Ramadan and politics: Does Sisi really care?

Conflicting decisions in the last few weeks have raised questions from critics as to whether President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government is actually keen on implementing real political and economic reform.

The week preceding Ramadan was full of glowing news about the government’s plan to control price hikes for basic goods, as well as efforts to avert any expected power cuts during the holy month. The state-owned Middle East News Agency (MENA) described this a “state of emergency” of sorts.

Sisi held an urgent meeting with Supplies Minister Khaled Hanafy, in which they reportedly discussed a plan for providing basic goods at affordable prices.

Presidential spokesperson Alaa Youssef mentioned in press remarks that the government had established “Ahlan Ramadan” food markets across the country to sell basic goods at reasonable rates.

Mahmoud al-Askalany, coordinator of the Citizens Against Rising Prices initiative, told Mada Masr that the government has been relatively successful in regulating market movements through controlling supply and demand mechanisms this year. He said food markets are a good tool for controling price hikes, which usually occur at this time of year along with increases in food consumption.

According to Askalany, the government has also managed to better regulate the selling of food products in permanent government-owned consumer complexes — outlets run by the state aiming to sell goods at lower prices. He explained that there are around 4,000 such complexes nationwide, and that if they are properly managed, this could lead to more effective price control.

Askalany explained, however, that these complexes have historically been mismanaged. “Managers used to sell products at market prices, shifting their target from controling price hikes to achieving profits, usually to line their own pockets. Now, for the first time we are seeing these complexes selling products at affordable prices,” he asserted.

On the other hand, those critical of the government’s performance say economic concessions are being made to mask a troubled political scene and mounting discontent over the state’s political performance in the absence of a parliament.

Media reports have been circulating recently regarding a possible Cabinet reshuffle, with sources close to the presidency speculating that this is being proposed due to a lack of political consensus over parliamentary elections laws.

Analyst Tamer Wageeh told Mada Masr that the government is giving conflicting signs regarding concessions. For him, the state is “contradictory and worn-out.”

“There are different entities within the regime that are fighting with each other. That’s why we are continuously seeing conflicting decisions,” he asserted.

The government issued a presidential pardon for 165 detainees — mostly belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood — ahead of Ramadan, amid reports that around 163 activists have reportedly been foricbly disappeared and illegally detained by security forces in the last two months. In the same week, the death penalty was handed to former President Mohamed Morsi and several prominent Brotherhood leaders.

Also, the former justice minister “was sacked for classist comments, just to be replaced with an even worse choice, like Ahmed al-Zend,” Wageeh remarked, referring to former Justice Minister Mahfouz Saber’s resignation amid outrage over his assertions that workers should not be allowed to join the judiciary. 

There is no “mindful bloc” that can promote consistent political discourse, he continued, adding, “While there are obviously some entities that are trying to do something, there are millions of others who are killing politics within the same regime. Unless a big shock occurs, contradictions will continue.” 

Mai Shams El-Din 

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