Dear Mr Al-Sisi,
This letter will do something you are not used to: it will force you to listen to a citizen rather than lecture or imprison him. I recognise this will be incredibly difficult for you, as you are accustomed to giving orders, rather than receiving advice. This letter is not about venting or releasing steam. Instead, you will find words from a former member in your cult who believed, along with many of your backers, that you could be a hopeful transition to something better than Muslim Brotherhood rule. Get ready, for, if as I believe, you have been drinking your own “jasmine tea” (Kool Aid) and have begun to deeply believe your own lies, you are in for a shock.
“You have political prisoners who demonstrated against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood who are now in jail,” says the incredulous citizen X, who will remain anonymous for security purposes. “If that is the case, then all of us who signed up for Tamarod (the campaign to remove Morsi, which later turned out to be led by the deep state), including Al-Sisi, should be in jail.”
College educated, this retired engineer – previously firmly entrenched within the most ardent support camp for you Mr President – supported your coup for two reasons: the removal of the Brotherhood, and security. But you are losing him Mr President – and quickly.
His concerns are numerous, so I will begin with the draconian Protest law. “We had hopes that this law would be among the first to be removed” from the political environment, but it remains, and “it has fractured Egyptian society”, he says. Peaceful demonstration is a right and should, under no circumstance, lead to jail sentences, he explains. But it has, Mr President, and the latest example is a brilliant young Egyptian surgeon, employed in Germany, named Ahmed Said whose two-year prison sentence was recently upheld, and as a result he is held in solitary confinement in Al-Aqrab Prison.
Did I mention, Mr Al-Sisi, that Said was one of the thankless doctors who treated demonstrators for free during the revolution?
Yet you wonder why the youth are not taking well to your message? They have become politically apathetic, and in many cases, the Islamists among them are considering taking up arms against your government.
And yet, naively, on the anniversary of the horrific massacre of 74 Ultras Ahlway fans, you extended an invitation to 10 representatives to discuss the matter. Where was this offer four years ago? Do you know that youth unemployment among those aged 15-24 has surged to the dangerous levels of nearly one in two during your tenure, and that many would sooner remove you than trust your promises?
“Mr President, we do not want a religious state, we want a civil state. How is it that you allow the Salafi Al-Nour Party and others to be part of the parliamentary fabric?” continues citizen X. Far from a civil state, the current paradigm is best summarised as Islamo-military police fiefdoms, rather than a contiguous sovereign modern state. Instead of walking away from the binary of military or Islamist rule, you, sir, have effectively taken the worst of both socio-political brands and given birth to a stultifying amalgam. This costs you political capital and the citizenry’s freedom, stability and security.
Those ruled had no rosy dreams, fully recognising that there was much that ailed Egypt. “We understood that the Egyptian body was fighting cancer, we could ignore some falling hair and other side effects,” citizen X elucidates. But what has transpired since Al-Sisi, de facto ruler of Egypt since 3 July 2013, was not a side effect, but a blow to any visage of hope. Other than aforementioned fractures brought on by Protest Law and mushrooming numbers of political prisoners what deeply concerns those on the verge of jumping the Al-Sisi ship is a lack of security.
Tellingly, days before this interview, there were multiple IED explosions in various parts of North Sinai, which cost numerous Egyptian military and police lives. Angrily, the engineer wonders why “Armoured Personnel Carriers equipped with explosives detection equipment” are not standard issue for the soldiers bearing the brunt of daily, “Islamic State”-affiliated “Sinai Province” attacks in North Sinai.
After the mistaken killing of eight Mexican tourists by the military, and the apparent terror attack on a Russian plane that took 224 lives, tourism collapsed in November and December, traditionally high season. Bloomberg reported that tourism, during the period, fell by 41% compared to 2014 – the lowest levels in more than a decade.
The consequences of eroding security do not end there. Gulf allies are growing impatient with Al-Sisi, a report by the German Institute for International and Security affairs stated. Though Saudi Arabia and the UAE are delighted with Al-Sisi over the military intervention in Yemen and his position on Syria, the list of past incidents in Egypt highlight the deteriorating security and economic situations. Criticism in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi “of al Sisi’s balance sheet in financial and economic policy and domestic security” is soaring.
When issues of security arise, accountability slams its rhetorical head against the wall of impunity surrounding your inner circle Mr Al-Sisi. In formulating alliances, you have forgotten the most important ally of all: the people.
I should tell you, the citizen – the very same one who for 900 days offered unending support and understanding – believes that where free speech is concerned, you, sir, have lied. “One of the first laws we expected and wanted to see changed was the ‘Contempt of Religion’ law,” asserts citizen X. But the opposite occurred: You out-Morsied Morsi and the Brotherhood themselves when it comes to such issues.
Many cases, during your tenure, have come to public light; most recently, talk show host Islam El-Beheiry and writer Fatma Naout. The latter was sentenced to three years in jail for speaking out against sacrificing lambs during Eid Al-Adha, and the former to five years for “contempt of religion”. How does this reflect your statements to the UN in September that Egypt enjoys “unprecedented freedom of speech”? People believe what they see on the ground sir. Words evaporate and facts remain. Unsurprisingly, Egyptian affairs analysts recognise your rule as a toxic mixture of militarism with healthy doses of Islamism.
Problems do not end there. Justice, its very concept and core, is under attack on your watch. Two incredibly embarrassing episodes “should have had the minister of justice fired immediately”, argues our engineer. “400,000 Members and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood should be killed” to avenge the death of Egyptian military personnel, Minister of Justice Ahmed Al-Zind suggested recently.
More perturbingly, Al-Zind, in another setting, questioned the entitlement of the defence to witnesses, and was accordingly lambasted by the State Council for interference in its affairs. Statements such as these, coupled with question marks about the minister’s purchase of state lands on the North West coast and huge increases in the budget allotted for the Judges Club, at the very least make his continuation as minister murky. Without rule of law as the compass, where does Egypt go?
The answer to that question is nowhere positive, suggests the citizen, using the example of on of a popular cartoonist – who was arrested this week for 24 hours, allegedly due to his anti-government stance – Islam Guawish’s cartoons as explanation. “The best drawing Guawish ever made was one where a man asks another: ‘How is Egypt doing?’ and the other answers by holding up a piece of paper with scribbles on it.”
Both the cartoonist and citizen X believe Egypt is heading into no-man’s land Mr Al-Sisi. Increasingly, many of those in your own camp are agreeing with them.
Stop the lies, derail the liars in your milieu, and learn from recent history, lest your own future become a foggy swamp Mr President.
As I type these final letters, news comes of the prevention of prominent human rights advocate Gamal Eid from leaving Egypt.
Patience is in short supply. Political fog is ample.
Amr Khalifa is a freelance journalist recently published by Ahram Online, Tahrir Institute, Muftah and Mada Masr