Enter President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the current president of Egypt following elections earlier this year. Mr. Sisi, formerly the Commander-in-Chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces, was in charge of the decision to oust former President Mohamed Morsi in a military coup in July of last year. Mr. Morsi, though democratically elected, had lost the support of the populace, necessitating Mr. Sisi to overthrow Mr. Morsi -- or so the narrative goes -- and install a new, provisional government to restore stability.
There is an element of justice to Mr. Sisi’s cause, for protest movements claimed an impressive number of signatures from Egyptians calling on Mr. Morsi’s removal, but the manner in which it was carried out does not befit a budding democracy, or even a democracy at all. Mr. Morsi was given an ultimatum by the military and then subsequently removed with no legal backing. As violence emerged between some of Mr. Morsi’s supporters and security forces, heavy-handedness of the type that tyrants employ emerged: Police stormed protest camps in August of 2013, leading the deaths of hundreds. New protest laws amid heightened security tensions gave the police forces greater freedom to conduct such operations, which they have continued doing ever since.
Branding the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization serves Mr. Sisi’s political agenda but inevitably fuels the fire of those extremists wishing to strike the Egyptian government. The Muslim Brotherhood (naturally) denies any links to terrorism and asserts that an as-yet unreleased investigation by the United Kingdom absolves of it those links. But with extremists still on the prowl, evidenced by the recent bombing in North Sinai that prompted the declaration of a state of emergency, the Muslim Brotherhood’s pleas fall on deaf ears.
Perhaps, as the supporters of the group say, the extremists among the Muslim Brotherhood are a small fraction and non-representative of the organization as a whole. This is likely the case, for if the entire network of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood were intent on violent extremism, Egypt would be in flames. But both inside Egypt and outside it, most do not care about Mr. Sisi’s crackdowns and rising authoritarianism, even as his actions start to mirror that of Hosni Mubarak, the man protesters took to the streets in 2011 to demonstrate against.
If election tallies are to be believed, Mr. Sisi received 96% of the vote this year, an absurdly high number that is reserved usually for strongmen around the world. His leadership has won him admiration abroad, particularly from allies like the United States and Saudi Arabia.
He has even inspired a copy-cat in neighboring Libya, as rogue general Khalifa Hifter has attempted to replicate Mr. Sisi’s success against Islamists, something Mr. Sisi has strongly supported by even launching airstrikes against militias based in the restive city of Benghazi and there is strong incentive for him to do so. Consider, for a moment, a strategy that the victorious powers at the Congress of Vienna employed back in 1814 to 1815. They recognized that for each of their respective systems to be sustained, their neighbors should have the same system. Democracy in France (or the drive for it) had threatened to create drives for democracy elsewhere, and so the victors re-installed the French monarchy (the Bourbon Dynasty), in what is known as the “Bourbon Restoration.”
There’s obvious distinctions between then and now, but in terms of the strategic wisdom of propping up the French monarchy, consider Mr. Sisi as he aids General Hifter in Libya while consolidating his place at home. The winds that swept the previous strongmen out of power before originated with the collapse of one (either Zine el Abidine Ben Ali or Saddam Hussein, depending upon the starting point for examination), yet as instability has reigned, the strongmen are returning again, to the relief of the people who wish to see security return. The comparison of the pre-2011 strongmen to, say, Mr. Sisi is not entirely accurate, for Mr. Sisi apparently commands broad support of the people, but the strategies are familiar, particularly his use of force to prop up the campaign of a general who is acting outside the authority of the Libyan elected government. In short, democracy as the West understands it isn’t coming anytime soon, and with the spectacular failure of the latest project, no one seems to be intent on trying again (Tunisia being a possible exception).
In a choice between democracy and security, Egyptians in particular seem to prefer the latter. This type of sentiment is being felt across the region and is giving support to the “Mubarak 2.0s” that are emerging.