The regimes of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and former President Hosni Mubarak may appear similar but they are not identical. Sisi will not be able to replicate Mubarak’s regime because Sisi lacks the form and substance to achieve Mubarak’s hold on political and social welfare systems which Mubarak developed over a 30-year rule. From his early days, Mubarak cultivated an internal governance system based on weakening, but not expunging, the basic elements of the political process like parties, parliament, a constitution and civil society organizations. Mubarak’s regime thus became a structure of democracy without its components. In other words, Mubarak domesticated the political arena and minimized any threats that could potentially undermine his rule.
Abdel Fattah al-Sisi began his rule by obliterating every basic political element in Egypt, not just weakening them as Mubarak did. He excluded his opponents, especially the Muslim Brotherhood whom he labeled as a terrorist group. Al-Sisi refused to establish, chair or even join any of the existing political parties. Additionally he delayed parliamentary elections for more than two years and took legislative power himself and continued the harsh crackdown on freedoms of expression and association. In spite of the tremendous support Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had from large segments of the Egyptian population following the overthrow of former President Mohamed Morsi, he was not perceived by Egyptians as the patriarchal head of state. Mubarak always portrayed himself as a father figure who legitimized his legacy because he was one of the leaders of the October War in 1973, which has long been considered by Egyptians as a symbol of victory and pride. A similar image has not been portrayed by Sisi, perhaps due to his relatively young age or perhaps because his media discourse does not convey a patriarchal image.
A clear contrast can be observed in the attitude of the two presidents towards political opposition. Despite the ruthlessness of Mubarak that reached the level of outlawing the Muslim Brotherhood and imprisoning his rival in the presidential election in 2005, Ayman Nour, Mubarak did not completely remove any party from the political scene although he managed opposition with varying degrees of violence and authoritarianism.
Credit for “wise authoritarian governance” during Mubarak’s rule is most likely due to his team of elite jurists and politicians like Fathi Sorour, Mufid Shehab, Zakaria Azmi and Kamal El-Shazli. Men like this are not to be found in the Abdel Fattah al-Sisi administration which largely consists of military men who not only obstructed the January 25 revolution, but more importantly failed to restore the foundations of Mubarak’s political system.
(To read the article in Arabic click here)
The exclusion of the opposition from the political scene by not allowing alternative political parties or social movements, the arrest of youth groups like “April 6” and Revolutionary Socialists as well as the process of politicization of court rulings did not occur, even in the most powerful days of the Mubarak era. These actions and policies under Abdel Fattah al-Sisi have resulted in a serious defect in the Egyptian political mechanism as a whole.
This is not a defense of the authoritarian regime of Mubarak, but rather these examples illustrate that even dictatorships need wise political management in order to maintain their rule. If fact, Sisi does not seem to understand that Mubarak did not last for 30 years because he severely eradicated his opponents, but rather because of a political system that, although repressive and authoritarian, allowed a minimum political participation, public expression and social activism. This was not due to love of democracy but rather to ensure his longevity. The political system was so effective that even its political opposition such as the Muslim Brotherhood, became familiarized and integrated with the laws of the game, coexisted with them and became an essential hinge of its gears.
How can we talk about parliament when do not have parties to run for election? Individuals alone cannot form a mature political life! Political life, not to mention democracy, requires basic organizational elements, such as parties, institutions, lobbying groups and NGOs, each of which plays a key role in the formation of the political and social structure of the system. Even the most powerful totalitarian regimes need such elements in order to be able to be involved in the political game.
Egypt suffers from a political vacuum that will not be filled even with the forging of parliamentary elections. The Mubarak regime was corrupt but Sisi’s is void of any form of system. If the Mubarak’s dry political climate produced the groups and organizations that eventually toppled him after thirty years of rule through a peaceful revolution, then we should watch out because the political climate under Sisi is drying up the sources of peaceful social mobilization which may result in a political explosion that might be impossible to control.