King is dead, long live the King’: Principle applicable in the MENA region. In effect, all countries of the area, be they republics or monarchies tend to abide by this principle. The consequences of such custom have had bearings throughout millennia. The recent advent of oil exports related revenues brought the limelight to shed a little light in the MENA sunny skies.
Libya’s battle for Tripoli alongside ongoing mass anti-government demonstrations that toppled autocratic leaders of Algeria and Sudan demonstrate that both popular Arab protests that in 2011 forced four presidents out of office and the counterrevolution it provoked are alive and kicking.
Protesters in Algeria and Sudan are determined to prevent a repeat of Egypt where a United Arab Emirates and Saudi-backed military officer rolled back the achievements of their revolt to install a brutal dictatorship or of Yemen, Libya and Syria that have suffered civil wars aggravated by interference of foreign powers.
In Libya, Field Marshal Khalifa Belqasim Haftar, the UAE-Saudi-Egyptian-supported warlord, hopes that his assault on the capital Tripoli, the seat of the country’s United Nations-recognized government, will either end the conflict militarily or at the very least significantly increase his leverage in peace talks.
In all three countries, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the two Gulf nations most determined to maintain the Middle East and North Africa’s autocratic structure at whatever cost, have sought to either bolster military resolve to remain a decisive political force or support the rise of forces that fit their agenda.
The aid package contributed to deepening divisions among the opposition that has vowed to continue street protests until full civilian rule has been achieved despite the ousting of president Omar al-Bashir, the resignation of senior military officers, including the intelligence chief, and the arrest of Mr. Al-Bashir’s brothers.
Mr. Al-Hussein returned to Khartoum this month from two years in exile in the kingdom, where he served as an African affairs advisor to the Saudi court, after having been unceremoniously sacked in 2017 on suspicion that he was a Saudi intelligence asset.
Moreover, the head of Sudan’s military council, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan and his deputy, Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, a paramilitary commander known as Hemeti, developed close ties to the Gulf states in their former roles as commanders of the Sudan contingent fighting in Yemen in support of the Saudi-UAE alliance.
A commander of feared Arab militias accused of genocide in Darfur, General Dagalo is widely viewed as ambitious and power hungry. His Rapid Support Forces (RSF) are deployed across Khartoum.
Western officials privately describe General Dagalo as “potentially Sudan’s Sisi,” a reference to Egyptian general-turned-president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi who came to power in 2013 in a UAE-Saudi-supported military coup.
Mr. Al-Sisi has introduced one of the most repressive systems in recent Egyptian history. Western diplomats said General Dagalo’s ambitions virtually guaranteed that the military would not fully surrender power in any negotiated transition.
The military’s role in deposing president Hosni Mubarak as a result of a popular revolt in 2011 and subsequently restoring the military’s grip on power coupled with concern about General Dagalo inspired one of the Sudanese protesters’ chants: “It’s either victory or Egypt.”
Saudi Arabia and the UAE together with Egypt and Bahrain have diplomatically and economically boycotted Qatar for the past 22 months in a bid to force the Gulf state to tow their geopolitical line.
For now, Mr. Haftar’s offensive has way laid a UN-sponsored peace conference that was expected to achieve an agreement that would have ensured that Islamists would continue to be part of the Libyan power structure.
Mr. Haftar, like his regional backers, accuses the Tripoli government of being dominated by Islamists, the bete noir of the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
On a visit to Saudi Arabia days before launching his attack on Tripoli, Mr. Haftar reportedly was promised millions of dollars in support in talks with Saudi King Salman, and his powerful son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in defiance of a United Nations arms embargo.
The battle for Libya could prove to be Mr. Haftar’s most difficult military offensive. His Libyan National Army (LNA) already controls Libya’s second city of Benghazi and much of rest of the country where it met relatively little resistance.
The battle also serves as a warning to protesters in Sudan and Algeria whose demands for fundamental change risk upsetting the UAE, Saud Arabia and Egypt’s applecart.
With no swift victory in sight in the battle for Tripoli, Libya risks another round of protracted war that could be aggravated by the fact that it is as much a domestic fight as it is a multi-layered proxy war.
Unlike Sudan, Libya has passed the corner. Years of civil and proxy wars have devastated the country and laid the groundwork for further violence. Algeria and Sudan still have a chance of avoiding the fate of Libya, or for that matter Syria and Yemen.
As the battle in Tripoli unfolds, Libya looms large as a live example of what is at stake. Protesters are up against forces whose backers have proven that there is little they will shy away from to achieve their objectives. Libya is but the latest example.
The king’s fate is at stake in the fighting in streets of southern Tripoli. His fate hangs like a sword of Damocles in the balance in the streets of Algiers and Khartoum.
Dr James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, an adjunct senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and co-director of the University of Wuerzburg’s Institute of Fan Culture.
‘Get them all out!’: Algeria three years on after Panama Papers – and to mark World Press Freedom Day, Lyas Hallas, Algerian journalist – a member of ICIJ elaborates on the current situation of Algeria.
To celebrate the third anniversary of the Panama Papers – and to mark World Press Freedom Day – we’re speaking with reporters from around the world about the investigation each week.
Like many of our partners, Lyas’ work is still having an impact. Most recently, authorities arrested some wealthy Algerians named in the Panama Papers and street protesters calling for the president’s resignation and an end to corruption waved banners that featured the businessmen’s faces.
What was the biggest impact in Algeria after the Panama Papers’ revelations?
There was an immediate debate about assets held by Algerians overseas. The reaction shook the leaders of our country who had planned their retirements abroad. The Panama Papers also hit hard the businessmen who consort with politicians and who enjoy tax and banking advantages at home and yet who hide their money offshore. The revelations politically weakened ministers who were at the height of their power and others who were on the cusp of bouncing back.
One example was the then Industry Minister Abdesselam Bouchouareb, who was tipped to be the next prime minister before that became awkward due to the global firestorm in the wake of the investigation
Maybe my work contributed to bringing attention to the pillage of the country’s resources. – Lyas Hallas
What was your favorite moment of the Panama Papers investigation? What surprised you the most?
Favorite moment? A huge ‘catch’ when just one minute after I opened the Panama Papers database for the first time, I found Rym Sellal, the daughter of the then prime minister, Abdelmalek Sellal. It was very motivating.
I also didn’t expect to find the owner of an offshore company linked to the entourage of former energy minister Chakib Khelil who is at the heart of the SONATRACH corruption scandal, our state-owned oil and gas company.
Italy and Algeria had opened court cases and Italian judges had identified this offshore company as one of 17 used to launder $216.92 million (€194 million) in bribes. Yet neither Italy nor Algeria had called on Khelil as a witness. Ditto for the son of the former SONATRACH CEO who received six years in prison for corruption.
What also stuck with me about the Panama Papers is the interest of Algerians in this kind of story. In two years, I published a dozen stories and there was a buzz every time. During the recent protests in Algeria, citizens took to the streets waving images of some of the people featured in his Panama Papers reporting. Lyas Hallas
What were the most significant reactions to your investigations?
The general public reacted well, which was satisfying… In Switzerland, a criminal court dismissed a case brought by an Algerian businessman based, in part, on my Panama Papers reporting.
I had to resign from the newspaper where I worked in order to get my investigation published. I had a story on the Minister of Industry at the time, Abdeslam Bouchouareb.
Bouchouareb put a bit of pressure on the editor – I don’t know what they said. Five days before the agreed publication date with ICIJ, I had to find another newspaper to publish my story… I found one easily, which was good.
I was harassed online by various digital players in the pay of government officials.
Some people said I was dancing to the tune of foreigners and others accused me of faking documents. Khelil wrote on Facebook, without naming me directly, that I was a “Zionist agent.” Obviously, I didn’t react to this kind of nonsense, which was mostly anonymous.
Some people even called me an “agent of Rebrab” [editor’s note: Issad Rebrab, Algeria’s richest man]. I had worked for 11 months in a newspaper where he is the majority shareholder and from which I resigned to publish my Panama Papers story. Yet Rebrab tried to sue me in France because of the Panama Papers.
For someone who has not followed anything, what has happened in Algeria now?
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s desire to seek a fifth term sparked massive demonstrations on February 22 that forced him to resign. Algerians have long lived through his power grab as a great collective humiliation. Bouteflika did leave, but the system that he built — even if it’s weakened — is still in place.
Every Friday during the protests, millions of people rallied in unity around the theme “Get them all out!” The term “all” referred to those widely-despised figures from the Bouteflika era who, in the eyes of the demonstrators, embodied mediocrity, injustice and corruption.
What’s the connection between your Panama Papers investigations and recent events?
It’s not my job to spark protests. Maybe my work contributed to bringing attention to the pillage of the country’s resources and to the lack of some people’s “tax patriotism.” Or maybe it accentuated the feeling of injustice among many Algerians given the impunity of some people I wrote about.
During the recent protests, one of the main slogans was “You have devoured the country, band of looters!” Some protest banners included photos of politicians and businessmen I exposed.
In response to the demonstrations, authorities jailed some of these businessmen, including Issab Rebrab, in order to calm protestors and temper the country’s anger. A few days ago, the Supreme Court reopened a case involving Khelil. They are not being investigated for what I wrote about, but for similar practices to the things I uncovered.
Can you give us a summary of your investigations around these recently arrested men?
Businessman Ali Haddad, and as I mentioned earlier Issad Rebrab, have been arrested.
My investigation of Haddad revealed the illicit transfer of foreign currency through a complex arrangement involving foreign partners in the group of companies that carries out infrastructure projects in Algeria. Anti-corruption investigations against Haddad have not yet been concluded, but he was arrested at the borders with Tunisia while trying to flee.
As for Issad Rebrab, he was detained on charges of “misrepresentation of illicit transfers of capital from and to foreign countries, overcharging of imported equipment and importation of second-hand equipment while he had benefited from customs, tax and banking benefits”. My investigation questioned his background and the origin of his fortune. Policy makers have always made it easy for businessmen close to them to access credit, import licenses and government contracts, while guaranteeing them impunity since for business in Algeria, political support is needed.
The Supreme Court has reopened the case of Chakib Khelil, who has fled the country. Khelil is accused of bribery in a case involving contracts awarded by the state-owned oil company. My investigation revealed that his wife and his son were beneficiaries of offshore companies linked to a money laundering machine worth $220 million (€197 million) in commissions.
You are a veteran of journalism in Algeria. In what state was investigative journalism in Algeria before these demonstrations?
Investigative journalism in Algeria is fragile. It’s difficult to access information and Algerian media remains fundamentally based on opinion.
Even if Algerian media has some freedom in what it says, it doesn’t invest enough in going after real information. It’s subject to the government’s agenda and corporations’ marketing strategies. I would even say that it’s in a pretty sick state because it hasn’t evolved independently of the political forces now being protested against.
Algerian media didn’t develop an economic model based on its relationship with the audience that would have allowed financial independence. Advertising revenue has made the media dependent on advertisers and policymakers.
In short, much of the press is completely discredited. Especially given that the media itself was not untouched by corruption.
Algerians today are demanding a new kind of information and the current media are having a hard time satisfying this demand. Of course, there are small islands of resistance that try to offer quality information. But, it’s necessary to completely rebuild the system.
What is your hope for Algerian journalism after these protests and regime change?
I remain optimistic. The entire community of Algerian journalists is aware of the stakes. I hope that we will have the collective intelligence to set new rules of the game; rules that will establish healthy competition and favor new editorial practices to properly inform Algerians.
I don’t dismiss the value of Algeria’s press in the past, which emerged from struggles that saw journalists sacrifice their lives from generation to generation to be able to freely exercise their profession, especially in the 1990s, a decade in which terrorism had wreaked havoc on Algeria. We lost a hundred journalists and others who were murdered because they were journalists.
But the media system as a whole requires a re-foundation to clarify the ground rules. The opacity that Algeria’s media has evolved into exposes it to arbitrariness.
(Reuters) – With the blast walls finally gone, some 16 years after the U.S.-led
invasion, life in the Iraqi capital Baghdad is starting to look like any normal
and friends hang out in cafes and shopping malls, people hold birthday parties
in public and traders ply their wares from roadside stalls.
Ahmed, an owner of a cafe in the upscale district of Zayyona in eastern
Baghdad, said the removal of miles of the concrete walls from the streets had
encouraged families to visit malls and cafes and stay until late into the
is looking different now, for the better. Families are staying until after
midnight in markets, restaurants and cafes. I feel so happy to see Baghdad life
is returning to normal,” he said.
walls, put up a year after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, served to protect the
city from years of sectarian civil war and the fight against Islamic State
militants. Iraq declared victory over the group in late 2017.
military commanders say there have been no attacks by insurgents for more than
is enjoying considerable security. We managed to keep terrorists away from the
capital,” said Lieutenant General Jaleel al-Rubaie, commander of the Baghdad
after he came to power late last year, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi ordered
the removal of the towering walls to signal the improvement in security –
letting light back into long obscured parts of the city.
Hutham al-Ansary, who lost her husband in the violence in 2004, the feeling
that Baghdad is finally safe brings tears of happiness.
is beautiful, despite all tragedies, with this improved security and peace. I
still have a bitter feeling about the past but today is better than yesterday,”
said Ansary, a women’s rights activist, with her two daughters at one of Baghdad’s
people are now more comfortable about spending time outdoors.
happy that finally I can celebrate my son’s birthday in a public garden,
something we were not brave enough to do fearing bombs,” Sally Adnan, a Health
Ministry employee, said at Abu Nawas Gardens by the Tigris river.
in Baghdad is more interesting now,” said Adnan, who was wounded in a car bomb
wounds on my face are part of Iraq’s history. I’m keeping them to show my sons
when they grow up,” she said.
by Maher Nazeh; Writing by Ahmed Rasheed; Editing by Ahmed Aboulenein and
Dr. Sohair Wastawy, Executive Director of Qatar National Library, has more than 40 years of international library and university management experience in the Middle East and the US, and has practiced and taught librarianship in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the US.
Prior to her new role, Dr. Wastawy worked as Dean of Libraries at Florida Institute of Technology. She held the position of Dean of University Libraries at Illinois State University, and was the first Chief Librarian for the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt. Dr. Wastawy also served as Dean at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.
As well as her work in library management, Dr. Wastawy has worked as a consultant to many not-for-profit organizations, corporations, and accreditation commissions, and has been the recipient of international awards, including a Peace Fellowship and a Fulbright Scholarship.
Dr. Wastawy began her library career at Cairo University Library, Egypt, and taught librarianship in the first women’s library program in Saudi Arabia. She holds a Doctor of Arts in Library and Information Management from Simmons College, Boston, MA; and a Masters in Library and Information Science from The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC.
Having an extensive international library experience in the US and the Middle East, we would like to know more about you, since the beginning of your distinguished career till now?And how did you come to leave Egypt and become an American citizen?
I hadn’t originally planned to study library science, and I later discovered that many who joined the profession had stumbled on it from different backgrounds.
Earlier, I majored in comparative linguistics, and I began with a BA degree in Semitic languages (Hebrew and Aramaic) from Cairo University then pursued an MA degree in African languages followed by a PhD in comparative linguistics at Cairo University. Before I could complete my PhD, however, my advisor Dr. Mourad Kamel, unfortunately, passed away. Because I was dealing with 6 languages as part of my thesis, it was difficult to work with any other advisor. At that time, I was working at the university library as a temporary job until I finished my PhD. Once I knew I wasn’t going to finish, I decided to stay on as a librarian and take up librarianship as a profession. However, I didn’t want to go into a profession without formally studying it.
After the Camp David Accords in 1978, the US was offering peace fellowships to a few Israeli and Egyptian students to pursue postgraduate studies in the US. I learned about this by walking past the AMIDEAST building in Cairo where I spot a big sign that read “Scholarships in the US”, so, I applied. Then, I didn’t know that in the US, unlike in Egypt, you could pursue a post graduate degree in a field other than your major. Knowing that I could choose any field of study, I shifted my career to library and information sciences.
After I completed my master degree, I was accepted in the second top program in the US: a private women school called Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts, where I completed my PhD studies in 1987. After my PhD, I came back to Egypt and stayed for eight months, during which I met my then-husband. I eventually moved back to the US with him I started my career in the US as a part-time research librarian at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago and I have been practicing librarianship since then.
As a woman pursing her career and a working mother, what are/were the major obstacles and challenges that you had to face in your life and career?
Since 1988, my job has always been about building and managing libraries. I managed the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) main library with its 5 branches for 14 years, before I was appointed as chief librarian at the Library of Alexandria in Egypt, which also required building the library sector services and collections. After my tenure in Alexandria, I held the position of dean of university libraries at Illinois State University followed by similar position at Florida Institute of Technology.
Being a working mother is a difficult task; juggling between family and work is often relentless. It is also a delicate balancing act, especially when you are away from family and friends. I didn’t have the kind of support system that comes with living in your home country. You have to be extremely organized and very judicious with your time. In general, the responsibility of being a manager is challenging as you often don’t operate with fixed hours. It is all about getting the job done. If the job takes 10 hours or 15 hours, you owe that much time. Creating a balance between family and work requires super organizational skills. You have to organize activities for the kids and you have to share tasks with your partner.
Did you find any cultural gaps between women’s role in society in the Middle East and the US?
Gender discrimination exists in most societies. The US has given me opportunities and leadership skills, and I was for the most part, treated equally and was selected on the basis of merit. When I got my first position as a dean, I was 37 years old. I was also the first female dean IIT since it was established in 1890. I was a woman with an accent; different in completion and background which made some people regard me with suspicion. When I attended a meeting with a number of male deans, my proposed ideas fell on deaf ears. When the other male deans reiterated what I said, their ideas were met with “Oh, wow! That is quite wonderful”. I took issue with this and long before equal pay became a big thing in the US, I told my president that I was no less intelligent than these men, and I demanded to be paid as much as the other deans.
I must say that in Egypt, women have assumed leadership positions in governmental and national institutions, but we still have not seen many women judges or some other high-ranking professions. We still have quite a journey ahead of us.
Being an effective manager who has a broad repertoire of management styles, can you tell us more about the styles you used throughout your career with your employees all over the world? And how did you develop them?
There is no single management style that fits all. It is situational. You maintain certain values for equality, fairness, objectivity, and professionalism. You honor these core values, but remain flexible in how you execute them. In general, management techniques are not magic mantras but simply tools to be reached for at the right times.Some situations require the leader to hover closely; others require long, loose lines.
To be a manager does not merely entail giving orders. Being a leader is about understanding that strategy equals execution and that all the great ideas and visions in the world are worthless if they can’t be implemented in an efficient manner at the right time. As a leader, you delegate and empower others, but you also pay attention to details, every day, never above operational details. In a service profession like librarianship, loyalty to the ethos of the profession of equality and democracy are crucial. On the personal level, you must have a high-energy drive, a balanced ego, and the drive to get things done.
5- As a working mother, how did you raise your son? Has he understood the role you played in the cultural arena? How has that affected his perspective on life?
The year my son was born, I was made dean for the first time. Meaning that my son has always seen me throughout his life in leadership roles. He has always been very proud of what I have achieved. He used to brag about me when he was little, telling his friends that I was the president of the university.
Because Kariem has always seen me in leadership positions, this has had both a positive and some unhelpful effect on him. As proud as he was, my son often thought that he has to do everything perfectly in order to get my approval.
Being an immigrant in the US, you are always judged. I didn’t want my son to acquire this trait: judging people or situations prematurely. I tried to instill in him empathy toward people, and I taught him to treat people equally and with respect. Kariem grew up in a post-9/11 America, which was a very hard time for all Arabs. He was bullied by kids at school who told him that all Arabs were terrorists. This was alienating to a child who cannot defend himself, had neither the vocabulary nor the understanding to be able to say that this wasn’t our fault or that these terrorists were different people.
The atmosphere was very difficult and Arab children, like my son, had to struggle through all that because of the name-calling. Some kids told him to go back home, and Kariem used to tell them that this was his home. I tried to help him understand that these children knew little, and to teach him empathy during this time of ignorance. I also taught him not to be defensive and help educate others. Those were some of the values I tried to instill in my son. I am proud to say that he has an amazing sense of empathy, kind, open and have friends of all backgrounds and religions.
Reflecting on how your parents raised you, what ideologies do you wish to instill in girls in Egypt to become future leaders in society?
Though my father was born in 1917, he was such a liberal man in his way of thinking. He supported me all the way, and I was the first girl in the family to study abroad. That was not very common then. For a man from a different era, I think it was all a matter of trust, which he tried to foster between him and his 5 children. He always wanted us to believe in what we did. He had such work ethics and was a real patriot. He wanted us to succeed not only for our own sake but also because we owed it to our country.
We were 4 girls and 1 boy, and he urged us to choose whatever we wanted to do with our lives. Two of my sisters are doctors, one is a pharmacist, and my brother is an engineer. His advice was to always be the best at whatever you choose.
Both my parents were teachers who believed in girls’ education and independence. They were like any good parents who give their children wings to fly. That’s why each and every one of us led the life they wanted without being hindered by any limitations. Those are values that I wish all parents instill in girls in Egypt. If they do not acquire them at a young age, they will become more difficult to acquire as adults.
Having contributed to promoting an excellent image of inspiring remarkable Egyptian women and change makers, what advices do you wish to pass on to women of Egypt all over the world?
To believe in what they do, have a purpose in life, and to try to make a difference. It doesn’t matter if it is going to be gardening, teaching, a factory worker, a doctor, or engineer. Just try to make a difference. Being a stay home mom, in my opinion, is a tough job. Raising future leaders and good citizens is not for the faint of hearts. Women, who have the ability to give, can volunteer at any institution and receive a sense of accomplishment for being able to give something back to their community—either their time or energy.
Your self-worth and self-esteem rise when you contribute to the welfare of others. It is not about making money or attaining a high position; it is about what you want to be remembered with. No matter what profession you belong to, what is really important is to ask yourself these questions: how can I make any difference in my brief time on earth? If you find answer to such a question, then you will be able to find your path.
What are your future plans on both the professional and personal levels?
On the personal level, I am very much looking forward to retirement. I want to pursue hobbies that didn’t have time for when younger. I like to write, and I have been writing a collection of short stories for over 25 years now that I would like to finish. I would also like to take digital photography, gardening, creative writing and ballroom dancing classes. I also plan to volunteer with Doctors Without Borders and other humanitarian organizations that help in the relief of human suffering.
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Al Jazeera’s Middle East showcased this story in pictures of certain peoples of the Arabian peninsula. Amongst their present wide and diverse variety, the Flower Men of Saudi Arabia are exceptionally unique in their well held till today customs.
These are the Descendants
of the ancient Tihama and Asir, fierce warriors, reclusive tribesmen, and
lovers of floral headwear.
The armed forces have realised that the Egyptian people, who are calling on us to come to their support, are not in fact calling on us to assume power. Rather, they have called on us to perform public service and to secure essential protection of the demands of their revolution.
Six years on, Sisi is still president and the Egyptian parliament is on the verge of endorsing his rule until 2034, losing sight of the revolutionary demands which prompted millions of Egyptians to end the 29-year rule of Hosni Mubarak in January 2011.
Contrary to the hopes of 2011 and 2013, Egypt is sliding even further towards authoritarianism. Tens of thousands of citizens are languishing in overcrowded prisons. Freedom of expression, media independence and opposition movements are curbed in the name of state stability. Torture, unjustified detentions, police assaults and death sentences are the state’s strategic tools to silence protesters.
A new phenomenon
On February 14, 485 of 596 Egyptian MPs approved sweeping constitutional amendments to allow Sisi’s extension of power. The modifications to the national charter will lengthen the current four-year presidential term to six years, expand the role of the army as a state supervisory body, and give the president the constitutional right to appoint judges and the prosecutor general.
Although the new constitution still limits the president to two terms, Sisi – who was elected for a second term in March 2018 – will be granted a personal exception. The proposed amendments will now be reviewed by the parliament’s legislative and constitutional committee within 60 days before another House of Representatives vote, followed by a national referendum.
“This is totally a new phenomenon,” Ahmed Samih, the director of the Egyptian NGO Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies, told me. “Neither Nasser nor the other presidents who followed him have been able to manipulate the state and the army to such a point as al-Sisi has done in the last five years.” He added:
While Nasser, and in part Sadat [both former Egyptian leaders], addressed public opinion attention toward the fight against Israel, Sisi does not have an external enemy and his struggle is thoroughly focused on repressing the Egyptian people.
Throughout his time in power, Sisi hasendorsed widespread draconian laws. He has trampled on human and civil rights by detaining thousands of activists, journalists, students and political opponents, including the former army chief of staff, Sami Anan. He has curbed the independence of the judiciary by stressing its pivotal role in fighting terrorists, Islamists and any hint of opposition. He has hindered academic autonomy by reintroducing the direct appointment of university heads.
New legal dispositions, such as the anti-protest law (2013), the counter-terrorism law (2015), the NGOs law (2017), and the cybercrime law (2018), have substantially increased the authorities’ power to surveil, repress, silence and detain political opponents. Amendments to the nationality law proposed in 2017 may revoke the Egyptian nationality of citizens living abroad and working with a foreign agency deemed to undermine the social or economic order of the state.
These laws have been harshly criticised for being excessively vague in defining what constitutes a danger for the Egyptian socioeconomic order. Moreover, legal and extra-legal measures – including torture, unfair trials and forced disappearances – have been actively implemented by Egyptian police, intelligence services and the military to ensure no one will obstruct Sisi from keeping his grip on power and militarising Egyptian life.
Removing the judiciary
Sisi’s power has been further enhanced by the approval of the recent constitutional amendments. A statement signed by at least 11 Egyptian civil society organisations explains:
The amendments eliminate all remnants of judicial independence by immunising exceptional legislation from judicial review while constitutionalising the president’s unilateral authority to appoint judicial leadership … and annul the judiciary’s financial independence.
Through these amendments, the constitutional separation of power will be destroyed, leading to an excessive concentration of authority in the president’s hands. Sisi has proved several times his reluctance to follow constitutional precepts – as in Egypt’s sale of the Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi Arabia without calling a popular referendum as required by the constitution.
The recent parliamentary vote crystallised this authoritarianism and repression in Egypt. Far from checking power, legislators gave away their responsibility as a democratic mechanism of the system. Only 16 MPs stood against the modifications.
Among them was Ahmed Tantawy, who emphasised how it dangerously concentrated power in one man’s hands and represented “a setback and a return to what is worse than the pre-25 January  system”. Other opponents, such as Khaled Youssef and Haitham al-Hariri, were subjected to harsh defamatory media campaigns – in both cases, an alleged sexual affair was used as a pretext to whip up a public scandal over “moral indecency”.
Sisi still relies on the support of many Egyptians who see him as the last bastion against the spread of political and economic instability. But, according to Samih, even staunch Sisi supporters are fading away amid the repression and a stagnant economy. Samih said:
Many Egyptian families involved in specific economic sectors, such as fishing, have been kicked out from the business, as the army has now gained an upper hand in their activities.
But the likelihood that disillusionment will lead to Sisi’s departure – or even a check on his ambitions – is slim. Even the military, often seen as the repository of power, is neutered by one of its own. During the past three years, Sisi has implemented a series of reshuffles within the executive and a purge among army generals, buttressing his undisputed authority.
The detention of the former army chief of staff, Sami Anan; the replacement of the once-powerful head of the Egyptian intelligence service, Khaled Fawzi, with a Sisi ally, and the appointment of Sisi’s sons – Mahmoud and Hassan – to key positions within the general intelligence directorate are all clear signs of Sisi’s intention to out-Mubarak Mubarak, transforming his presidency into a full-blown dictatorship.