There has been little debate on the nature of Egypt’s current malaise. The counterrevolution has comprised unprecedented political, economic and social attacks, which began before the July 2013 coup, and took a bloody turn in a series of massacres and judicial rulings that went beyond targeting the Muslim Brotherhood to include all oppositional forces.
2016 evidenced the iron fist of the counterrevolution, which has resorted to any means possible to impose security restrictions, ignoring societal resistance and crushing all attempts at political organization. Indeed, 2016 presented new developments in the tactics of both counterrevolution and resistance.
The regime has grown in confidence since 2013, through its successful attempts to suppress resistance and a deepening economic crisis. This emboldened authorities to take certain steps, one of which was the ceding of Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi Arabia, in return for grants, loans and major investments. The regime fully expected this risk to be met with success. It soon became apparent, however, that the public capacity for mobilization against the deal would surpass expectations. The attempt itself and reactions to it revealed factions within the state, marking an important moment in the process of counterrevolution and resistance.
Another major risk taken by the regime was to embark on instigating a package of economic measures in the context of an IMF loan, constituting the most violent attack on the livelihoods of Egyptian workers and the poor in decades, but also this time impacting a large section of the middle classes. If one of the most important demands of the January 2011 revolution was for “social justice,” with all that this entails in terms of redistribution, the regime’s current economic policies truly represent a redistribution of wealth in the opposite direction.
The regime is betting on a combination of intimidation and oppression, forcing the poor to pay the price for the failure of Egyptian capitalism and a corrupt state. It is also betting on its ability to confront resistance in the same way it dealt with opposition to the coup. But the history of the Egyptian labor movement and the 2011 revolution indicates this wager will likely fail in the same way as the island deal.
Another risk taken by the regime can be seen in its attempt to convert a temporary state of emergency into a more permanent state. It is not trying to build a ruling political party, as was the case under Hosni Mubarak, neither does it want to support the “civil” coalition that supported the coup, or to tame political opposition to the point at which it adheres to red lines laid out by the state, as with the Muslim Brotherhood before the revolution. Instead it is fostering a permanent state of crisis, in which President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s protection becomes essential for the coming period.
The last bet the regime is making is investing in regional and international relations, despite the absence of stable alliances or a comprehensive foreign policy. Instead, the government is making short-term deals on Egypt’s eastern and western fronts to secure loans, assistance, arms and investments. The regime remains, of course, within the imperial orbit of the US, whilst upholding regional alliances with Gulf states and Israel, as it has always done. Now, however, these relationships have taken on a new level of risk and pragmatism, without any long-term strategy.
This phase of Egypt’s counterrevolution is not surprising or without global historical precedent. Mubarak’s regime, which represented and protected the ruling classes through economic policies, political balances and foreign alliances, was ousted by a popular revolution. It is not logical then that Sisi would try to replicate these policies, alliances and external and internal alliances. The government is instead attempting to reformulate its power through the mechanisms of the state, its allegiance from within various segments of society and through international alliances.
Any decisions or concessions made by the regime come out of this experience of revolution, and any signs of weakness could signal its demise. As time passes, the regime is becoming a heavy burden on the capitalist class and state bodies that require stability and strategic clarity. A regime that is based on maintaining an atmosphere of constant crisis and a permanent state of emergency is not capable of achieving the stability it desires, or the necessary climate for attracting investment and tourism and achieving long-term financial growth.
Translated by Assmaa Naguib