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Bahey el-Din Hassan

Egypt: The permanent coup

Under Sisi, Egypt witnessed the largest crackdown against peaceful opposition in its modern history [Getty]

Date of publication: 15 April, 2019

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Comment: Egypt is expected to adopt constitutional reform that will eradicate the achievements of the 2011 revolution and allow Sisi to remain in power until 2034, writes Bahey el-Din Hassan.
In the six years since Abdel Fatah el-Sisi's coup against Egypt's first civilian president, President Sisi has also orchestrated several political, security, legislative, constitutional, and electoral coups.

And now, Sisi is preparing a constitutional coup that will allow him to remain in office until 2034. In doing so, however, he is making a tragic mistake.

Not only is he granting the military constitutional cover to remove him, but he is also giving all those who oppose him within and outside his regime, a goal that bridges their irreconcilable divisions.

Sisi might well become a victim of his own making, following in the footsteps of former Egyptian presidents who have amended the constitution to consolidate their powers, and ended up losing them.

Although Sisi announced after his coup in 2013 that he wouldn't run for presidency, he has been effectively ruling the country since then.

Within a year, he broke his promise and announced his candidacy, turning against his secular allies, eliminating them from government and imprisoning their activists. During his first four-year term and behind the smokescreen of fighting terrorism, Egypt witnessed the largest crackdown in its modern history against peaceful opposition, whether Islamist or secular.

Throughout his first year as president, Sisi led a legislative coup by issuing hundreds new laws, many of which are unconstitutional. The parliament - which according to a now-imprisoned former advisor to Sisi, was engineered by intelligence services - rubber stamped the new laws en-masse during its first sessions.

After Sisi ran the elections effectively unopposed, he led the largest campaign of mass arrests of secular political figures since 1981

By the end of his first term, Sisi started settling scores with senior military and security officers. He fired the military chief-of-staff and the director of general intelligence, putting them under house arrest. He appointed his office's chief-of-staff and the man's son - Mahmoud, to the top two positions in general intelligence.

Sisi imprisoned presidential candidates running against him in reelection, or put them under house arrest, in keeping with a precedent throughout the republic's 65 years, including a former military chief-of-staff and a former prime minister.

Failure of the 'anti-terrorist' war in Sinai

After Sisi ran the elections effectively unopposed, he led the largest campaign of mass arrests of secular political figures since 1981 and sacked the minister of defense whose loyalty to him was questioned, appointing instead the head of the presidential guard.

In tandem with the crackdown on the former generals, he ordered the military to launch the propagandised "Comprehensive Campaign" against Islamic State (IS) in Sinai, which was perceived by many as a distraction from the scandalous elections.

The campaign, which was meant to last for three months, dragged on for a year and ended unceremoniously when the military spokesperson simply stopped referring to it in his statements. IS still carries out devastating attacks and uses the military's crimes against civilians in Sinai as a propaganda tool.

Academic studies note that the constant decisive factor in Egyptian politics since the military's first coup in 1952 has been contention between the military and senior military officers in power.

Read more: Egypt's pharaoh engineers his future

They also
observe that this vicious contention has consumed the country and led to the depletion of its resources and skills. This situation has also reflected severely on the professionalism and effectiveness of the military and contributed to Egypt's most humiliating military defeat in 1967.

On a general's first day as president, he realizes that striking a the delicate balance between two vital, yet contradictory, factors is a daily task: The first is that the military is his primary constituency, and the second is that military is a threat and that he has to contain senior military officers' ambitions to replace him.

The dilemma of Sisi, and all the presidents who preceded him over the past 67 years, is how to manage such a delicate balance without being crushed by popular uprisings or military coups.

Full authority over the judiciary

The constitutional amendment that allows Sisi to stay in power for an extra 12 years has overshadowed other amendments that reassert his one-man dictatorship.

According to statements by two senior judicial officials, these amendments will give Sisi complete authority over the judiciary and give a constitutional green light to the military's dominance of politics.

These unprecedented statements, along with other public positions of figures from the Mubarak and Sisi regimes, point to a lack of consensus inside the regime on those amendments.

The wording of the amendment concerning the role of the military also implies that for the first time its role is no longer limited to that of a security agency, but is a guaranteed position as an arbitrator between major political actors, including the president.

The military already played this role in 2011 and 2013, when it overthrew two presidents, despite the absence of such a stipulation in the constitution. This an amendment is a double-edged sword - it gives the army a justification to turn Egypt into a bloodbath as was the case in Syria, but also gives it constitutional cover to overthrow Sisi with the next major crisis.

Maintaining impunity

Sisi is likely aware of the dangers these constitutional amendments carry for his future as president.

However, he is also fully aware that if he steps aside in 2022 as the constitution currently stipulates, he will not be safe.

Staying in power is the only guarantee to maintain his impunity

Reports by national and international rights groups accuse him of committing crimes that far exceed those of Mubarak, including overseeing the worst massacre in Egypt's modern history. Staying in power is the only guarantee to maintain his impunity, even if it's at the expense of disturbing the delicate balance he tries to maintain with the military.

Mohammed Morsi went down in history as the president who inadvertently proved to Egyptians that Islam is not a solution to politics.

In all likelihood, Sisi will go down in history as the general who proved to Egyptians that the military isn't a solution to Egypt's chronic political dilemma, but an entity that should stay permanently out of it.


Bahey el-Din Hassan is the Director and founder of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS). He is the author of several publications on democracy and human rights in the Arab World.

Follow him on Twitter: @BaheyHassan

This article was republished with permission from our friends at Orient XXI

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff. 

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