With a new president sworn in, Egyptians demand security first and foremost
“They told us the revolution [the January 2011 Arab Spring revolution in Egypt] would rid us of those who corrupted and robbed our country and would give us rights and freedom. Today, three-and-a-half years on, we got no rights or freedom, nothing but loss of our livelihoods. Before the revolution we lived well and earned well. Today it’s not safe on the streets, we’re much poorer, there are no tourists and no jobs, and we have to sustain Islamist terrorism by the day. The country is in no way better than it was, nor have we gained any rights. This week, however, we finally have a new president; we hope he can give us back what we lost to the revolution.”
If anything, these remarks by the 40-something Muhammad Khidr who sells vegetables on a wheelbarrow, and which are freely echoed by Egyptians on the street, expose just how disaffected mainstream Egyptians are with the Arab Spring revolution. Worse, it reveals just how much they see that the ‘revolution’ was no revolution they ever waged in the first place but an uprising spearheaded by activist youth trained in the West and collaborating with the Muslim Brothers (MB). The hopes of mainstream Egyptians are now pinned on the new president, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, as revealed by the landslide vote they gave him.
Opposition for the sake of opposition
Mr Khidr is not alone in his disillusionment or hopes.
The widespread disaffection with the Arab Spring revolution and the MB it brought to power in June 2012, and which the Egyptian people in their millions and military overthrew in June 2013, was echoed by the majority of individuals Watani approached. Now it is for President Sisi to undertake the heavy responsibility placed on his shoulders.
Suzanne Mansour, a 38-year-old homemaker told Watani: “The young activists know nothing; they just took Egypt to the brink of disaster. We voted for Mr Sisi and want him to repair the damage.” Mansour was alluding to the youth activists who waged the Facebook campaign that brought on the revolution in 2011.
A similar opinion was expressed by the 40-year-old Dina Azzam who said: “We voted for Mr Sisi, but realise he has a tough job ahead. I wish the youth activists would not work to place obstacles in his path, but allow him to charge ahead without pressures. We have seen during the last three years what a momentous job it is to run the country, and the last thing we need now is for the activists to hinder the process.”
Magda Adly is a 55-year-old mother whose son lost an eye during the 2011 revolution. “It breaks my heart,” Mrs Adly said, “to see young men and women injured or losing their lives. Yet it wouldn’t be right to dwell on that pain, we have to look ahead. Our new president should act wisely and not monopolise power, and we should work with him to achieve stability, social peace, and prosperity. Egypt cannot afford a new president every other year; that would be ridiculous. We should each do our bit. Opposition should not be simply for the sake of opposition.”
No security, no revival
Given that Egyptians have voted so overwhelmingly in favour of Sisi as president, what do they wish him to achieve? And how, on the ground, do they expect him to fulfil it? Economic expert Mukhtar al-Sharif told Watani that mainstream Egyptians were right to place as their priority demand the return of security. “The people should go back to feeling safe in their homes, work places, and on the street; this is incontestable,” Mr Sharif says. “The sense of perpetual security should spread to the investor and producer who would then willingly go to work. It is a feeling of stability, of confidence in the State and its institutions and in the rule of law and order. This is so far from the situation today where terrorists wage daily attacks, creating a general climate that repels investors. ” Mr Sharif anticipates that there can be no tangible change in the security situation in Egypt before two months. “Until then,” he says, “it’s futile to talk about reviving the economy or about the economic policies or regulations to be put in place. Without security there can be no economic revival.”
For his part, the security expert Major General Ali Zein al-Abdeen is optimistic. “Now Egypt has a new president and will soon have a new parliament that should act as a legislative and monitoring body. No one is above the law, and no one should be allowed to hinder production or corrupt public life. The protest law should be firmly applied, especially given that it compares favourably to similar laws in democratic countries. Once security is back the tourists and the investors will also come, and we will be able to go back to the prosperity of the pre-revolution times, and from there move on further ahead.”
That much-hated law?
The protest law, which should work to bring back security and calm to the streets, has been a sore point with Egyptians. The youth activists have harshly criticised it, whereas the non-activists see it as the lifeline that could bring about the longed-for street peace. Samy Doss, a bank manager in his fifties, strongly advocates the law. “What’s the problem with regulating demonstration?” Mr Doss says. “Why shouldn’t the authorities be informed of an intended protest? And what do the activists have against the wide public places assigned for sit-ins? We’ve had our fill of unrest on the streets, and wish to go back to the time when they were peaceful. Three years of fake freedom have given us nothing but huge losses on all fronts. And it’s not only Egypt. Just look at all the other ‘Arab Spring’ countries where American-MB complicity brought on disaster. Now it’s time for the Arab Spring countries to go back to stability. Egypt has come a long way down that road now that Sisi is president.”
In total agreement with Mr Doss was the young accountant Medhat Sidhom who insists there can be nothing wrong with a law that regulates protest to ensure it is peaceful and put an end to bloodshed on the street. “I was among the many mainstream Egyptians who were not with the 2011 Arab Spring revolution,” Mr Sidhom [no relation to Watani’s Youssef Sidhom] says. “But it was difficult to stand against the revolutionary tide led by the activist youth. Now, however, the truth must out, and it should be admitted that the revolution was not what it was made to appear, and it didn’t achieve any of its declared goals. Now we must all abide by the law, and put all our efforts into rebuilding our country.”
The upper hand of the law
Mr Hafez Abu-Saeda who heads the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR) has reservations on the protest law. “The law,” Mr Saeda says, “places restrictions on the right of peaceful demonstration. Some of its articles are unrealistic, such as banning demonstration in front of the presidential palaces or parliament unless at more than 200 metres away. The street in front of the parliament building is only 60m wide, so how can that condition be applied?” Mr Saeda also criticises the provision that allows use of force against the demonstrators if backed by a court order. “How can the law allow judges to permit the use of measures not stipulated by the law?” he says.
Law professor Yasser Hamza begs to disagree. “The protest law fully meets all international and constitutional standards,” Dr Hamza says. “It regulates protest without restricting it, and allows the protestors to go to court in case the authorities concerned decide to refuse them a permit to protest; the court should rule on the case within a maximum 48-hours. It is the law not the police that holds the upper hand.
The presidential elections:
“Repressive climate; not necessarily fair.” Says who?
As Egypt embarks on a new age and puts the presidential elections behind its back, it is fitting to cast a final look at how the vote was reported by the local and international media and monitors. While the local media hailed the elections as an unprecedentedly successful democratic exercise in Egypt, western media and monitors appeared too reluctant to own up to such a claim. Since they could not possibly make claims of any violations sufficiently serious to cast doubts on the election results, they resorted to criticising the political climate in Egypt, which they claimed to be repressive.
“Egypt##s repressive political environment made a genuinely democratic presidential election impossible,” said Eric Bjornlund, president of Democracy International, in a statement released by the group.
“I observed elections that were democratic, peaceful and free … but not necessarily always fair,” said European Parliament member Robert Goebbels.
Egyptians on the street laughed out loud at these claims. “As far back as we can remember, there never was in Egypt such a free political climate,” Magda Youssef, a 55-year-old physician told Watani. “There is so much freedom, it almost borders on chaos.”
“Even the MB and the Islamists express themselves freely, despite the fact that the MB has been officially declared a terrorist group, and despite the daily terrorist raids it wages against Egyptians,” Mahmoud, a young taxi driver said. A young journalist, Amira Lutfi picked the thread: “If any of them, or the youth activists, land in prison it’s because they have definitely violated the law,” she said. “But the international media insists on portraying them as victims of repression. If there are any such victims, it’s us the Egyptian people who have to pay the price of ousting the MB from power.”
As to claims that Mr Sisi has been lionised by the Egyptian media while his rival Hamdeen Sabahi was not made to be such a hero, this goes back to much earlier than the elections, and has its roots in Mr Sisi’s national role and firm decisions, both of which turned him into an Egyptian icon long before the elections. Attempts to explain off Sisi’s popularity by his electioneering is too far removed from the facts on the ground. The international observers and media have always known that, and have repeatedly said that Mr Sisi would win any election with a landslide vote. So how can they now claim his wide popularity was an ‘unfair’ advantage in the presidential race?
In his daily column in the Cairo independent daily al-Masry al-Youm, the writer Mohamed Salmawy wrote on 3 June criticising Mario David of the EU observers who came out on France 24 channel to say that he was in a polling station and that turnout—especially of women—was so low; there was hardly a woman in sight. The channel’s presenter had to draw his attention to the fact that in Egypt women voted in separate polling stations, and that this was a men’s balloting station. The same, Salmawy wrote, goes for claims that women were harassed during the balloting. How could they have been harassed when they voted at women-only polls? It’s a disgrace, according to Salmawy, that the head of the EU observers was not familiar with the procedures of the elections he was observing. Incidentally, Egypt’s women turnout was close to 44 per cent.
The EOHR’s Hafez Abu-Saeda—the EOHR was among the local observers of the elections—told Watani that the balloting was among the most fair in Egypt’s modern history. He said the close to 47 per cent turnout was very good, especially given that there was absolutely no election bribery involved to distort the vote. “Such a turnout,” Mr Saeda said, “is higher than in most western democracies, and comes close to France’s 50 per cent turnout which is among the highest internationally.”
For photo and video coverage by Nasser Sobhy of Egyptian celebrations of Sisi as president:
8 June 2014