On 3 July 2013, Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi stood at the heart of a brilliant image of genuinely representative symbols of Egypt, announcing the ouster of Mohamed Morsi and the beginning of a transitional phase with a roadmap to be implemented. The image was genuine because solid belief (though for different reasons) was a core component of the line-up that stood next to or behind El-Sisi, and it was representative because Morsi’s rule proved how alien the Muslim Brotherhood was to Egyptians, whether to those who sought democracy or to the ones who simply identified with a different socio-political perception of the state and the ruler. But the true brilliance was in the veiled, yet direct, resurrection of the hardcore deep state with its chief component at the centre of the image.
During the weeks that followed that image, Egypt was consumed by celebration, protest, political re-alignment, engineered propaganda, wishful thinking, and of course the absurd and futile controversy over choosing the terminology that best suited what happened on 30 June: the famous “revolution/military coup” dispute. Amidst all that, questioning of the nature and content of the post-30 June regime did not stop.
Although much was already clear, some details were still obscure. Things like political co-existence, the ceiling of criticism, institutional reform and access to information were all in a “formative” phase.
However, six weeks later, when the Rabaa sit-in dispersal took place, all unanswered questions were given a very obvious retort, and the nature of the post-30 June regime became very clear. Egypt’s post-30 June regime was a democratic one, but one that makes its own democracy; one that knows what’s right for its people, not one that waits to see what the people seem to think is right.
One week after the other, and as months rolled by, more signs became apparent and more details were uncovered. Measures were taken, laws were passed, court rulings were issued and propaganda was relentlessly offered to unravel the dimensions and mechanisms of the new regime. Things like the protest law, the acquittal of police officers, and including Habib El-Adly himself, the court ruling in the Mubarak case, the politicised judiciary, the extremist single-perspective media, the new range of authorities given to the police and the army, the monitored Friday prayers, and hunting down all forms of politicised or even non-politicised collective presence — all these are blunt signs of how the post-30 June regime operates its incomplete democracy.
El-Sisi regime is one determined to follow the rule of law, but after making sure that the legislator shares the same views and the same exact beliefs, whether this legislator is a temporary president or an engineered parliament.
The Mubarak era was marked by corruption and lawlessness wrapped in deception and supported by the billions of a politically influential business elite. So far, El-Sisi era does not seem to follow in Mubarak’s footsteps; it is an era marked by patriotic propaganda and manipulated rule of law, wrapped in a nationalist discourse and supported by a structurally deep state.
The strange thing about El-Sisi’s incomplete democracy is the fact that this regime enjoys the popular support of millions of Egyptians. Regardless of any political orientation, it would be an act of negligence to ignore the millions that do support El-Sisi as a leader and the armed forces as a core institution within the state structure. A regime with such structural power and tangible popular support can easily remain solid against a fragmented and resource-less opposition operating within an inherent political vacuum. But the regime simply is not prepared to take any risks due to an obvious lack of a political will to do so, and an ensured absence of any political pressure to challenge the regime into taking risks. Therefore, El-Sisi’s regime will always offer an incomplete democracy so long as its fundamentals remain untouched.
But actually, this article is not a mere critique of El-Sisi’s regime and its incomplete democracy — at least it was not intended to be. This description was but an introduction to the two main points I wanted to make. First, we need to review and reevaluate the essence and the pattern of the January 25 Revolution, in order to understand its current outcome: El-Sisi's regime. Second, we need to ask how democracy in Egypt can be complete, because the people of this country deserve to live in a proper democracy. But it is better to leave answering these questions to the second part of this article.
The writer is a researcher at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.