مصر... كل المؤشرات تشير لسنة جديدة تعيسة
When Egypt's year begins with a mass sexual assault in a major city you get the distinct feeling that 2020 has fired a warning shot: happy? Far from. After an arduous 2019 dotted with tragedy and pitfalls, an unstable Egypt begins anew with a sprinkling of hope and a dash of expectations. Thus far, 2020 is proving that the distance between dreams and reality can be filled with countless mirages and more thorns than roses.
To comprehend the panorama through a threat assessment lens is to understand what the short, medium and long term implications via the prism of the present. Matters like mass sexual assault may appear to the untrained eye as a strictly social ill, but this is mistaken reductionism. Along with other files like Libya, Turkey and the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), and the reappearance of long silenced military political figures, like Ahmed Shafiq and Sami Annan, the first two weeks of 2020 have whispered much about what lies ahead.
It is never a single reason that pushes society to the brink. Instead, the reasons are as complex as the societies producing them. In Egypt’s case, governmental failure or intentional lack of mobilisation of governance and legislative resources to combat sexual harassment and assault reared its ugly head on 2020’s first day. Even though it is well established, by United Nations study, that 99% of Egyptian women have been sexual harassment victims, in one way or another, this hasn’t serve as a sensory shield from the shock of witnessing a video of El Mansoora mass sexual assault. The screams represented those of 50 million Egyptian women. The incident poses an important question: where was the police when this hellish nightmare unfolded?
Sisi arrived on the political landscape with one promise: security, which implies protecting land and citizens. A mob surrounded two girls in a mobile store for a long time, one escaped but the other was assaulted, yet police were invisible? Imagine how quickly the Ministry of Interior (MOI) would have descended upon the scene were this a demonstration? A wilful aloofness and systemic regressiveness owed, on one level, at least, to an inherently sexist viewpoint which empowers victim blaming; the retort is always why was she wearing this, what was she doing there? This should never matter but security forces feel they can get away with a lack of mobilisation because victim blaming in patriarchy is as old as the pyramids. It is an ignorant posture which, in time, will cost the regime dearly since half the nation is female.
Two reasons explain the Sisi sabre rattling in Libya: To spur nationalist instinct in galvanizing support for his “l’etat c'est moi’’ persona while simultaneously shifting eyes away from the domestic theatre to foreign enemies!
As mysterious as the El Mansoura incident was the military reshuffle. The freeing of Sami Anan, briefly a presidential candidate in 2018 and former Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) member and the public reappearance of, 2012 presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq, remain a mystery to many. One hint could be the September demonstrations which politically damaged Sisi and his deep state allies. A security apparatus, on which Sisi depends for his literal survival, was caught with its pants down on the 20th of September. As a direct result demonstrations the following day in Suez were put down more violently.
Panic set in
Sisi may have hidden his fear publicly, putting on a composite veneer upon returning from the U.N general assembly on the 27th of September but heavy security told the tale: Sisi and his allies heard footsteps. How else could one explain the opening of a pathway to two figures who looked to offer a viable alternative to Sisiaucracy? That Anan and Shafiq, sons of the military/political establishment, are suddenly freed while many other civil opposition figures like Dr. Abdel el Moneim Abou el Fotouh, Dr. Hazem Honsi, Hesham Genina, and Dr. Hazem Abdel Azim languish in jail speaks volumes about who and why they pushed for the move. Though they came at the end of 2019, the moves are meant to be a 2020 bulwark against building momentum not just against Sisi but against the army as a political operative. Actors in that particular deep state enclave understand that Sisi cannot be allowed to drag down the institution with him. They first recognised this after Tiran and Sanafir but those fears hardened after the September mini intifada. That this battle rages behind the scenes is not good news for an opposition seeking structural change over its cosmetic alternative. Effectively, the release of Anan and Shafiq, is not a loosening of public discourse but a tightening of the long term noose by an army enamored with political governance. Message is unmistakable: the King is dead, long live the king.
Just as Tiran and Sanafir has proven to be a hideous eyesore on the military’s historical record, negotiations with Ethiopia over water rights have proven to be another national embarrassment. The Nile is both a metaphoric and literal lifeline for Egypt, once the GERD is completed it will wound Egypt agriculturally and economically. For Egypt GERD is nothing short of an existential threat, one complicated by the reality that the enemy lies within. It is a hazy and disjointed approach to negotiations spanning multiple presidencies but accelerating during the Sisi presidency. When a President believes that joking with the Ethiopian P.M by making him swear publicly that he will “not harm any water in Egypt”, we have evidence Egypt is in trouble. When it is unclear what the Egyptian negotiation position regarding the number of years required to fill the dam Egypt has a mammoth problem. Even as Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia take a step forward in negotiations, overseen by Washington this week, Ethiopia has yet to answer how the dam “ will affect downstream flows of the Nile River’’.
An Egyptian official termed the negotiations “a disaster”. Such admission of failure is rare - even off the record.
A mob surrounds and assaults girls in a mobile store, the Nile water allocation is up in the air, the sudden release of detained elite army officers, standing up to Erdogan in Libya: #Egypt's Sisi is killing the game.
With an ailing economy, unstable political dynamic, failing education system and a daily wound in Sinai, logic would suggest a, largely, domestic focus. But Sisi, early this month, started a dangerous geopolitical poker game. On the same day Erdogan authorised sending Turkish troops to Libya, Sisi responded by holding a National Security Council meeting to address “foreign military intervention’’ in Libya. Interestingly, none of the Egyptian outlets trumpeting the move bothered to mention Egypt has interfered for six years while publicly adopting a pro Haftar position since early 2014.
Talk of war with a muscular foe like Turkey, on Libyan soil, is just that: talk. Egypt is in no position to go to war. Two reasons explain the Sisi sabre rattling: to spur nationalist instinct in galvanising support for his “l’etat c'est moi’’ persona while simultaneously shifting eyes away from the domestic theatre to foreign “enemies’’. This binary, alone, has the potential to turn 2020 into a nightmare.
The noxious cocktail unveiled, thus far, in the first 2 weeks of 2020 is possibly but the tip of a spear few can hope to fully comprehend so early in the game.
We have been warned, in this version of Egypt, Happy and New Year do not mix.