Following his return from a one-week visit to the US to attend the UN General Assembly in New York, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi hinted he might ask the Egyptian people for a new mandate to lead the battle against terrorism, reports Gamal Essam El-Din
After landing at Cairo airport on 27 September President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi told the crowds that had come to greet him that Egypt is strong and they should not worry about anything.
His words coincided with calls for protests against his leadership made by six TV channels broadcasting from Turkey and Qatar which have spearheaded a two week long media campaign against his regime.
“I am sure the Egyptian people stand on the side of the state and will not let me down when I ask for a new mandate,” said Al-Sisi. “The day I ask for a new mandate will send a message to the world as millions of Egyptians take to the streets in support of the state.”
“This is not the first time President Al-Sisi seeks a popular mandate,” Sobhi Esseila, an Al-Ahram political analyst, told Al-Ahram Weekly.
In July 2013, as Muslim Brotherhood supporters were gathering in thousands in the major squares in Cairo and Giza, President Al-Sisi called on Egyptians to grant him a “mandate” to rid the country of terrorism. Millions of Egyptians responded, taking to the streets on 26 July.
In November 2016, says Esseila, when the difficult decision to implement the economic reform programme was taken, Al-Sisi thought of employing a similar strategy. “He revealed this during the World Youth Forum in November 2018, telling participants that he had thought of asking for a mandate to implement the IMF reform programme at the end of 2016, saying he would have resigned if the people refused.”
Not that Esseila thinks a display of support for the state will have any impact on the Muslim Brotherhood-linked TV channels that are leading the media campaign against Egypt.
“The leaders of this group have repeatedly said they are at war with Al-Sisi’s regime. They might lose a round, but they are determined to continue fighting,” says Esseila.
The campaign, led by Doha-based Al-Jazeera channel, began their latest assault against Al-Sisi on 20 September. It was accompanied by mass social media posts calling on Egyptians to take to the streets “to end the Al-Sisi regime”.
The Brotherhood-directed media campaign made wide use of online videos from hitherto unkown Egyptians abroad who referred to themselves as opposition figures. One of these, Mohamed Ali, a little-known actor and building contractor who fled Egypt for Spain, accused the government of misusing public funds to build a series of lavish presidential palaces.
President Al-Sisi described Ali’s accusations as lies and, “just as we are constructing a parliament building and government offices in the new capital, so we are building a presidential palace,” said Al-Sisi.
Limited protests on 20 September led to the arrest of around one thousand citizens. A prosecution general statement said that during questioning a third of detainees claimed they had been deceived by social media calls to take to the streets, a third said they had protested because of economic hardship and the remainder that they had “joined the protests either by mistake or by accident, many believing they were joining fans of Al-Ahli Sporting Club celebrating their team’s victory in the Egyptian Football League’s Super Cup”.
Anti-Egyptian TV channels called larger protests on 26 September.
“They must have been very disappointed at the results. While thousands gathered in Nasr City to declare their support for President Al-Sisi, calls seeking to push Egypt along the road to chaos and instability were ignored,” says Esseila.
The State Information Service (SIS) said on Saturday that foreign correspondents were free to cover events on Friday. “But when the foreign media failed to find any protests they attributed this to what they said was the very heavy security presence, a naïve explanation,” says Esseila. “Tight security is never an obstacle if there really is wide and deep discontent.”
On Sunday and Monday, the stock market recovered most of the losses incurred following the limited protests of 20 September. The Egyptian pound also strengthened against the dollar which lost seven piastres on Sunday.
“The Brotherhood media campaigns, funded by Qatar and masterminded by Turkish intelligence, are based on a belief that if millions protest the country will haemorrhage economically. It is a strategy that began when President Al-Sisi first came to office in 2014, and it had always failed,” says Esseila.
On 27 September, the day for which protests were called, a terrorist attack in North Sinai left many conscripts dead.
Veteran journalist and Chairman of the Higher Council for Media Regulation Makram Mohamed Ahmed wrote in an article in Al-Ahram on 29 September that “the fact the Brotherhood has not been able to push Egyptians to protest for two weeks underlines the group’s lack of popularity and moral bankruptcy”.
“The Brotherhood clearly lacks the virtues of logical thinking and analysis. It exists because of money from Qatar, and under the supervision of Turkish intelligence.”
“But if the media campaign turns into a terrorist one,” wrote Makram, “President Al-Sisi is certain to request a new mandate to fight it.”
“I talked about this issue a week before I left for New York. I said they will never stop trying to cause trouble in Egypt, that they do not want our country to succeed,” President Al-Sisi told supporters at Cairo airport the day he arrived.
“Everyone should take care.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 October, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.