With the second case of an air tragedy linked to Egypt, many within the country have been asking whether the domestic security issues have now spread to affect Egyptian interests internationally. Since Sisi has come to power, security problems in Sinai have reignited, policemen have been killed in random attacks, Mexican tourists have been ‘accidentally’ killed, and Giulio Regini, an Italian national, was tortured and killed.
However, to say that the government has done nothing to tackle this disturbing trend in Egypt is misguided. Sisi has sought, in his own way, to curb the security threats by declaring a war against terrorism and launching military operations in Sinai, as well as using the full powers of the security services to put swathes of Egyptians in prison, sending a clear message that security threats will not be tolerated.
And this is the real problem. In true military fashion, Sisi has failed to grasp the politically and socially-charged nature of the security issue, and has decided to approach the problem in the only way a military man knows how – force. Since Sisi has come to power, reports suggest that over 40,000 people have been put in prison. Some of these have been vocal critics of Sisi, and no ‘trend’ has been spared. What began as a crushing of the Muslim Brotherhood, spread to include Liberals such as Alaa’ Abdel-Fattah and Ahmad Douma, and journalists detained in the controversial storming of the office of the Union of Journalists.
Alongside a media known for ‘tatbeel’, or singing the praises of the ‘great leader’, the public space for honest and fair criticism has been severely restricted and the army presence in Cairo remains a stark reminder as to the iron grip with which Egypt is being ruled with.
And it is this lack of political space that has given rise to more extreme forms of ‘expression’. Protests are met with force, with night raids on influential figures and ‘orchestrators, and pre-emptive tear gas in areas where protests are ‘likely’ to take place in a bid to prevent anything resembling the scenes of 25 January 2011.
Such a heavy handed approach from the government, or rather Sisi and the Egyptian army leadership, has begun to draw criticism even from those who once upon a time were considered blindly supportive of whatever Sisi did, such as Alaa al-Aswany, a man known to have travelled to France following Sisi’s assumption of power in order to defend him in the international press, who tweeted earlier in May:
‘Sisi says that we should not measure human rights in Egypt by Western standards. So what is the Egyptian standard in that case? Arbitrary imprisonment? Kidnapping? Torture? Instigating proceedings based on false allegations against opposition parties?’
This is not a justification of terrorism. However, there can be no doubt that security problems on the scale that Egypt has witnessed, only come about in societies that suffer instability, oppression, repression, and in which the space for free speech and thought are severely limited. And Egyptian society appears to bear the hallmarks of each of these ingredients.
And such instability inevitably deters investors. Sisi’s ‘investor conferences’, with all their bravado, have yet to produce any tangible results. Despite already receiving billions from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, Egypt has had to receive a further injection of over $20 billion from Saudi Arabia once more. Whilst it is only logic that the benefits of investment take time to show, there are worrying signs of companies halting their activities, withdrawing, or declaring a ‘re-assessment’ of their operations in light of the instability, and talk is rife that some of the larger projects funded by Saudi businessmen, which are operating at a loss, are only still there because of the Saudi government’s insistence, or ‘orders’, that they do not withdraw from Egypt.
Nevertheless, the state paranoia of a ‘conspiracy’ to ‘destroy Egypt’ appears to be rampant across all state institutions and the government appears to be believe that a security situation must be dealt with by a security solution. And this, in reality, is nothing but a recipe for more instability and more security problems.