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Middle East and Africa

The Father and Master that Egyptians are Looking for

In a pungent article that came out before the elections this acute Egyptian writer outlined an identikit of the kind of Egyptian voter who entrusts himself to al-Sisi and described the reasons why millions wanted the General as President and, with him, a return to the Mubarak era.

Let us suppose that you arrive late for work, that your boss is very angry and that he has covered you with shameful insults. You would without hesitation reject such behaviour from your boss because your relationship is regulated by juridical rules and these do not envisage him insulting you. He has the right to send you a warning letter but he does not have a right to insult you. But there is more: insulting your subordinates is a violation of administrative norms for which he must be held to account. Let us suppose that the same incident takes place with your father. You put up with things from your father that you would not put up with from anyone else. You father gave you life, he maintained you, he brought you up, he educated you, and you are indebted to him for ever. You have to bear his misdeeds, however much they annoy you. The difference between the relationship with your boss and that with your father lies in the fact that the first is a tie of professional kind and is regulated by administrative rules whereas the second is a human relationship and grants to a father an absolute right over his son.

 

 

The difference between a director and a father is the same difference that there is between an elected president and a dictator: an elected president is a functionary at the service of the people which controls his actions, watches over him through parliament and if it wants has the power to remove him. Instead, in the eyes of the people a dictator is a father: to obey him is an obligation and to be subordinated to him is a virtue. He knows what we do not know and however much he can be pitiless with us we must bear him because his severity has its origins in his love and his concern for us. In a democratic regime it is normal to blame the president. Even the simplest of citizens can do this, he can meet the president, he can criticise him because of his behaviour, accuse him of lies and failure – as has happened with many Western presidents – and then happily go back home. To oppose a dictator is seen as a sin against the homeland which people condemn, whereas those who do it are accused of being a fifth column, of being financed by enemies or of instigating chaos. History teaches us that dictatorship emerges when there are two pre-conditions: the tyranny of the governor and the submission of the people. It teaches us that free peoples are also able to judge their leaders, without surrounding them with a halo of holiness. Winston Churchill, even though he had led his country and its allies to victory in the Second World War, lost the first elections that were held after the war in 1945…

 

 

Despite the enormous appreciation of Churchill as a national hero, the British refused to continue with him as prime minister after the war because they believed that the fact of having been able to exercise leadership during the war did not necessarily mean that he was suited to being prime minister in peace as well…

 

What lies behind what I am saying is the current campaign to convince General al-Sisi to be a candidate for the presidency. General Abd al-Fatah al-Sisi carried out an important national mission when he sided with the revolution of the people against the terroristic organisation of the Muslim Brothers. This action obtained for him great popularity amongst the Egyptians, but being a successful leader of the army mean being able to run the country with the same efficiency?

 

 

Are courage and military experience sufficient to manage the state effectively in the fields of politics, the economy, planning and development? What will be the policies of General al-Sisi if he becomes president? What is his presidential programme and what are his instruments for implementing it? What does the revolution of January mean for General al-Sisi? Does he see it, as the remnants of the Mubarak regime do, as a plot of the Muslim Brothers and the Americans? Does he approve the campaign of arrests of young revolutionaries carried out by the security apparatus, with the invention of accusations against them, whereas the recent young victims were in fact some of the most noble and courageous revolutionaries, figures such as Naji Kamel, Nazali Hussein and Khaled al-Sayyid? Does Al-Sisi approve the cheap defamation of the revolutionaries by the security apparatus of the state through a part of the mass media? Is it the intention of General al-Sisi to call to account the dishonest businessmen who profited from their relationship with Mubarak to plunder the resources of the Egyptian people...?

 

The massacres that took place during the epoch of the Military Council and caused the deaths of hundreds of people and thousands of wounded Egyptians…Is it the intention of General al-Sisi to begin independent inquiries, even if these lead to the sentencing of Marshall Tantawi, whom al-Sisi sees as his mentor? Will Al-Sisi take up the policies of Mubarak as regards privatisation and the sale of the public sector, or does he believe that the role of the state involves offering support to the poor and giving them a dignified life? All these questions still meet with no answer.

 

 

With the exception of a vague declaration about his intention of not wanting to return to the past, General al-Sisi has not disclosed his thoughts or his political orientations. We thus discover a strange thing: millions of Egyptians want a man to take on the presidency but know nothing about his political orientations.

 

In reality the supporters of al-Sisi include various kinds of Egyptians: there are the remnants of the Mubarak regime who have come back onto the stage with all their forces, as though there had not been a revolution against them…

 

The second category of supporters of al-Sisi is those professional hypocrites who align with all presidents. Today al-Sisi to gain an advantage, tomorrow trusting in the return of tyranny and taking part in the production of a new dictator so as to be rewarded with privileges and positions. The third kind of supporter of al-Sisi is made up by some of my friends who are the heirs of Nasser and who nurture a love for the great leader Nasser to the point of making them hope for some repetition of that experience. They dream of a leader who is at the side of the poor, who challenges imperialism and regains our national dignity. This Nasserite dream has already led them to take part, in good faith, in support for bloody tyrants such as, for example, Gheddafi, Saddam and Hafez al-Assad…

 

This distorted approach could generate in some Nasserites an enthusiasm for General al-Sisi as a successor to Nasser. But these people miss two important considerations: the first is that Nasser, despite his greatness, his courage and his loyalty, once he had gained power replaced the democratic regime with an absolute leadership which ended with the disaster of 1967, the consequences of which we are still paying for. At the same time, the great Nasser experience collapsed with his death because he did not leave behind him a system that could conserve the achievements of the revolution. Secondly, the socialist tendency of Nasser to align himself with the poor was evident from the outset, and this does not apply to al-Sisi: we still do not know whether he is more socialist or more capitalist in outlook, nor do we know what his exact position was within the corrupt and despotic regime of Mubarak. It is not, therefore, the loyalists to the regime of Mubarak, the hypocrites or the Nasserite dreamers who assure the popularity of al-Sisi, which is to a much greater extent based on the support of ordinary citizens who see General al-Sisi as their only saviour.

 

 

These ordinary people were happy about the ousting of Mubarak and expected many positive things, but for three years they suffered a policy of immobility, inflation, and intimidation through an authorised disengagement as regards security and the repeated massacres of the epoch of the Military Council, together with defamatory mass media campaigns against the revolution which led them to hate it or at least to doubt its sincerity.

 

Then the Muslim Brothers took power and things deteriorated. People perceived that the country had fallen into the hands of a band from which it would be difficult to liberate itself, until millions of people went into the streets to get rid of the Muslim Brothers and al-Sisi aligned himself with them, protecting their wishes and implementing those wishes.

 

 

The role played by al-Sisi gained him the popularity that he now enjoys and has generated in many Egyptians a wish to see him become president, quite apart from his abilities and his orientations. Egyptians who carry pictures of al-Sisi in the streets in reality are not looking for a President of the Republic but, rather, a father who will embrace them and provide them with security after a long period of suffering. They want al-Sisi even if takes up the policies of Mubarak, even if he oppresses them or governs them through emergency legislation or a return to detentions and torture. They will accept anything from al-Sisi exactly as they accept the excesses of a father. Al-Sisi need only give them security and defeat terrorism, even if things go back to the way they were at the time of Mubarak…The important thing for them is to have a new strong father who will protect them, control them and give them security. Obviously enough, we cannot blame frightened citizens who are looking for the protection of a father. The anti-revolutionary forces led by the previous Military Council and the band of the Muslim Brothers, which took control of power, and the supporters of the Muslim Brothers who every day engage in terroristic operations, are putting the Egyptians in a situation that is worse than the one they rose up against during the Mubarak era. A large part of the supporters of al-Sisi are not, therefore, looking for a president: they are looking for a father who will protect them against bad men. For this reason, they are pushing for him to take power, to the point of having somebody say on television: ‘we want al-Sisi to be president immediately and there is no need for useless elections, publicity and speeches’.

 

 

Here we are faced with a dilemma: the Egyptian revolution in fundamental terms broke out to abolish the idea of a president-father and establish a democratic state where the president is the servant of the people. Twenty million more aware, noble and courageous Egyptians rebelled in January 2011 against one of the most oppressive regimes in the world and managed to force Mubarak to resign, then they forced the Military Council to put him on trial and to put him in prison…If al-Sisi becomes convinced that a democratic system is more important that the authority of an absolute leader , and if he allows the holding of transparent presidential elections, then he will achieve authentic legitimacy inside and outside Egypt, and he will transform Egypt from being a backward and despotic country into a democratic and responsible country. But if al-Sisi becomes the President of Egypt with fraudulent elections, like those by which Mubarak governed for thirty years, he will wrong the people and the revolution, leading Egypt towards a new dictatorship for which everyone will pay the price, just as we have done on a number of occasions in the past.

 

 

Democracy is the solution.

 

 

This article appeared on 27 January 2014 in the Egyptian daily newspaper Al-Masry al-Yawm.

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