the January 2011 Arab Spring revolution.
Some two weeks ago, outgoing president Adly Mansour signed a decree stipulating harsher sentences for harassment offences. Sexual harassment was declared a crime punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a hefty fine. The decree amended Egypt##s current laws on abuse, which did not criminalise sexual harassment and only vaguely referred to such offenses as “indecent assault”.
11 June 2014