By Nasim Ahmed
My previous article on Egypt examined how “the heart of the Arab world” has been locked into foreign dependency since its formation as a modern nation state. I argued that Egypt, for decades, has endured “development of underdevelopment”; the process has fostered poverty and the impoverishment of Egyptian society and stunted its growth politically and economically. It’s a familiar picture reflecting the misfortune of fledgling countries struggling to survive in a globalised system dominated by a small number of powerful states.
Egypt’s eternal challenge is ridding itself of the elites whose self-interest lies in maintaining the country’s dependency status. With a population of 83 million, the largest in the Middle East, an open and free democratic Egypt is seen as a grave threat to the regional oligarchy.
If the regional power structure was somewhat hidden from view in the past, we have been given a full glimpse of its power and influence over the past three years. With the benefit of hindsight, the old regime’s brutal response to the revolution was inevitable. The message is loud and clear: popular movements threatening to undermine existing power structures will face resistance funded by a multi-billion pound war chest to inflict terror through violence and brutality. US military aid and a further $39.5bn from the Gulf – funds that would make any despot and junta green with envy – have enabled Al-Sisi’s regime to “bring the pillars of freedom crashing down” systematically.
Al-Sisi has been able to establish tyranny on a scale that Mubarak could only dream of. In the two years since the then General Al-Sisi deposed President Mohamed Morsi, the regime’s drive to push back the gains of the revolution has been relentless; it has deployed unprecedented levels of violence and mass imprisonment in the process.
The chilling massacre in Rabaa Al-Adawiyya Square in 2013 showed the extent to which the Egyptian junta is willing to go in order to silence any opposition. The massacre of 1,300 Morsi supporters was one of the largest killings of civilian protesters in recent history. In contrast, during the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, the Chinese authorities took twice as long to kill between 400 and 800 protesters.
The mass death sentence handed down to at least 720 opposition figures by the Egyptian regime serves as a further warning to the people of the fate that awaits those who do not accept the coup.
The deepening of Egypt’s security state has left opponents of the regime with nowhere to hide. It has passed authoritarian laws at a rate unmatched for 60 years, including the expansion of military jurisdiction; a clampdown on foreign funding of NGOs, which handicaps human rights and opposition groups; a new voting system that privilege the old elites; a ban on civil protests; and the expansion of the definition of terrorism to “anything that harms the state”.
According to Amr Shalakalany, associate law professor at the American University in Cairo, the speed at which the decrees have been issued outpaces legislative frenzies under the dictators Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak, and is matched only by the period that followed the toppling of the Egyptian monarchy in 1952.
As many as 40,000 anti-Sisi supporters have also been imprisoned in conditions where “torture is routine“. Egypt’s notorious state security forces – currently known as National Security – are back and operating at full capacity, said Shalakalany. “They are employing the same methods of torture and ill-treatment used during the darkest hours of the Mubarak era.”
The grisly details are documented by a number of human rights group. According to Amnesty International, rampant torture, arbitrary arrests and detentions reflect the catastrophic decline in human rights following the ousting of Morsi. Amongst the methods of torture employed include the use of electric shocks, beating and rape.
Egypt’s further descent into a totalitarian state is one of the more familiar stories of the “Arab Spring”. Beyond the anecdotal headlines of massacre and political repression, the extent of the regime’s totalitarianism is quantifiably worse than any other regime in the country’s recent history.
A look at Egypt’s position in the Fragile State Index (FSI), which ranks countries according to their vulnerability to collapse or conflict, is revealing. The 2014 FSI places Egypt 31st on a list of 178 countries ranked on a descending positive scale with countries on very high alert – South Sudan, Somalia — right at the top and countries that are very sustainable, such as Finland, right at the bottom.
Formerly known as the Failed States Index, the study is a good indicator of a country’s well-being and political and social health. It looks at all the normal pressures that states experience and evaluates when those pressures are great enough to push a state towards the brink of failure. The list is broken down into eleven different categories: very sustainable, sustainable, very stable, stable, less stable, warning, high warning, very high warning, alert, high alert and very high alert.
A country’s position on the FSI is based on twelve indicators of state vulnerability. Four are social: demographic pressure, refugees and internally displaced persons, group grievances and human flight; two are economic: even development and poverty and economic decline; and six are political: legitimacy of the state, public services, human rights, security apparatus, fractionalised elites and external intervention.
The highest-ranking Middle Eastern countries are the UAE and Qatar; both are classed as “stable”. Israel and Saudi Arabia are in the largest group of countries listed under “high warning”. Countries in the “very high warning” category include Iran. Above Iran are the group of countries in the “alert section” that includes Egypt, ranked 31; it’s in the same group as Nigeria and North Korea. Syria, Iraq and Yemen are in the “high alert” category followed by five countries in the “very high alert” section with South Sudan ranked as the most unstable country.
Since the launch of the index a decade ago, Egypt has been displaying worrying signs of fragility. Major problem areas cited in 2014 were human rights, legitimacy of the state, factionalised elites and group grievances. In fact, if the countries were ranked according to the four areas identified as the most serious as far as Egypt is concerned, it would be ranked 10th, up amongst the countries on “high alert”.
This grim picture of Egypt looks even more disconcerting once the data is disaggregated further into areas that are of greatest concern, such as human rights and rule of law, and state legitimacy. The latter covers corruption, lack of representativeness and the government’s undermining of the basic social contract.
Under Al-Sisi, human rights violations have intensified very seriously. Egypt’s record on human rights has plummeted to become the 5th worst in the world, placing it between Somali and North Korea. That’s a significant drop from its average ranking of 32 under Mubarak.
In its report, “roadmap to repression“, Amnesty has painted a bleak picture of the condition of human rights and liberties in Egypt since the ousting of President Morsi. “Egypt has witnessed a series of damaging blows to human rights and state violence on an unprecedented scale,” it alleged.
The report stressed that the narrative of restoring paths to “democracy” and “countering terrorism” has been exploited by the regime, thus making the country deeply polarised and divided while shielding the police and the security forces from widespread public outrage.
“The human rights situation has worsened compared to what it was at any point under Hosni Mubarak,” said David Kramer, president of Freedom House. The organisation reported that Egypt had gone from “Partly Free” to “Not Free” after the coup, with significant deterioration almost across the board, including political rights, political pluralism and participation, freedom of expression, associational rights and the rule of law.
Egypt’s slide into being one of the most tyrannical countries in the world has not been met with any real condemnation internationally. The deafening silence of the US and the West at the gross human rights violations being committed is further confirmation that Egypt’s junta has become a vital counter-revolutionary agent, built and funded to enforce imperial design in the Middle East.
Western leaders – as Al-Sisi well knows – have very little interest in piling pressure on his regime because it serves a number of strategic roles, not least its willingness to safeguard Israel’s interests. The West appears to see no contradiction in supporting the “stability” of Al-Sisi’s regime at a time when the Egyptian population is suffering from the extreme instability that comes with mass arrests and torture.
The Egyptian junta is becoming entrenched fully within the grand designs imposed on the region by global powers; Egypt’s people, meanwhile, are anything but free, and are unlikely ever to be so.