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January 17, 2017

Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi: Egypt's Dictator or Savior?

Prof. Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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While enemies inside and outside Egypt consider Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi a "dictator," the vast majority of Egyptians consider him a national hero, a good president, and above all, a leader who saved their country from the Muslim Brotherhood’s fascist religious dictatorship.

Sisi’s enemies inside Egypt understandably include the Muslim Brotherhood and other fanatic Muslims, who seem to come up very short on evidence for their opposition.

His supporters, on the other hand, provide plenty of reasons why he’s the right choice for the times.

Supporters point out, for example, that their president’s opponents include some liberals who understand the Western model of democracy only in theory; they’ve never practiced it, they’ve never run for public office, they’ve never voted, and they have no knowledge of what really makes a democracy work.

These “liberals” may uphold American and Canadian democracy as ideal, while completely overlooking three centuries of bloodshed, genocide and ongoing deprivation inflicted on the aboriginal populations of both countries in order to achieve it.

This same group (with far less excuse) also ignores Egypt’s own recent history, despite having lived through it.

In 2011 the country experienced a popular uprising, backed by the army, against former president Hosni Mubarak. Then in 2013, the people and army rose again to oust Mohamed Morsi, a democratically-elected president who betrayed them (and democracy itself) by turning out to be a dictator backed by the MB.

Egyptians learned from their mistake, just as Germany did during the 1930s when it democratically elected Hitler and the Nazi regime. The parallels between Nazism and the outcome whenever the MB takes power are ominous indeed.

Today, opponents of Sisi conveniently ignore the facts that he came to power through a free and fair election; that he presides over an elected parliament; that law is upheld by an independent judiciary; and that non-partisan government offices are held by the willing and capable, not the élite and corrupt.

I am proud to say that I know some of these individuals personally and can affirm they are excellent administrators.

One definition of a dictator is “a ruler who wields absolute power.” Sisi’s enemies concede that while he may not fit the formal criteria of dictatorship, his behind-the-scenes influence leans in that direction.

However, it is impossible to take seriously such unsubstantiated inferences and accusations.

A major difficulty in understanding Egypt today is that Western academics and politicians are too wrapped up in traditional textbook definitions of democracy and dictatorship.

These cannot be applied in one-size-fits-all fashion to the unique circumstances of a country struggling to build democratic institutions from the ground up, while simultaneously defending itself from vicious guerilla terrorism fueled by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Making matters worse, Egypt is surrounded by failed or failing states that feed terrorism from outside its borders as well.

So it’s not surprising at all that Sisi’s opponents include not only the legitimate kind who may oppose his policies within the protocol of parliamentary procedure, but also some dangerous groups and individuals who turn to murder, assassination, terrorism, and destruction to advance their political views.

Meanwhile, many of their supposedly like-minded colleagues keep silent or, worse still, try to justify criminal acts by blaming them on Sisi’s policies. They are just as guilty, by association.

Unlike some other countries facing renewed or chronic waves of terrorism, such as France and Turkey, Egypt’s constitution is still upheld as the supreme law of the land. It was suspended only in a small area of northern Sinai bordering on Israel and MB-ruled Gaza, where terrorism is a daily occurrence.

In practice and policy, no Egyptian is considered above or beyond the law. Terrorism is considered a crime against the people, and when proven, the penalty is imprisonment.

Yet even for charges as serious as this, Egypt’s high courts do intervene and review some cases. Where warranted, re-trials are ordered to ensure perpetrators are justly identified and that punishment fits the severity of the crime. That is not how a “dictatorship” behaves.

Under Sisi’s tenure, not a single journalist has been imprisoned for expressing anti-government views.

In fact, Egypt’s standard of press freedom exceeds that of its Arab neighbors, Turkey, Israel and Iran. In Israel, for example, freedom of the press is only for Jewish entities, not Arab ones.

The vocal minority within Egypt that works to undermine Sisi and destabilize the government is an enemy of the people, not just an opponent of the current government.

Outside Egypt, Sisi’s enemies include the wealthy and powerful international Muslim Brotherhood, MB-ruled Turkey, and Qatar, which is home to MB spiritual leader Dr. Youssef El-Qaraday.  

El-Qaraday is banned from entering many Western countries for inciting terrorism around the world. Qatar is also known to be a haven for terrorist leaders and operatives from around the world – with the tacit and overt support of the US.

During his two-and-a-half years in office, most of Egypt’s 90 million citizens (among them, a significant Coptic Christian minority of 10 million) have found good reasons to continue supporting Sisi.

His administration has accomplished a great deal in the areas of domestic economic development, direct foreign investment, social justice, infrastructure, education, health care, and above all, security.

These achievements stand in stark contrast to other Middle East and North African states or territories like Syria, Yemen, Libya, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Turkey, Gaza and Israel.

So while Sisi’s enemies willfully disregard his long list of successes and continue their well-orchestrated smear campaign, the vast majority of Egyptians, I among them, are not fooled.

As an eyewitness to his on-the-ground work, I know more can be done in the areas of over-consumption and over population, so I grade him with an A, not an A-plus.

I am sure that if a free and fair election is held in 2018 when Sisi’s current term of office is finished, he will win with a landslide majority.

His enemies will not be happy then, as they are not happy now. But I, along with millions of my compatriots, will vote for him.

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M. Elmasry

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