A New Strain of Dictatorship in Egypt
In yet another stain on Egypt’s supposed democratic transition, 683 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood were sentenced to death on Monday following a farcical trial that lacked even a hint of due process. More than 1,200 people have now been sentenced to death or life imprisonment for the alleged murder of two policemen. Meanwhile, the police and other security forces have been free to pursue their violent rampage against political dissent with almost complete impunity.
The death sentences were not Monday’s only outrage, however. Another Egyptian court helped finish off political pluralism in the country when it banned the April 6 movement, one of the prodemocracy groups that catalyzed the February 2011 uprising against longtime authoritarian president Hosni Mubarak. Both Islamist and secular opposition are now effectively criminalized.
Indeed, these latest actions by the Egyptian authorities cap 10 months of brutal crackdowns, first on the supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi—most notably in the August massacre of more than 700 protesters—but gradually on anyone who dared to question the post-coup government. Liberal political activists, Coptic Christians, journalists, artists, and others have all been treated as outlaws as the military-backed administration marches relentlessly forward in what it claims is a fight against terrorism.
Remarkably, the world does not seem to have gotten the message. With every new violation, observers ask whether military leader Abdel Fatah al-Sisi is the new Mubarak. But Sisi’s Egypt has already gone far beyond a simple reversal of the 2011 revolution. The more pertinent question is how Sisi and his administration have managed to shed the ambiguities of the Mubarak regime and build a harsher, more virulent form of Egyptian authoritarianism. Where Mubarak allowed a veneer of pluralism to appease the masses and international allies, Sisi tolerates nothing less than monolithic, ecstatic public admiration. Where Mubarak permitted a limited degree of press freedom, Sisi presides over almost slavishly devoted public and private media, and jails journalists who dare to cover dissent of any kind.
Sisi represents the authoritarian institutions—the military, the courts, the police, the state bureaucracy—that survived the political turmoil of 2011–13, but they have emerged transformed, with a more vigorous and violent resistance to the forces that brought down the old regime. Any reasonable understanding of Sisi’s Egypt requires accepting the reality that what killed Mubarak made Sisi stronger. The world will need a new approach if it is to cope with this new problem.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Rashad
Analyses and recommendations offered by the authors do not necessarily reflect those of Freedom House.