Category Archives: North Africa

President Sisi, Egypt’s Next Autocrat?

Egypt1Egyptians celebrated a tremendous achievement when the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak was toppled on February 11th, 2011. Unfortunately, that victory was short-lived because the subsequent leader, Mohammed Morsi, fell far short in delivering on the people’s goals of “bread, freedom and social justice.” Now a year after Morsi’s leadership abruptly ended, the military official who announced the coup to depose Morsi, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, is going to be elected the next President of Egypt. Sisi is expected to usher in a reversion to many of the same autocratic policies and practices of the Mubarak era that Egyptians fought so hard against in the first place.

A defining hope early on in the Arab Spring was that with the downfall of autocratic leaders like Mubarak, Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, Ben Ali in Tunisia, and Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen, a new and promising future would be on the horizon for the region. However, with perhaps the exception of Tunisia, the aforementioned countries are still facing daily challenges in managing the difficult transitional period toward finding a new and stable government. Egypt as the largest nation in terms of economic size, population, and regional influence is once again facing oppressive military encroachment that will severely limit the potential of its people.

After Mubarak was overthrown, the power vacuum was filled by the most organized institution outside of the formal state apparatus: the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohammed Morsi, narrowly defeated the military’s contender in June of 2012. When Morsi became president he consolidated power to his own office until his controversial ouster via military coup on July 3rd, 2013. Morsi’s creeping Islamism in politics divided the country and resulted in sporadic deadly clashes on the streets.  Conflict between the Brotherhood and the military apparatus that has persisted in tensions across the country and led to greater pessimism toward the future.

Although Morsi was elected democratically, he turned his back on the majority of the Egyptian people by failing to implement the reforms expected of a new leader. The Brotherhood was banned by the current interim regime and nearly 700 people were sentenced to death by a court for their role in the violence on behalf of the Brotherhood though the decision is not yet final. The court ruling is shocking both in terms of scale and in terms of brutality, and has served to reduce the Brotherhood to a shell of what it once was. Originally a leader in informal community development and social projects across the country, the jump into the political realm for the Brotherhood backfired incredibly.

Though Mohammed Morsi was responsible for mismanagement during his term as president, the planned execution of hundreds, persecution of hundreds more, and declaration by Sisi that the group would be wiped out are reminiscent of the Mubarak’s brutal repression tactics from when he was in power. Already the United States, which held an ambivalent stance towards the Morsi ouster, has warmed to the prospect of Sisi taking the reins in Egypt. After reducing military exports to Egypt, the US has begun sending Apache attack helicopters again in order to combat extremist violence in the Sinai peninsula.

General Sisi announcing the military coup that ousted President Mohammed Morsi

General Sisi announcing the military coup that ousted President Mohammed Morsi

On June 5th it is widely expected that Sisi will be announced as the next president of the country. Sisi has manipulated his image to be a symbol of stability and opposition to Morsi, though it is clear that his military allegiances will not disappear once he takes the leadership role. “Sisi-mania” took the country by storm when General Sisi stepped up to declare Morsi as unfit in the military coup, and ever since he has been destined for the top spot and crafted as a reluctant but beloved leader.

After more than four decades in the military, there is little question that Sisi will not deviate from the military interference in institutions and businesses that has kept them so entrenched in Egyptian society and politics. His reaction to the Brotherhood has suggested that opposition to his rule will be met with an iron fist, and the cult of personality that has been created around him marginalizes those who disagree with the direction he will take the country. What Egypt really needs is a more representative government that includes the real revolutionaries and liberals who ousted Mubarak, however those groups have been scattered and disorganized especially in contrast with the hierarchy of the military. Furthermore, eliminating the Muslim Brotherhood only pushes moderate religious Egyptians away from the state and gives the more extreme Islamic groups, such as the Salafis more legitimacy in their grievances.

The reality is that Sisi will be the next leader of Egypt, and the future does not look bright in terms of his promises to moving Egypt forward. The liberal revolutionaries that hoped for a freer, more accountable, and less corrupt Egypt have in many ways been co-opted by the old military elites with a new veneer. The military apparatus in Egypt has successfully capitalized on the disappointment that came with Morsi’s presidency and Sisi’s camp has presented him as the only option left. The United States has already decided to play ball with Sisi, and the majority of the Egyptian people have begrudgingly accepted the reality before them though once he is in the limelight the dissatisfaction with the military may return. Hopefully slowly but surely, the aspirations that led to Mubarak’s fall may once again permeate into Egyptian politics to direct the country through positive development for the people. Sisi has made sweeping promises to alleviate poverty and interestingly says he will step down if the people rise up against him, but I for one wouldn’t bet on it just yet.

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Tunisia Today and Hope for Tomorrow

Tunisia1

It has been nearly three years since Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in Tunisia, an incident that sparked the mass demonstrations that led to the Arab Spring. It’s clear that the Arab Spring has irreversibly changed the region, but it is difficult to predict what the long-term result of the revolutions will be. Nonetheless, recent developments in Tunisia highlight the fact that progress is possible, as the country is now undergoing the first peaceful transition of power since the Arab Spring began.

In January of 2011, amid tremendous pressure Tunisian President Ben Ali stepped down from power, the first of a series of authoritarian leaders across the region to relinquish or lose authority after decades of oppressive rule. Since then, Tunisia is the only country to successfully emerge from regime change without the same level of violence and conflict that continues to plague Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen. What then makes the Tunisia of today unique, and what is in store for the Tunisia of tomorrow?

Tunisia is a relatively modern and stable economy not reliant on oil and it has traditionally enjoyed a large amount of Western investment. Unlike Syria, there are no regional or international powers fighting for their affiliate group to win. Furthermore, compared with the countries listed previously, Tunisia is the most homogeneous. Around 98% of the country is ethnically Arab-Berber, and religiously Tunisians are almost exclusively Sunni Muslim. These factors suggest Tunisia has a relatively easier path towards political stability in comparison to its regional neighbors.

Tunisia has gradually made moves towards becoming a more inclusive democracy, but the transition has not been without incident. The largest setback occurred when two prominent politicians of the opposition Popular Front party were assassinated earlier this year, and the ruling Ennahda party drew significant criticism for responding inadequately to the situation. The moderate Islamist Ennahda party has been accused of bowing too much to hard-line Islamist demands, though Ennahda notably rejected Sharia law and has worked with the secular opposition moving forward. Furthermore, discontent over the inability of Ennahda to construct a viable constitution or properly address the country’s economic woes have caused its popularity to drop over time.

As a result of such pressure, Ennahda recently agreed to share power with the opposition led by the secular National Salvation Front via an interim government. This move is incredibly significant, because although it came at the behest of public outcry and opposition pressure, it signals the first transition of power in a peaceful manner of its kind in wake of the Arab Spring.

Political competition in general is healthy, and Ennahda’s realization that it may better serve the country and pursue its own agenda as an opposition party signals that the system is progressing in the right direction. So long as there is balance between the various political and religious interests in the stake of Tunisia’s future, compromise can occur and move the country forward.

Every party in power thinks that it knows what is best for its country, however, the realization that not every citizen shares exactly the same goals is crucial in a representative government. If Tunisians can hold their government accountable and force them to reform when needed, then there is hope for the future of the Arab Spring.

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