In a previous paper entitled “Egypt’s Military and January Revolution – Policies and Transformations” we explained how the anti-Sisi parties within the State’s sovereign bodies (the military and the General Intelligence Service) have realized that the measures that were taken by Sisi in December 2019 were only formal changes and a kind of intentional deceit to contain and control them. Also, it has become clear to them that they will not get anything in the future, except for mock participation that Sisi worked on in December 2019.
The previous paper concluded that the coming confrontation between the two parties would be completely different from the past confrontations, as it would most likely be a “zero confrontation”; where the anti-Sisi parties within the army and other sovereign bodies would engage in any upcoming mobilization, whatever it is, and would not stop in the middle of the road or enter negotiations with Sisi again as they had done before (in January 2020).
The previous paper discussed the methods that the anti-Sisi party would probably rely on to pressure and embarrass the Sisi regime in front of the Egyptian people.
However, during the past three months (February, March, and April 2020), those parties have already started to exercise pressure on the regime, taking advantage of the implications of the coronavirus crisis, expecting that the situation will most likely get worse in the coming months and would lead to increasing public boredom and discontent against Sisi and his regime.
In the same context, this paper will try to track aspects of some moves that have recently started to emerge, and the likely developments during the coming period, as follows:
First: Seizing opportunities
According to some economists, the current bad economic situation in Egypt will further worsen due to the outbreak of the coronavirus, although many countries worldwide will be also affected in one way or another. However, the “rentier” nature of Egyptian economy will make it more vulnerable and will have severe negative effects on the lives of Egyptians in the short and medium term. Accordingly, the anti-Sisi parties within sovereign institutions may see that a significant deterioration of the economic situation in Egypt is imminent, which will increase the state of public boredom toward Sisi and his regime, and therefore there will be likeliness for outbreak of popular demonstrations that these forces may exploit.
Anyway, the economic conditions are not the only threat to the stability of the Sisi regime during the coming period. Rather, the crisis of the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which is not less dangerous than the worsening economic conditions will confront the Egyptian state, and is likely to lead to a state of great public anger, in light of the Sisi regime’s failure to manage this sensitive file properly, preserve Egypt’s water rights, and limit the dangerous effects that will afflict Egyptians due to the imminent shortage of water.
In general, the current conditions in Egypt are likely to lead to an escalation of boredom and popular discontent against the Sisi regime during the coming months; and these conditions are appropriate for the anti-Sisi groups inside the regime to move and practice pressure on Sisi. The past few days have already witnessed some developments in this regard, indicating the early beginnings for pressures exerted on the Sisi regime to embarrass it in front of the Egyptian people:
Second: Media pressure
As we mentioned earlier, increasing public boredom against the regime is among the goals that the anti-Sisi parties are working to achieve, having the required capabilities to do this, even if partially, through their media arms or by leaking some documents from inside the regime; and the past days have seen many incidents that indicate this, as follows:
1) Leaked documents:
During the past few days, many documents belonging to the military were leaked and widely circulated, which did not happen before. These leaked documents that were disseminated in March 2020, included internal bulletins for army officers, especially at the Medical Services Administration, headed by Major General Ashraf Selim.
The first document that was leaked contained names of top military officers who were infected with the coronavirus. Although some of the regime’s media arms tried to discredit it, it was validated after the death of two high-ranking officers that were mentioned on top of the document, namely, Major General Shafei Abdel Halim Dawood, director of the Major Projects Department, affiliated to the Engineering Authority of the Armed Forces, and Major General Khaled Shaltout, Chief of Staff of the Engineering Authority’s Water Department, as well as Major General Staff Mahmoud Shahin, Chief of Staff of the Military Engineers Department, whose condition was critical but recovered later.
This document caused widespread confusion among the armed forces ranks, raising a state of discontent among army officers and other military personnel about the way the coronavirus pandemic crisis has been addressed, with respect to lack of transparency.
Another document was circulated in March and evidently proves the state of lack of transparency in the military and the Sisi regime in general with respect to addressing the coronavirus pandemic outbreak: on March 27, 2020, a “top secret’ military document was circulated on social networking sites, revealing the COVID-19 “endemic” areas in Egypt, as the Operations Authority of the Egyptian Armed Forces issued a circular dated 26 March to all army units regarding the governorates where the coronavirus pandemic widely spread, namely Menoufia. (North of Cairo), Damietta (North of Cairo), Alexandria (North of Cairo), Minya (Upper Egypt), and Qena (Upper Egypt). In the face of these endemic areas, the military institution decided on March 26, 2020, a set of precautionary measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 among its ranks, commanders, officers and conscripts. The measures included a decision to halt leave permits for military personnel living in the in these “endemic” areas, and to extend the leave permits to those currently present outside military units (specifically residents of these areas) for a period of 15 days. The decision also stated that the returnees from these areas must be quarantined for 15 days.
However, the Ministry of Health later announced isolation of these areas after the document was leaked.
– Added to this, a document was circulated on social networking sites on March 28, revealing that the army was preparing the “Heliopolis Military Hospital” to be a quarantine center for receiving COVID-19 infected cases of military personnel, in addition to preparing the Egypt International Exhibition Center’s conferences hall, Nasr City, Cairo, and Maadi Military Hospital, also to serve as quarantine centers.
The document that was issued on Saturday, 28 March 2020 , from the Medical Services Department of the Egyptian Army’s Logistics Authority, confirms evacuation of the “Heliopolis Military Hospital” and modifying the treatment map according to orders issued by Magdy Amin Mubarak, the director of the Medical Services Department of the armed forces.
The military letter was directed to the Medical Complex in Maadi, Ghamra Military Hospital, and Heliopolis Military Hospital to respond to the instructions and start implementing them. According to the document, the treatment map of Heliopolis Military Hospital has been modified, so that the families of officers with the ranks of Colonel and Lt. Colonel will receive medical service at the Medical Complex in Maadi, and the families of the rank of Major at Ghamra Military Hospital, provided that cases of dialysis at Heliopolis Hospital be transferred to Ghamra Military Hospital. The document indicated that the orders would be executed from Saturday 28 March 2020 until other orders are issued.
This document also demonstrates the state of lack of transparency in the military institution’s way of addressing the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic. Preparation of more than one military quarantine center for personnel of the armed forces may indicate that the numbers of COVID-19 infected cases among army officers and recruits are so many, including cases in a critical situation, and therefore various places have been created and equipped as quarantine centers to receive them.
The parties that work to produce documents and leaks in order to pressure the regime and embarrass it, naturally search for the most widespread media platforms to send them the material that they wish to leak to the Egyptian street to achieve the maximum possible benefit.
In this context, the leak, which was broadcast in March 2020 by the well-known youtuber Abdullah El-Sherif who has millions of followers – where thunderbolt officer Abdel-Rahman Mohamed Ahmad Al-Naggar of military battalion #103 recorded himself mutilating the corpse of a civilian. The video that had been leaked to El-Sherif, was broadcast on his weekly YouTube channel.
Some believe that this leak comes in the context of practicing pressure on the regime by parties in the sovereign institutions. The video exposed the “brutal” practices pursued by the regime, particularly in Sinai, after July 3, 2013, as a result of changing the army’s doctrine to target opponents of the regime rather than enemies of the country.
Sisi in one of the educational symposiums openly declared that there will be no trials for officers if they practiced violence as it was in the past. Therefore, all the crimes committed by officers and soldiers are carried out with the approval and blessing of military commanders, particularly Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi himself. It is worth noting that the regime did not respond to that leak formally, and the regime’s response was limited to the arrest of brothers of Abdullah El-Sherief, who broadcast the video.
The repeated leaks from within the military during a short period of time are the result of blocking all channels of internal correction. The anti-Sisi groups within the army may attempt to increase the state of boredom and popular discontent against the regime, as a kind of silent protest against the lack of transparency and the inefficiency of addressing coronavirus pandemic.
2) Media arms:
Although the government and the private media in Egypt maintain defense of the regime, justify its actions and highlight that the government is managing the coronavirus crisis well, and also promote that the army is the protector of the people against this pandemic, blaming the Egyptian people and accusing them of failing to abide by the government’s instructions – yet the past period witnessed several exceptions, where journalists known for their long-standing relationship with the General Intelligence Service criticized the performance of the government, including the following:
A) On 29 March, Wael al-Ibrashi, a pro-regime TV presenter known for his relation to the General Intelligence Service, broadcast video clips in his new program on the Egyptian government-owned TV, Channel One – that show crowdedness in Cairo’s underground metro. However, Lt. General Kamel al-Wazir, the current Minister of Transport, intervened via a phone call with al-Ibrashi slamming him and claiming they are only old clips to agitate people, which is not acceptable: “It is not acceptable that you are airing a picture that was perceived last week and say that it is now,” as he put it.
Wael al-Ibrashi, pointed out that the aim of his presentation of the crowded videos witnessed in some regions is to seek a solution to this phenomenon in order to preserve the lives of Egyptians from coronavirus infection. In attempt to defend himself, Wael Al-Ibrashi, said: “The picture is not directed at you. your Excellency” but the transport minister ended his phone call.
It is known that al-Wazir is counted on the narrow circle surrounding Sisi, but he was at odds with Abbas Kamel, the current director of the General Intelligence Service and Sisi’s right arm, according to which al-Wazir was removed from his previous position as head of the engineering authority of the armed forces and appointed minister of transport.
When al-Wazir claimed that the clips presented by Al-Ibrashi showing the overcrowded underground trains were false and that they were old, dating back to the first hours of the curfew, Wael Al-Ibrashi maintained his stance during his argument with the minister on air.
While some believe that this situation was intended to embarrass al-Wazir and comes in the context of pressuring the regime by the anti-Sisi parties inside sovereign bodies, others interpret it in the context of the dispute between al-Wazir and Abbas Kamel, the current GIS director, who pushes for the removal of al-Wazir from his position as the Minister of Transport.
B) During the past period, the Youm7 website, which is run by Khaled Salah, a journalist known for his relationship with the General Intelligence Service, broadcast video clips on almost a daily basis that reveal the over-crowdedness in the underground metro and trains, which also reveals the government’s serious failure to deal with the coronavirus crisis.
Some argue that this is a form of pressure practiced on the regime through the dissemination of tangible facts, although the Youm7 website is mainly supportive of the regime.
The “Youm7” website also revealed that since international flights were suspended, Egypt has become the only source of food, especially vegetables, fruits and fish, for some Gulf and European countries, including Germany, France, England and the Netherlands, after most of Egypt’s competitors stopped exporting food, including Spain, Israel, Turkey or Morocco due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic – despite the country’s need for food during this period. It is also known that many wheat-exporting countries, including Russia and Romania, halted their wheat exports in order to maintain a sufficient strategic stock to cover their domestic needs amid the coronavirus crisis.
On the other hand, Sisi is trying to take advantage of his external relations at that critical stage that the world is witnessing in order to retain the international and regional to his regime against any coming threats because of his ill management of the coronavirus and the Renaissance Dam crises. This can therefore explain why the Sisi regime supplied Italy and China with face masks despite the state’s need for them.
C) At the same time, politician Mamdouh Hamzah called on the government to stop the state’s housing, administrative and commercial projects and direct their budgets to provide a foodstuff reserve for at least 6 months, which may also come within the framework of embarrassing the regime to increase public tension against it if things worsen later.
D) Amr Adib, a well-known TV presenter, criticized on his Twitter account the government decision to reduce the night curfew hours, indirectly holding the regime not the people’s state of “recklessness” as promoted by other pro-regime media organs – responsible for the likely consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.
3) Return of Mohamed Ali:
After announcing his retirement from politics after the failure of the demonstrations of January 25, 2020, the artist and contractor Mohamed Ali reappeared again during the past days, posting a video on his official Twitter account, in which he announced that he will continue to face and resist Sisi. Ali’s message can be understood in the context of a message from the anti-Sisi powers within sovereign bodies to the regime but delivered through Mohamed Ali, to the effect that they are maintaining their stance, and working to re-organize themselves again by reviving their “tools and arms”, including Mohamed Ali, for facing Sisi at the right time.
Third: Priority for the interest of the regime:
The Sisi regime always deals with internal files from a security perspective, prioritizing the “interest of the regime” to anything else. This is applicable to its negative response to calls for releasing detainees in light of the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Sisi believes that the release of the detainees may pose a real threat to his regime amid the unstable situation in Egypt at present. Therefore, during a speech to the General Command of the Armed Forces on Tuesday, 7 April 2020, Sisi warned people that “those who were in power before July 2013” would try to return to power again after a few years, and that this would not only be dangerous to Sisi, but to them all.
Sisi also dealt with the decision to impose a night curfew from the same perspective, to only achieve “the interest of the regime” and not the public interest or to protect the lives of citizens. Therefore, Sisi refused to allow the armed forces to impose the curfew, restricting the military role only to the participation of the chemical warfare administration in the sterilization and disinfection works of some institutions, squares, and government buildings.
So why did Al-Sisi not allow the army to participate in imposing the curfew?
The decision to allow the army to participate in imposing the curfew means that the army will deploy in 28 governorates all over the country, which is rejected by Sisi. Al-Sisi since December 2016 (revolution of the poor) allows only the rapid deployment forces, known as the “regime protection forces” to deploy in the main squares of Greater Cairo and Alexandria and some governorates of Lower Egypt when necessary to impose security. However, the rapid deployment forces cannot be deployed over 28 governorates.
The “regime’s interest” strategy is carefully followed by the Sisi regime, Amid likely deterioration of the economic situation during the coming months, people may have to take to the streets significantly, and the presence of army forces in squares and streets among people will pose threats to Sisi who prefers to keep army forces in military barracks rather than streets due to lack of trust in their loyalty.
Fourth: Political endeavors:
1- Hamdeen Sabahi, a Nasserite politician and former presidential candidate, has recently addressed a message to the regime, entitled “A Call from the Heart and Mind”, in which he called for releasing detainees sentenced in cases that do not pose a danger to society, and called for the formation of an expert committee to take a package of measures to protect human beings and the economy during the emerging coronavirus crisis.
2- Ahmed Tantawi, a pro-regime member of parliament, who is close to Hamdeen Sabbahi, addressed a message to authorities to immediately release prisoners of conscience and politicians that were not involved in violence, demanding Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi to issue a general pardon for critical cases of elderly and ill inmates.
3- Imad Al-Din Hussein, a pro-regime journalist, wrote an article in Al-Shorouk newspaper entitled “The golden opportunity that the Brotherhood missed” urging the Muslim Brotherhood to act positively toward the coronavirus crisis and avoid using it to take revenge on the regime. In his article, Hussein also confirmed that he had demanded release of detainees. Imad Al-Din Hussein’s article can be read as a message from within the regime to calm the internal conflicts with the parties to the crisis, in anticipation of any developments that might be coming.
In response to Hussein’s article, Dr. Hilmi Al-Gazzar, a Muslim Brotherhood leader, wrote in an article entitled “The Brotherhood and the allegation of the missed opportunity”, where Al-Gazzar stressed that facing the coronavirus is the absolute priority of national action at the present time, while any other issues should be postponed. Concluding his response, Gazzar said, addressing Hussein: “I would like to emphasize that the Muslim Brotherhood – as you know it – will spare no effort in serving its country and people as it has been throughout its history, and that it will outstretch its hands and cooperate open-heartedly and sincerely with sincere and truthful Egyptians, whoever they may be in the interest of this country and its people”.
Also, the Muslim Brotherhood acted positively in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. The group organized a conference in Istanbul, Turkey, entitled “Cooperation and participation is obligatory” in which it presented its vision of how to participate in facing the pandemic inside Egypt, stressing that there is no room to make intellectual or political differences a barrier to facing the pandemic.
Perhaps the Muslim Brotherhood understood that the article of Imad al-Din Hussein was a message from the regime itself and tried to invest the opportunity and prove its existence again. But after the Brotherhood conference, Sisi announced that his position would not change toward the group, rejecting such calls, and keeping the door completely closed.
Al-Sisi’s response was during a speech he addressed to army commanders who may share him the same attitude toward the Muslim Brotherhood. This was not Sisi’s attitude towards the Muslim Brotherhood only, in fact, he closed the door to any political settlements with all opposition factions, and gave a clear message to that effect. Recently, in an unexpected judicial decision, the Egyptian Criminal’s Department of Terrorism 5 on April 19, 2020, decided to include some 13 secularist activists accused of the so called ‘cell of hope’ on the terrorist lists for a period of 5 years, instead of releasing them amid the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
4- Dr. Hassan Nafaa, a writer and professor of political science at Cairo University who has recently been released, wrote several tweets on his Twitter account calling for the release of detainees. In one of his messages to the regime, Nafaa said: “The government’s intransigence on the issue of political detainees is not justifiable and causes great harm to its image in the world. Egypt’s interest is to initiate their release for humanitarian reasons instead of having to do so when the disaster strikes”.
5- Mamdouh Hamza, a politician, also sent several messages to the regime on his Twitter account, calling on the regime to take a different media and economic approach in facing the coronavirus crisis.
All of these messages to the regime could develop later if the regime turned a deaf ear to them, especially the calls for releasing detainees in light of the spread of the COVID-18 pandemic, as many countries in the world have done.
Fourth: Future developments and paths:
The situation in the entire world, particularly Egypt, is likely to witness major fluctuations due to the COVID-18 pandemic crisis. However, the negative effects on the situation in Egypt are likely to be worse than other regions in the world, as the country has already been witnessing a deteriorating situation before the outbreak of the coronavirus in all political, economic, societal, security and legal aspects.
In light of the continuation of this pandemic and its negative economic repercussions internationally, regionally and domestically for several months to come, it is expected that Egypt will be exposed to major economic collapses, affecting all aspects of economic activity, that will terribly affect the poor and the already eroding middle class.
The acute water shortage will also exacerbate when Ethiopia starts to fill the reservoir of the renaissance dam next summer, which will entail the conversion of large areas of agricultural land with catastrophic effects on the agricultural sector and farmers in Egypt, as well as food security.
From the above, there are three likely scenarios for development of conditions in Egypt during the coming period:
According to this scenario, Sisi will continue to dominate power, overcoming all obstacles that meet him, with maintaining the policy of oppression, exclusion and autocracy, especially if the coronavirus crisis passes quickly and in peace and the government overcomes its economic and social repercussions, while solving the Renaissance Dam problem in one way or another or reaching agreement with Ethiopia on filling the dam reservoir in a period of no less than 10 years.
However, meeting these requirements is almost impossible in light of the deteriorating performance of the Sisi regime and Sisi’s autocracy, in the absence of all political and societal forces that can help alleviate these crises at the very least.
Based on the above factors collectively, the country may fall into a state of severe chaos and upheavals that lead to the complete failure of the regime within one to two years from now, resulting in military coup attempts to control power, with likeliness of eruption of civil war, sectarian violence, or the escalation of influence of extremist groups, most prominently ISIS, to take advantage of the turbulent situation.
The possibilities of occurrence of this catastrophic scenario increase with time, unless influential political or societal forces emerge and fill the vacuum in society and lead it to safety.
This scenario seems most likely at the present time, amid the continued bad performance and failure of the regime which escalates health, economic, social and water problems, and ultimately leads to popular turmoil and anger accompanied by a large protest movement and mobilization. In this case, internal forces may intervene quickly to take advantage of the situation and control power, with likely support in one way or another from external parties to avoid chaos that may have bad repercussions on the stability of the region that is already troubled, or lead to escalation of illegal immigration rates or open the way for hard-liners to gain more ground. Accordingly, it appears that anti-Sisi parties inside the regime bet on this scenario and even prepare for it.
The expected change in this case may be in the form of replacing a military rule with a new military rule, when the military institution feels that Sisi’s continued rule will harm the institution as a whole and the cohesion of the country in general.
Sisi is a typical dictator that does not and will not allow any real participation in governance from the state’s institutions. or give his opponents an opportunity to play a role in facing the current crisis or any coming crises – outside the policies he sets – in order to show himself as the one who has control of everything. He is not likely to back down from his policies in several files, most prominently the release of detainees, the engagement in a real societal reconciliation, or the opening of political horizon to his opponents in any way. This is likely to push other scenarios forward to prevent him to stay in power for a long time.To Read Text in PDF Format Click here.