Since he overthrew the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood and took power in Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi inarguably became the most celebrated Arab leader in western media. His latest calls for Islamic reform, and for war on ISIS and Hamas have earned him comparisons to Winston Churchill and Anwar Sadat. For many Arabs like me it is not surprising. The west seems predisposed to celebrate and support truly bad Arab leaders like Sadat and Sisi.
The west is desperate to convince itself it does have Muslim friends regardless of the reality and here is where Sisi enters the picture with his military uniform and anti-Islamist determination. Sisi has been a major setback for Islamists in Egypt and in the world. He singlehandedly, and against the will of the mighty White House residents, overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood from the presidency of the birthplace of modern militant Islamic ideology. He has been leading a persistent campaign against Islamists in his country, declaring the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, calling for a reform in Islam and even extending his campaign abroad by the airstrikes on ISIS in Libya, destroying the terror tunnels in the Sinai and declaring Hamas a terrorist organization. In other words, he has every reason to be considered by many as the savior on the white horse emerging from the midst of hell. All of this will not deter me from trying to convince you otherwise; Sisi is bad for Egypt, bad for Israel, bad for the region, bad for me and bad for you.
Let me first make a little confession. I have a personal bias against Sisi for I was detained, interrogated and physically abused by his Military Intelligence in 2010 when he was the director of Egyptian Military Intelligence. The time I spent in his detention is the worst time and the worst memories of my entire life. Nevertheless, I promise that I will disregard all me personal biases and be objective as much as I can.
Let me start of by talking about Sisi and Islamism. Sisi is not a moderate person. He has religious fascinations not less than his Muslim Brotherhood opponents. A 2013 leaked audio recording exposed that Sisi believe he is a divine intervention from Allah as he tells how he dreamed with himself wielding a sword with the phrase “No God but Allah” engraved on it. Sisi more than often include moral religious preaching in his speeches in the most simplistic demagogic ways. Shortly after his statements about the “reform in Islam” his security forces and his courts system launched a campaign to hunt down, apprehend, publically humiliate and imprison atheists and homosexuals. Bear in mind there are no laws in Egypt criminalizing atheism or homosexuality and Sisi moral policemen and judges are totally improvising crimes like “disturbing the social norms.” How can a regime which does not believe nor respect the rule of law create a state that respects law?
While it is true Sisi is repressing Islamists, it is crucial to mention that political oppression is at its peak even for liberal secularists. Sisi did shutdown the most influential anti-Islamist political satire TV show in the Arab world Al Bernameg, something the Brotherhood itself did not dare to do. The amount of political detainees and prisoners, deaths resulted from torture and demonstrators killed rose drastically than that of Mubarak pre-revolution Egypt. Mass arrests and impunity for abuse by security forces are two main features of Sisi’s Egypt. Here are some quotes from the Human Rights Watch report of 2015:
“More than 41,000 people were arrested or faced criminal charges between July 2013 and May 2014… In 2014 a criminal court judge handed down the death penalty to more than 1,200 people. Egypt’s 2014 constitution permits military trials for civilians, and on October 27, 2014, al-Sisi issued a decree expanding military court jurisdiction to cover crimes that occur on any public, state-owned, or “vital” property.. At least 90 people died in local police stations and security directorates in the governorates of Cairo and Giza alone in 2014.. That number represented a 38 percent increase from the year before.. Authorities detained dozens of people for such offences as possessing flyers with anti-military slogans.. Authorities arrested more than 95 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people between July 2013 and December 2014. On December 7, police raided a Cairo bathhouse and arrested at least 25 men whom they accused of “practicing debauchery.””
How can a man like Sisi whose hands stained with the blood of torturing political activists, journalists, atheists and gays be the hope of the west to counter Islamic terrorism?! A man whose police forces murder people daily and believes he is a divine intervention from Allah?! How can he build a modern state which offers the people some hope and alternative to an Islamic state?! Islamic terrorism is a cult of death, those who do not respect life nor believe in life cannot defeat a cult of death. Sisi is just another totalitarian, authoritarian military dictator who is bankrupt ideologically and politically. Sisi is destroying any foundation of a modern secular society and eventually will leave no room but for medieval ideologies like ISIS. No victory can be achieved from fighting evil with another evil. Those who do not believe in freedom and in human dignity can’t convince the millions of Muslims they are ruling to do the opposite.
The war Sisi declared on Islamism and the Muslim Brotherhood is nothing but part of the war on power. Sisi is restoring to the Nasserite Egyptian military state the place it lost to the Islamists. He and his army possess no alternative socio-economic vision to offer the Egyptian people. Sisi and his government have no principle objection to totalitarianism and extreme violence but they just want to monopolize them. Recent government sponsored propaganda in Egypt claiming that ISIS is a Zionist-Israeli-American conspiracy should be evident to the Egyptian government intentions; they do not want to moderate nor modernize the country but to control.
Supporting brutal military dictatorships in the Middle East in order to build a wall which separates western civilized countries from the seas of middle eastern barbarity proved to be nothing but a long term disaster. It created a cap on the top leaving the elements of militant jihad active building their basis from the bottom to the top. The west have already done this once and we are now looking at the results. Committing the same stupidity again with a different name won’t change the expected results. Besides it’s really hard for me to convince my Muslim friends and family that western world wants them no harm while it is supporting and celebrating mass murderers like Sisi. We can’t claim we believe in values we finance others to violate.
General Sisi is nothing but another ignorant and uneducated dictator. He is just another setback for the whole region. The 1960s Nasserite propaganda and moral policing which he heavily relies on does not help bringing Egypt to the modern age but will give the Islamists fertile ground of oppressed sympathizers. Eliminating all political secular opposition will leave a vacuum Sisi’s propaganda can’t fill. Sisi is no moderate nor reformer. He has no profound vision for the future of Egypt nor the future of the region. His vision is that of the military state from which he emerged. A military which still lives in the 20th century eastern bloc authoritarian centralist mentality. His demagogic simpleminded and incoherent mix of religion and nationalism will not convince a new generation of impoverished, desperate, semi-skilled, semi-educated and repressed Egyptians not to turn to Islamism.
The alternative is simple; do not be so desperate. The west should not betray its own values and rush to get in bed with the bad guy just because they can’t find a nice guy. Before we celebrate a leader, we should lay out our requirements and conditions and wait for someone to fill them. We should clearly state we are expecting to deal with someone who genuinely believes in freedom and human dignity. We should demand someone who does not pretend he is a moderate while his government media outlets blames the Zionist conspiracy for Islamic terrorism. The entrance ticket to the club of modern states should have a price, it should not be handed out army generals who have dreams of Allah giving them swords and hunt down gay people.