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Examining the state of affairs: Egypt’s #Ten Year Challenge – Sanet Madonsela

January 30, 2019

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Examining the state of affairs: Egypt’s #Ten Year Challenge

By Sanet Madonsela

Volume 7 (2019), Number 3 (January 2019)

The global phenomenon titled the #Ten Year Challenge began on the 11th January 2019, with KOCO News Chief Meteorologist, Damon Lane, displaying the effects of aging from 10 years ago to current through two pictures. This phenomenon rapidly spread on social media and provided people with an opportunity to reflect on the past decade. Inspired by this reflective challenge, this article seeks to examine Egypt’s state of affairs under the al-Sisi administration.

Former Egyptian President, Mohamed Morsi, hand-picked General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to serve as his defence minister in August 2012. This move symbolized the promotion of a younger generation of army generals and a move towards a democratic transition. A year later, on 3 July 2013, al-Sisi led a military coup that removed Morsi from power. The coup followed mass protests over the deteriorating economic and human rights climate in the country, and resulted in al-Sisi winning the 2014 presidential election by an unbelievable 97%. General al-Sisi became President al-Sisi and in that way the military attempted to lend a credence of legitimacy on their political control over Egypt.

The new government, however, failed to establish its’ legitimacy, as it failed to build public trust in their governance of the country. Rule of law has been undermined by continued human rights violations and the lack of accountability of security actors. Extrajudicial killings, for instance, rose from 326 in 2015 to 754 in the first half of 2016. Furthermore, the al-Sisi administration has embarked on a counterterrorism campaign after Morsi’s ouster. His government believes that fighting the Muslim Brotherhood and its’ supporters is the only way to end terrorism and establish peace and security in Egypt. The removal of the Muslim Brotherhood has, however, created a vacuum as there was no alternative non-violent Islamist group. This vacuum has, in turn, made Egypt the ideal recruitment base for militant jihadi groups such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. The Egyptian government is still struggling to defeat the Islamic State since it launched its’ nationwide operation against armed fighters of Islamic State in February 2018. Despite these military operations, Egyptian control over the Sinai is growing ever more tenuous.

It is important to note that the country’s prisons have become a breeding ground for extremism and radicalization, as ordinary citizens are in prison with Brotherhood members, leftist revolutionaries and radical Islamists. This negligence could lead to a manipulation of Islamic narratives which could offer excellent conditions for breeding the next generation of extremists. The horrendous treatment of inmates has been highlighted by the Egyptian Coordination of Rights and Freedoms in their report for 2015 and 2016. The document highlights 1344 incidents of torture and intentional medical neglect for the aforementioned period. To reiterate, the danger here is that such human rights abuses will serve to radicalize this prison population further.

In addition, Egypt is progressively moving towards becoming a surveillance state as its’ Parliament has passed a bill forcing restaurant and shop owners to install indoor and outdoor surveillance cameras. The government argues that this will prevent terrorist operations and assist with tracking culprits. Local authorities will not renew or grant new permits if the owners cannot verify that they installed surveillance cameras. Shops can also be closed or permits can be revoked if there is no compliance with the law.

There has also been a tighter squeeze on the country’s media as it is expected to demonstrate complete loyalty to the regime or face the danger of closure. Amnesty International stated that 113 people had been arrested in 2018 for expressing their views. Egypt has become a dangerous place for al-Sisi’s critics. Whilst ostensibly fighting Islamists, Cairo, has also incorporated the worse of the Islamists bigotry. In January 2019, an Egyptian television anchor was arrested and sentenced to a year in prison for interviewing a gay man. The television channel was suspended by the Supreme Council for Media Regulation as it believes the channel promoted and disseminated homosexual slogans. This order directly violates freedom of expression, which is supposed to be protected by the Egyptian Constitution, the African Charter on People’s Rights, and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.

It is worth mentioning that al-Sisi inherited a poor economy when he came into power in 2014. This has led him to sign a three-year contract with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2016. This funding resulted in his administration executing reforms which included cutting state subsidies on basic goods and the introduction of new taxes. These measures have been critiqued as they hurt the poor and middle class citizens.. The state urgently needs to review their economic plans as their annual population growth is 2.4% per year, their education system is failing, their unemployment rate is 24.8%, its middle class is eroding, and 30% of its population lives in poverty. The country’s economy is projected to grow at 5.4% for 2019, but such growth is off a low base and invariably benefits the rich and connected as opposed to the poor. Moreover, economists argue that the Egyptian economy needs to grow at least 7.5% a year for it to improve the living conditions of its citizens. Al-Sisi launched a series of large infrastructure projects designed to create employment, but many investors are concerned about the military’s interference in the projects. These concerns are grounded, as the military is a predatory economic actor with a clear advantage in receiving public contracts. These doubts were reinforced when al-Sisi stated that the military could grow the economy faster than the private sector could. This makes the overall business environment unattractive to private investment. The deteriorating economic circumstances might well further erode the legitimacy of the regime and exacerbate the Islamist narrative.

This overview on Egypt’s human rights violations, the losing battle against terrorism, the deteriorating prison conditions, tight squeeze on the media, the eroding middle class, its’ status as a surveillance state, the high poverty and unemployment rate are just a few signs that Egypt risks becoming a failing state. Egypt is clearly failing the   #TenYearChallenge.

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