Al-Sisi, the Arsonist Firefighter

Tafwid in Arabic means “mandate”. That is what the head of the Egyptian Armed Forces, Abdelfattah al-Sisi, asked the Egyptians to give him on July 24, 2013. Three weeks after the coup he staged against President Mohamed Morsi, al-Sisi said in a speech: “Next Friday, every honorable and honest Egyptian must come out (…) to give me a mandate and order to confront possible violence and terrorism”. It is uncommon for a Defense Minister to make such a request, as there are laws and institutions for these purposes. Even less common is to make it at the personal level, unless the objective is to seize power by presenting oneself as the nation’s savior.

Nine months after the coup, al-Sisi officially presented himself as a contender for the forthcoming presidential elections. Moreover, he did so as the candidate of the Armed Forces. In fact, there is no need to hold elections to know who the next rais will be. Over the past months, Egyptian society has fractured as never before in its modern history, its social and economic problems have been aggravated and the image it projects to the rest of the world is one of violence and disappointment. The higher spheres of government are attempting to impose an officially homogenized vision to silence any diversity or opposition. To do so, they have returned to the repressive practices of the Mubarak era, first against the Muslim Brothers and now against any other opponent.

The paradox is that, after eight months of al-Sisi’s “mandate” to combat them, violence and terrorism have done nothing but increase. Massacres, attacks on security forces and everyday violence are becoming commonplace in Egyptian daily life. The decision to completely exclude political adversaries has led to the adoption of fiercely repressive practices by the army, the Ministry of Interior and the judiciary. After a brief opening up following Mubarak’s fall, the number of political prisoners is rising again and the work of local and foreign journalists has become steadily more difficult.

Many Egyptians yearn for a strong man who will impose law and order, hoping that this will improve their ailing family economies and bolster their security. While some hope that al-Sisi will indeed be such a man, others hold him responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Egyptians, mainly supporters of the Muslim Brothers, since he requested the tafwid. The incompetence and sectarianism displayed by both Morsi and the Brotherhood polarized Egyptian society, but what has followed is pitting Egyptians against each other.

Al-Sisi may stand for the presidential elections as the nation’s savior but, once in office, he is unlikely to be the savior of the economy and the guarantor of stability. If the expectations aroused by his promises to protect the Egyptian public and to bring prosperity to the country are not met, both he and the Armed Forces will face an explosive situation. In that case, one of the worst possible scenarios will be fulfilled: the Egyptian army will cease to represent all Egyptians and “Sisism” might result in a long-term and violent civil conflict.

(*) Published originally in Spanish in Elmundo.es on 28 March 2014.

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