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Egypt under Sisi is managed like a football club Open in fullscreen

Mohamed ElMeshad

Egypt under Sisi is managed like a football club

Sisi claimed early on that if the people don't want him, he would resign [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 16 September, 2016

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Comment: A lack of accountability, and secrecy around tactics and formation mean that Sisi's governing style resembles something of a football manager, writes Mohamed ElMeshad

One of the most entertaining features of modern day football is the day-to-day management news. When you watch enough of it, you start truly believing that you know more than the manager.

As much as I, or any other football junkie may think we know, ultimately, managers deal with these players on a day to day basis and know better than most how to maximise their productivity and what their true qualities are.

Politics is not sport, or is it?

This week, a clip from a speech by President Sisi (delivered earlier this year) was making the rounds on social media. In it, he deflected criticism of the government by saying, "[you think] you would know whether this is a good government better than I do? I sit with them every day."

Even though the video-clip itself is dated, it is being shared and commented on again now, at a time when the government has been coming under increasing scrutiny for the seemingly deteriorating state of the country's economy and finances.

This time, the Minister of Supply, Khaled Hanafi, was sacked after the eruption of the wheat scandal, when a parliamentary fact-finding commission implicated him in the disappearance of nearly two tonnes of the crop. 

Sisi believes he should be the only arbiter of his day to day performance

Hanafi was replaced by an army general on a day that saw the appointment of six new provincial governors, five of whom were also generals. If the government was not out of bounds enough in Egypt, the continuing appointment of generals to positions of civilian leadership is all but turning it back into the untouchable fortress.

When Sisi made the statement in the video in question, what he was really doing was telling the Egyptian people not interfere with his work. At the time the witch-hunt for Egypt's top auditor Hesham Geneina was beginning, after Sisi proposed a law granting himself new powers to sack heads of independent agencies if he determined they posed a threat to national security.

Sisi believes he should be the only arbiter of his day to day performance, and the only measure of accountability. Much like a football manager, he is in a position where his tactics and formation must be kept a secret, and that any discord in the dressing room must be handled internally. Every once in a while, to appease the supporters he will offer one or two players as scapegoats for people to direct their anger at; first the Agriculture Minister, now Hanafi.

Civilians are effectively being phased out of the government altogether

One of the problems with running the country as a football manager would his team, is that the only way to effectively fix your management problems, is for the manager to be sacked by a higher authority. Sisi has said that if the people do not want him, he will leave. However, avenues for expressing dislike or taking him to task over decisions he has made while in power, are narrowing.

Last year a media merger was signed that more or less guaranteed that all media ownership would rest squarely in the hands of henchmen of this regime. Protesting is still illegal, heads of independent accountability agencies are handpicked by the presidency and civilians are effectively being phased out of the government altogether.

He may think that he is plugging any issues keeping him from doing his job. But what is really happening, is something we see all too often from Arab autocrats: They do not care how normal civilians perceive them, and believe that the everyday experience of the people does not matter. His perspective alone is what counts.

Accountability will however, be imposed on Egypt, now that the government has signed up for a very significant IMF deal which will allow the IMF to keep an eye on government finances and policies. For the moment however, this will be the extent of accountability under Sisi.


Mohamed ElMeshad is a journalist and a PhD candidate at SOAS, focusing on the political economy of the media. He worked extensively in Egypt, Bahrain, West Africa, the UK and US.

Recently, he contributed to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ book,
Attacks on the Press (2015).

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

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